Henrylito D. Tacio
Mr. Tacio, who hails from Davao, is a correspondent of the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. He is the first and only Filipino journalist to have been elevated to the Hall of Fame in science reporting by the Philippine Press Institute. In 1999, the Rotary Club of Man ila bestowed him the Journalist of the Year award. He is also East Asia’s contributing editor of the People & the Planet based in London.
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I was reading a magazine some years ago and I came across a quotable quote which said: “To provide them with brighter future, give them hope.” I have already forgotten who said those words and in what event, but the statement came to mind when I think of Dr. Mae Concepcion J. Dolendo.
You are not from Davao City if you don’t know her. She is the driving force behind the House of Hope, which is located inside the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC), the largest public hospital in Mindanao. By being the instrument of building the house, she doesn’t only give hope to children with cancer, she provides them a shelter.
To think, Dr. Dolendo was not born in Davao City; she’s originally from Iloilo. She came to the country’s largest city because of her husband, Engr. Gabriel dela Cruz Dolendo. She met him during the national conference convened by YMCA Rizal Youth Leadership Training Institute.
Dr. Dolendo is a woman who, once she’s sure about it, devotes her time. Being a wife and mother, she gives her time to her husband and two children. If you can only see her together with them, she’s the most contended woman – happy and fulfilled.
When it comes to work, she’s at her best and palpable when she’s with the children who are afflicted with cancer. “The types of cancer that we see in children are different from adults,” Dr. Dolendo told us in one of our interviews.
“Childhood cancers are usually embryonal or deep seated and aggressive while adult cancers are epithelial in origin and can be slow growing,” explained the head of the SPMC’s Children’s Cancer and Blood Diseases Unit.
In my readings, I found out that epithelial tissue, which is made up of cells closely packed and range in one or more layers, covers the whole surface of the human body. “In contrast to many adult cancers,” The Merck Manual of Medical Information said, “cancers in children tend to be much curable. About 75 percent of children with cancer survive at least five years.”
On why she founded House of Hope, she replied: “Treatment for child cancer is long-term and requires repeated visits to the hospital. The children and their families need a place to stay which is clean, wholesome and conveniently near the hospital. House of Hope served as a transient home for these patients for the duration of their outpatient treatment.”
There’s an interesting story on how House of Hope came to be. “When I came back from training in 2004, it was very difficult to help patients because despite the fact that I know how to treat them, majority of patients had difficulty coming for treatment. Chemotherapy medicines are expensive and treatment protocols are long term. Many patients often drop out of treatment or out rightly refuse further treatment.
“I had many friends who wanted to help and I thought it was appropriate to have a charity organization where this help could be channeled,” she says on how Davao Children’s Cancer Fund, Inc. (DCCFI) came into fruition. It was SEC-registered on May 4, 2004.
In 2007, the House of Hope, a single floor facility with seven rooms, was launched. Since then, thousands of patients and their caregivers have benefited from its clean and wholesome environment.
Two caregivers are allowed for each patient; the caregivers help keep the house and its environment clean in exchange for a free stay.
Those who stay at the House of Hope are not only from the far-flung places of Davao region; some come from provinces as far as Zamboanga, Cotabato, Sarangani, and Surigao. “In fact, there are those from the Visayas and even from Luzon who came here for treatment,” said Dr. Dolendo.
According to Dr. Dolendo, childhood cancer treatment is complex and long-term. “Our solid tumor patients go through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy when necessary,” she said. “Standard treatment protocols for solid tumors span 6 months to two years of repeated visits to the hospital.”
Once they are out from the hospital, she said that they are monitored closely. “Chances of relapse is higher during the first two years and we sigh with relief after five years but we consider ten years without relapse as cure,” she said.
Unlike adult cancers, childhood cancers are not given much prominence. “I think childhood cancer is a significant problem among Filipinos because we have a relatively young population and children comprise 40 percent of our population,” Dr. Dolendo deplored.
Some few years ago, Dr. Dolendo was given the Datu Bago award for “her outstanding work in pediatric oncology.” The citation added that she has placed Davao City in the world map of pediatric oncology “due to her international linkages.”
“I am deeply honored and truly humbled,” she said of the recognition. “It means I have contributed something significant to Davao City, my home. It means a bigger voice, hope and inspiration for the children I advocate for and the people who tirelessly work for these children.”
Indeed, she has gone a long, long way. She dreamed of becoming a physician when she was only 9 years old. “There was no doctor in the family but the father of my classmate was a doctor and I thought it was such a cool job looking after sick people and making them well,” she recalled.
Her dream even became stronger when her beloved mother died of breast cancer. She was 17 at that time. “It was a difficult, life-changing experience that maybe led me to where I am now,” she admitted.
Dr. Mae Concepcion J. Dolendo, please take a bow!