Cancer and Self-esteem from a Community Organizer's Eyes

Self-esteem is the sum-total of one’s sense of inner peace and inner peace is not that easily achievable according to people who live from meal to meal. People who live from one check to the next check find it difficult to put together body and spirit. How much more difficult must it be for people who live from one meal to the next meal. Food security as basic to everyday life isn’t much of an issue for people who have options on what food to eat. In fact, there is such a thing as voluntary hunger which is actually going on a kind of diet for health reasons. But for people whose daily fare is an empty plate and unemployment and an over-all picture of life is a continuum without options, the question to be asked is: Why does society allow a kind of social arrangement where the poor , even though how much they try, end up with very little options or a life with no options at all? We are just talking about food, yes, physical food, not yet food for the spirit as we will deal with that later in the page.

If hunger exists in a society, the health institutions of that society will have to work very hard with decision makers to address food security issues first before disease prevention and cure can happen on a massive scale. Our society, the Philippine society, is more and more pushed to the edge of food insecurity with the way our political and social institutions set their priorities. The regions in our country that used to be called the rice granary of the land are now seeing less and less land and more and more middle class subdivisions. Without organized effort from the people who have no access to land and power or frankly, without community organizing efforts where social conscience is placed again on the front seat of the nation’s political vehicle, chances are, one day, hunger will not just be a threat but a reality.

And what of cancer and self-esteem? What is its correlation with food security? What is its link with community organizing? There is very little organized action in our society as far as the concept of food as something that nourishes and heals is asserted in the corridors of power. The mindset of our health institutions in the aspect of treating diseases is still generally anchored on the curative effects of synthetic drugs. As of today, the concept of food as nourishment and medicine is still a marginalized concept. An organized assertion of the truth that a well-nourished population is a healthy population is not yet internalized politically, socially and culturally on a massive scale. It is the function of community organizing to let this truth be told and retold until it becomes a part of the nation’s psyche. To cite an example, when I was working as a community organizer-trainer at the foothill villages of Mt. Banahaw, I was so surprised to discover that in the midst of so many healing plants in the community, people who had headaches had still to run to the nearest drugstore to buy a pain reliever. I scratched my head in disbelief. Where did our educational and health institutions go wrong in the aspect of preventive medicine?

There are myriads of difficult-to-heal ailments.Cancer is one of them and it has been viewed as a horrible disease for decades. Generally, doctors immediately prescribe cobalt or chemotherapy as the treatment for cancer. But from experience, many cancer patients’ stories can enlighten us that cancer can be healed by the right food and herbs if administered correctly on the patient. There is no lack of success stories of cancer survivors who didn’t go the way of conventional medicine. In a society where doctors are viewed as the only ones with a say on one’s life, the concept of vegetables, fruits and herbs as medicines too and therefore do prevent and heal ailments is still a marginalized concept. An organized assertion of the truth that healing is possible through natural means is an urgent call to action.

What happens when a poor person suddenly gets cancer? What if this person is a victim of the day-to-day brainwashing that cancer can only be cured by cobalt or chemotherapy? What happens to this person’s self-esteem while he languishes in the thought that cancer is supposed to be a wealthy person’s disease and therefore not supposed to be his fate? With fear and hopelessness as a hunger of the spirit, it will be very hard for poor people to face the challenges of cancer. Only an organized community, an empowered one, can overcome the disease because it can be overcome.