You might never have to explain to a child that it was a difficult, uncertain time. That the task going forward would be as difficult as the road behind… or never have to say that he had faced and overcome an unthinkable crisis, or that he survived the worst of it. Likewise, a child may never offer opinion or tell you how his life had been affected. Have you ever heard of “holding on for dear life?”

Not until recent past had I really held the true meaning. In the face of an unprecedented stage of cancer, it’s likely to me that Dante had neither false hope nor irrational optimism. I doubt even an ounce of self-pity.

Dante was diagnosed with what is one of two sub-types within the “Rhabdo” family, Embryonal Rhabdomayosarcoma (ERMS); a highly malignant tumor of striated muscle (vs. the sub-type Alveolar Rhabdomayosarcoma.) The good news is that per various studies and reports, the 5-year survival rate has increased from 25% to a surprising 63%; 73% by some studies. But for perspective, if you recall, when Dante was diagnosed he was far beyond what is termed “Stage IV” Cancer of ERMS, a determinate of a tumor less, equal, or greater than 5cm in diameter. Imagine. This is relevant background considering the inordinate size of Dante’s tumor upon diagnosis. Treatment was not up to opinion polls. I talked about Dante’s condition with the tandem, K. Dela Cruz Torres, M.D. and Leicel D.Goynena, M.D. They never had to stabilize and treat an account so severe. But how encouraging that a possible recovery was never out of reach, never a game of confidence or panic; rather, progress. Per Dr. Amy Dy (Dee), Executive Director and Cancer Treatment Specialist of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, Dante continues to endure the harmful by-products of the tumor. For example, before chemo, the tumor had grown so malignant that it obstructed his upper airway and as a result a tracheotomy was performed. If you look close enough you will see the cannula or tube inserted into Dante’s neck that allows him to breathe.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Dante’s environment close to home. The Riellos live close to an industrial factory. Doctors appealed to Dante’s mother, Analyn Riello, to find shelter elsewhere, temporary or otherwise. Of course these things are more a matter of financial ability than desire. The dirt, dust, all the carcinogens and quantitative emissions from the factory have likely infected or re-infected rather Dante’s very sensitive oral tissue. The dilemma is such that doctors fight to corral the cancer, prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body, stop it from growing again. Simultaneously, these will attempt to manage and suppress this ally of cancer; the symptoms of a totally separate and bad environment when Dante is away from the hospital. Due to the infection and as I understand, the radiation therapy, which is normally administered after the final stages of chemo are not only postponed but must now be strategically scheduled in and around the chemo to prevent re-growth of the tumor. At present Dante needs to continue his chemo. His need for a cleaner, more favorable environment is equally crucial to his recovery. It is a counterproductive and pressing situation that requires approach.

Though the doctors have facilitated incredible advancements, Dante still has much to endure. Amid the relative progress, we are far from a “declaration of success.” Cancer is a deceptive and sly disease. I am not entirely a stranger to its hardships and suffering. My long-time best friend is a survivor of breast cancer. She endures the disease to date. On the brink of her demise, it had taken all but the best of her; amazingly never to break her spirit and never to compromise her soul. The privation and the subsequent ramifications of cancer are an ongoing battle. In this regard, we appeal for your continued generosity. Dante desperately needs to continue his chemo and radiation therapy. He needs a better place for healing.

I asked Jenny Cajuday, Chief Social Worker and seeming confidant to all at the NCH, to tell Dante “…not to worry, we will not forget you…and that we will be back again to see you soon.” Many thanks once again to all of you for your continued support, commitment and blessings.

Will Mallari
APFI Volunteer