Surviving Cancer in the UAE

2015-0803 Surviving Cancer in the UAE


DUBAI: Being afflicted with cancer while working abroad is a harrowing experience. This at hand, Filipinos have been linking up to provide awareness and support in the spirit of volunteerism to help ease the burden on the afflicted.

According to a study by the Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences’ Centre for Arab Genomic Studies and Dubai Healthcare City, cancer is the third leading cause of death in the UAE, after cardiovascular disease and accidents.

On a daily average, there are approximately seven cancer-stricken Filipinos seeking treatment at the Gulf International Cancer Center (GICC), according to Dr. Aly Abdel Razek, the facility’s executive director and chief of radiation- oncology. The facility is where all cancer cases in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are referred by various hospitals and clinics across the country.

GICC receives “40 to 50 patients a day” and about 15 percent of them are Filipinos, said Razek.

He added that 40 percent of the total patients coming to the center have breast cancer – the most common, he said – followed by cancer of the cervix and, Nasopharynx cancer.

“They come for radiation treatment,” he told The Filipino Times (TFT).

GICC records showed the facility accepted 246 cancer patients for radiation therapy last year of which 26 were Filipinos. From January to July this year, 50 of the 254 patients who underwent the same treatment were Filipinos.

The cancer situation in the UAE, Razek said, is “just like in other places.”

“Compared to other countries, it’s about the same, not more not less.”

According to the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRFI), the rate for all cancers, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, for men and women combined was 182 per 100,000 people in 2012. The rate was higher for men at 205 per 100,000, than women at165 per 100,000.

Cancer is covered by insurance policies. But Dr. Rebecca O. Desiderio, The Medical City Philippines’ (TMC) chief executive officer (CEO) for the Gulf, explained that there are underlying issues to this.

Almost all insurance companies offer coverage for cancer but the limit depends, she said, noting that pre-existing cases would fetch a higher premium than otherwise.

“If a person will avail of an insurance policy just because the said person has been diagnosed with cancer, of course, that is anti-selection and no insurer will cover any patient should that be the case,” Desiderio said.

“They wouldn’t outrightly decline the application, but they would place a very high price tag on the premium, especially if it is an individual policy. The premium, of course, and the scenario will be different if it is a corporate account or the member was insured for a long time and is only newly diagnosed while the said person is enrolled in the scheme,” she added.

Desiderio moreover said the Abu Dhabi government has a minimum cover of Dhs250,000 per annum for oncology cases. But, she added, since the insurance mandate for Dubai is not yet fully implemented, not all individuals have coverage.


Support groups

Meantime, Razek said GICC refers cancer patients to support groups depending on the type of affliction they have.

Among these support groups is one founded by a survivor herself, Jenny CayananEnriquez , who, at 43, vowed to help cancer patients after surviving her own battle with Stage IV B Diffuse B cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) in February 2014.

She was able to gather about 30 volunteers and supporters to form the Jenny Enriquez Lymphoma Survivor Fund (JELSF).

“My real purpose for having this advocacy is not only for raising funds. Real support for cancer patients means you visit them in hospitals and give them encouragement to help them strengthen their resolve,” Enriquez told TFT.

“Information dissemination and awareness about the sickness for family members are also very essential for the patients’ survival,” she added.

Enriquez said she’s giving back to the community the support she received when she was undergoing treatment.

“Although I was so far away from home, there were so many people who helped me. I witnessed so much goodness here that it has motivated me to help others,” she said in an earlier interview.

Among those who have benefitted from JELSF’s work so far was 33-year-old Alden Gagola who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) or cancer of the blood. The group was able to raise funds for his bone marrow transplant by selling printed t-shirts at the Dubai Flea Market Event at Zabeel Park last March.

Alden is currently in the Philippines recuperating after his successful transplant operation.

At the moment, JELSF is helping two female patients who have been battling ovarian cancer and leukemia.



Meantime, another survivor, 42-year-old Janet Tangonan, who had a Stage 2B breast cancer and has been on remission for the past two years, said she plans to create a support group for breast cancer patients and survivors.

“This is actually what I have been thinking to come up with,” she told TFT. “A support group that will meet periodically.”


An assistant relationship manager, Tangonan, who had been previously featured on TFT, said the idea dawned on her “especially after a compatriot, who is also battling cancer, contacted me after reading the article on the paper last June 2015.”


Tangonan said being a cancer survivor turned her into a stronger person who’s “more sensitive about how other people feel and what they could be going through.”

For advice, she strongly recommended a 360-degree lifestyle change complete with a routine exercise and, yes, a “good juicer.”

“Juice veggies and fruits every day. Your daily food consumption should include the ABC juice – apple, beetroot and carrot. A hint of ginger is also fine.


Think positive

Most Filipinos have a “positive attitude” in life and “can easily adapt,” said Razek, characteristics, he added, that make for a cancer survivor.

“Positive attitude and adaptability boosts the immune system and that can help increase the chance of healing,” Razek said.

He said they have noticed an increasing number of patients suffering from Nasopharynx cancer because there is an Asian prevalence in areas like Philippines, Indonesia and China. “It could be genetic or due to the environment which is common in Philippines and China,” he said.



Desiderio said cancer-stricken Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) would most likely go home for treatment than stay here and accrue huge amounts in treatment costs should they not be covered by insurance.

“As we all know, cancer therapy is very costly, thus OFWs will opt to go back to their home country to avail treatment there. And since not everyone working here have their families with them, should someone gets diagnosed with terminal illnesses, no one will take care of them.

“And so, the best practical option is to be with their family. Oncology/cancer patients require a very strong emotional support that only family members and loved ones can provide,” she said. Desiderio said employers as well will not be able to maintain to pay a salary to an employee for a long time as there is only an allowable leave period.




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