It’s been 18 years since Maritoni Fernandez was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
The former actress, who had just turned 30 at the time, remembered praying hard to God and asking Him to extend her life for three more years.
“How old was Jesus when he died? Di ba Jesus was 33? What I remember saying was ‘Sige na, tawad ng three years,” Maritoni shares to hundreds of guests who attended this year’s Pink Ribbon Day, organized by SM Cares in partnership with the Philippine Breast Cancer Society and SM City North EDSA.
“I was diagnosed in a very strange way,” continues Maritoni. She was in the US at the time, accompanying her mom Luthgarda who was sick.
“While I was there, I just mentioned it out of the blue to an uncle who is a doctor that I felt a lump on my right breast. He told me ‘Hey, you’re here already in the States, why don’t you have it checked?’ So I went, just thinking it was nothing. The next day, I was told that I had full-blown cancer.”
Maritoni was diagnosed with Stage 2A breast cancer. She went through four rounds of chemotherapy and 26 cycles of radiation therapy.
“I always compare it to having a bad tooth like kung merong sira sa ngipin, kung agad-agad nyong agapan, pasta lang yan. Pero kung malala na yan, root canal na. Baka mamaya, bunutin pa… That’s why it’s so important to do a yearly mammogram. Only through mammogram can they see the cancer cells,” tells Maritoni to the women who attended the event.
Toni Abad, on the other hand, reveals that hers is a different journey. She was 36 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“God is good! It’s been 12 years! My daughter at that time was six and my son was 12. Now my daughter’s 18 and my son’s 24! Jesus, I love you!” declares Toni to the crowd.
The half sister of veteran performers Christopher de Leon and Pinky de Leon lived in the US for many years. During her 20s, she was convinced by friends to get a breast augmentation.
“I left the breast implant in without checking it every year, without being vigilant,” admits Toni, who first thought that the breast implants were the cause of the pain she felt on her breast.
She was with her brother Christopher and other members of the family when she first felt a sharp pain on her left breast, which she describes as “para akong sinaksak!”
“Maybe it’s my implant which had burst or something… baka sumabog,” Toni continues with her story. “I went to the doctor and they found out it’s not the breast implant. I actually had breast cancer.”
She was diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer. “Early detection is really the key here,” advises Toni.
Just like Maritoni and Toni, thousands of Filipinas are at risk. Yet through Pink Ribbon Day via SM Cares and its partners, breast cancer advocates continue to spread the word and encourage women to check with their doctors for early detection and intervention.
“Breast cancer is a fight that can be won with early detection, prayers, and support of family and friends,” tells Berna Velasco, SM Cares program director.