I have spent the last 10 days in Mindanao, visiting the main hospital here in Davao, and the four satellite centres spread across this island of 25 million people. My overall impression is of a service that is entirely child centred. The medicine is as good as resources allow and improving, but everything is infused with joy and kindness and a celebration of life. The “House of Hope” at the rear of the hospital is the home where parents and children can stay while they are being treated, and where some children will stay until they die. But everyone is included in all the activities, and life is lived to the full. Every birthday is celebrated with a cake and presents, everyone joins in the celebrations for the monthly ‘survivors day’.
The programme here is led by the inspirational Dr Mae Dolendo, a highly experienced Paediatric Oncologist, who returned here from Singapore 10 years ago to start a children’s cancer service from scratch. In the first year she was able to treat 30 children with almost no facilities available. Now 300 children a year are treated and over half survive. It is a colossal achievement of determination and perseverance and the satellite centres, supported by World Child Cancer, will steadily allow those numbers to increase, while reducing the burden of travel for parents.
We organised a party for the children while we were here – complete with a big meal for parents and children, a puppet show, hundreds of balloons, lots of games and presents for every child. Alongside all the mothers joining in enthusiastically, there was a lone father – whose enthusiastic dancing was the cause of great hilarity! Dad dancing it seems is the same the world over! When he and his daughter arrived – from another island where they had not known how to treat her – she could not speak or walk because she had been left in a hammock permanently because the family did not know how to cope. Her mum had abandoned her overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. But now here they were Dad and daughter dancing together, her treatment going well and she was running around (though still not very strong) and chatting away. The bond between father and daughter was very obvious. This amazing place had not just treated her cancer, but had given her back a childhood, and let her dad learn the joy of being a father.