Thursday, October 9, 2014


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

The sisterhood had a blast! The sisterhood like no other, we love to say and tell everyone.

ICanServe celebrated its 15th anniversary last Oct. 6 at the Raffles Hotel in Makati with a rousing celebration and a gathering of breast cancer survivors and warriors who are, most of all, advocates of early detection. It was a gathering that toasted its founders, members and supporters, as well as those who had departed for the hills beyond but who served and fought well.

True to its catchphrase “Saving lives, keeping families whole,” ICanServe served up an anniversary program that was not merely focused on its members but was meant to reach out far and wide to women and men in order to raise awareness of a disease that can be licked well and good if detected early. In short, zap the invader at the gates.

All, if not most, of the attendees were energetic, can-do breast cancer survivors (myself included). Also present were special persons from the indispensable circle of support. Health workers, providers and advocates. Doctors, barangay health workers, relatives, friends, facilitators, organizers, volunteers, sponsors. Survivors in various states of wellness and stages of recovery from illness bonded, embraced, shed tears, laughed, prayed, listened to one another. Bright pink was the color theme of the celebration.

Many of us met at the 3rd ICanServe Silver Linings gathering held in Davao City in 2011 and have since become sisters and friends for the cause in our own little and big ways. Held every three years, Silver Linings is ICanServe’s educational forum and homecoming.

But the 15th anniversary last Monday was extra special. Many came even from outside Metro Manila. A whole ICanServe contingent from Cebu came and even provided an entertainment number.
 Founded in 1999, ICanServe Foundation is an advocacy group of breast cancer survivors that promotes early breast cancer detection. Its flagship program is “Ating Dibdibin,” a Filipino saying that means taking it to heart. “Dibdib” means chest or breast, or where the heart is. For ICanServe, “Ating Dibdibin” means “take your breast care to heart.”

Presiding at ICanServe’s birth were Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala (indefatigable founding chair), Crisann Celdran, Becky Fuentes and Bet Yap who steered the foundation during its uncertain but brave beginnings. The current board chair is Elizabeth “Libet” Virata and the executive director is Leilani E. Eusebio.

One thing I can say about ICanServe’s board members is that they are so hands-on, so involved. To borrow a word from its catchphrase, it’s “dibdiban.”

I was at the same table as Libet Virata who told me that ICanServe recently acquired two Mammacare simulators training system. ICanServe invited “Ating Dibdibin” partner-doctors and health workers to have a Skype session with the machine’s creator, Dr. Mark Goldstein in Florida, on how the machine works. A few were expected but more than 20 came. Mammacare makes possible self-administered clinical breast examinations. The technology can help detect very small tumors and reduces false positives. It is a portable device that can be linked to a laptop. Those interested can watch the hows about the machine at news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=122294.

“Ating Dibdibin” is a barangay-based breast cancer screening program, the first of its kind in the country. It is the foundation’s response to the grim reality that the Philippines has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Southeast Asia and ranks ninth in the world. Globally, breast cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths among women.

The screening program entails training of the community’s medical team composed mainly of barangay health workers, community forums and screening, patient navigation programs, information campaigns, and creation of cancer registry and support groups. The program also establishes partnership with those who can give free or subsidized diagnostics and treatments.

ICanServe campaigns that: By age 20, women must do a monthly breast self-examination; by age 30, women must do an annual clinical exam, and a monthly breast self-examination; and by age 40, women must do a yearly mammogram, an annual clinical examination and a monthly breast self-examination.

By the way, ICanServe distributes free resource and guide books for the breast cancer community. There is also a breast self-exam video in Filipino (hosted by Dawn Zulueta), Visayan (Rakki Vega) and English (Lea Salonga). You can watch it in

October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, ICanServe is holding a fund-raising bazaar at Rockwell on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of this month during mall hours. The items (T-shirts, tote bags, fans, bracelets, etc.) for sale are worth having.

You can reach ICanServe at Unit 2302 Medical Plaza, Ortigas, 25 San Miguel Ave., Pasig City. E-mail info@icanservefoundation or call (632) 6365578.

ICanServe was not founded mainly as a support group, but the sisterhood built over the years has often doubled as such. If you are looking for a support group there is Carewell Community Foundation (8151294, 7510242), which is focused on personal support for those battling the disease.

In ICanServe fests, there is always scriptwriter-director Bibeth Orteza who emcees and provides laughs and wears different shoes on each foot, her way of saying, “What does it matter if the colors are not the same? What does it matter if I have only one breast?” She didn’t say it aloud this time but, again, her footwear for the night did.

I love this sisterhood of survivors, fighters, supporters. My breast friends. Together we say, I can serve, I can hope, I can eat, I can feast, I can pray. You can, too.#