Stage Zero: Project Pink’s campaign for supportive care in breast cancer

Friday, November 06, 2015 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

Last month, we talked about Go Pink, an initiative by Festival Mall that helps spread awareness while also forwarding proceeds to three beneficiaries, including Project Pink. It’s time we focused on Project Pink, a breast cancer foundation in the south with a campaign that really piqued my interest: Stage Zero.

Any breast cancer patient knows what stage zero is. It’s the earliest stage in cancer, therefore carrying the best prognosis. If you get diagnosed with breast cancer, you hope it is in this stage. (Trivia: Health professionals also refer to stage zero breast cancer as ductal carcinoma in situ.)

Unfortunately, many women get diagnosed in later stages. Some aren’t aware that the changes they’re seeing in their breasts are red flags for cancer. Others are too scared to go to the doctor – getting diagnosed, after all, will change your life forever.

But that’s just it. We want to catch cancer early, before it spreads and becomes too hard to cure… before it changes your life in a way that leaves you more powerless than you should be.

stage zeroIn a way, this is exactly what Project Pink wants to accomplish: They want to teach women with breast cancer not just to survive, but also to live – to keep the cancer from “spreading” to other areas of their lives.


The value of supportive care

“We don’t want cancer to conquer the other facets of our lives,” says hospice and palliative medicine specialist Dr. Rumalie Corvera of Project Pink. “We want to highlight its definition in terms of psychosocial and spiritual aspects. We want the cancer to stay in stage zero by not ‘metastasizing’ to other aspects of life.”

There are 12 steps to Stage Zero. It actually reminds me of the program espoused by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Stage Zero’s 12 steps comprise the new curriculum highly encouraged for women with breast cancer. Each step focuses on a specific topic, such as pain, anger, family, or intimacy.

The program teaches patient-active methods, empowering women with breast cancer who are having problems in other areas of their lives. Are they getting fired? Are they having a hard time getting hired in the first place? Are their friends slowly detaching from them? Do they feel frustrated and angry? Through the Stage Zero program, a breast cancer warrior is taught skills so that she can throw quite a punch in all her battles.

Dr Rumalie Corvera and Kris Yabes“We want the program to be taught to other institutions,” says Project Pink’s Dr. Rumalie Corvera (leftmost).


Surviving versus living

In a nutshell, here’s what Stage Zero’s message is: Breast cancer patients shouldn’t just survive. They also have to be able to live.

“Some people think breast cancer always leads to death. Awareness is important so that you can keep one step ahead.”

Dr. Corvera hopes that other doctors remember to put a primer on holistic care. She admits that in the Philippines, not all doctors really remember to focus on a patient’s needs outside of her illness, devoting their attention mostly towards their patients’ survival.


Writing a last will

We also talked about a sensitive topic: how breast cancer patients should deal with their last will (advanced directive).

“There is a set of criteria upon admission as to whom to offer an advanced directive. If the Department of Health pushes through with integrating palliative and hospice care [into the healthcare system], then the advanced directive will become part of the policy.”

Why is this important? Is it really being defeatist to think about what happens after your death even while you’re fighting for your life?

No, it’s not defeatist nor pessimistic at all. “One gesture of conquering fear is making an advanced directive early on,” explains Dr. Corvera.


Join Stage Zero by Project Pink!

“Our average attendance is at ten to fifteen,” Dr. Corvera explains. “Even the families come to Asian Hospital with the patients. We do the sessions every month.” Kudos to Asian Hospital for having partnered with Project Pink for eight years now.

pink paracord keychainEvery pink paracord bracelet or keychain you buy from Festival Mall Alabang helps to fund three beneficiaries, one of which is Project Pink. Here’s more info.

Last October 28, they held a “grief share” support group. It was open to all people experiencing any form of grief, including those who are already sad about losing the people they love to cancer. (Trivia: Grief experienced even before actual loss is called anticipatory grief.)

Of course, joining Stage Zero is not the only way to participate! You can volunteer and do visitations with cancer patients to provide them support. If you’re great at speaking in front of huge audiences, then you can be one of the guest speakers for Project Pink, too!

Whatever talents you want to share, you can with Project Pink. “We want to build a strong volunteer core with different skills.”

Lastly, you can donate to their worthy cause! Feel free to contact Pink Project under The Ruth Foundation.

Sessions at The Ruth Foundation are every second Wednesday of the month. Those at Asian Hospital are every last Saturday of the month. If you’re interested in joining Stage Zero, do contact Stage Zero on Facebook!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!