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MANILA, Philippines - It was a homecoming everyone dreaded to see. Nida Ampaguey, a cancer patient from Hong Kong, came home to her family in Baguio City in an ambulance on Tuesday. Ampaguey, 51, was accompanied by her daughter when she flew to Manila a day after being discharged from a Hong Kong hospital.
She had just finished six cycles of radiotherapy for Stage 4 lung cancer. She was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. A domestic worker for 14 years, Ampaguey came to Hong Kong to provide for her three children. Four years ago, doctors said she would live five years more without chemotherapy but this will double to 10 years if she undergoes treatment. And so she went for treatment.
But the pain of going through each session was taking such a toll on her strength that Ampaguey decided to just finish her last treatment and come home.
“Pagod na ako. Gusto ko na’ng magpahinga,” she told Interaksyon as she was taken by wheelchair by an airport staff to meet her family and friends waiting for her. An ambulance from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration was waiting to take her to Baguio.
Ampaguey said she decided not to renew her contract with her Chinese employer so she could come home and rest. She said despite her health condition, her employers were very supportive and she regularly received her salary even when she was on treatment.
Buhay Ka: pillar of support
Ampaguey is one of the members of Buhay Ka, a group of Filipino cancer survivors in Hong Kong that was founded by running priest Fr. Robert Reyes. Recently featured by Interaksyon.com, the story of Buhay Ka calls for government action to provide for the health needs of ailing OFWs – called the unsung heroes of this country for the billions of dollars they send home.
There were other Buhay Ka members who have gone home and died a few months later as they failed to continue their treatment. Chemotherapy in Hong Kong may cost only HK100 or less than P600. In the Philippines it may cost between 18,000 and 40,000 each session.
Deprived of help from their own government, Buhay Ka members rely on each other and other OFWs for support and strength. In Ampaguey’s case, friends sent her home with HK8,000—besides, she stressed, the unfailing material and moral support of her employers.
Fr. Reyes said OWWA should do more than just providing an ambulance for ill OFWs who come home.
Cancer survivors need jobs
Meanwhile, Medeliza Salunoy, another Buhay Ka member who has been home since 2009, said the government can help returning cancer survivors by providing them jobs.
“Nakita mo ang trend: lahat ng umuuwi namamatay. Siguro kung hindi ako nag work ewan na. Dapat pag umuwi wag baby-hin, bigyan ng pagkakaabalahan [You’ve seen the trend, those who went home died. In my case, if I didn’t work, perhaps I’d be dead too. When an OFW comes home, he or she should not be babied or rendered helpless. They should be given something to busy themselves with],” said Salunoy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer but now looks as one without a trace of the big C.
Salunoy, who came home in 2009, refused to fly to her home province in Basilan and stayed in a boarding house in Pasay to work for a printing press. Being still one of the surviving Buhay Ka members at home, Salunoy has taken upon herself the responsibility of visiting returning colleagues.
Senator Pia’s effort
Dr. Vivian Eustaquio, a staffer of Sen. Pia Cayetano, was also at the airport to meet with Ampaguey and her family. Cayetano met Buhay Ka members in 2009, promising assistance and reforms in the country’s healthcare.
Estaquio said the senator is studying how OFWs may be able to get maximum assistance from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation.