Asia Pacific

What does treatment access mean to you?

When someone facing cancer gains access to treatment, they gain access to life. With oral chemotherapies, access to treatment isn’t simply a one-time occurrence. Each and every day, tens of thousands of cancer patients take life-saving medication they receive free-of-cost – all thanks to the unseen work of partners, donors, and Max team members.

Treatment access means so much to us at The Max Foundation because we understand what it means to patients. We know so many people living beyond their cancer diagnoses because of the access we are able to provide. We know the privilege of watching patients grow, get married, start careers, and give back to their communities. While treatment access means the world to us and our patients, there are many who do not realize the freedom, joy, and dignity that comes with access to a daily dose.

Words to live by

The Max Malaysia team recently attended the Malaysian Society of Haematology (MSH) Annual Scientific Meeting. Surrounded by healthcare professionals, patient advocates, pharmaceutical organizations, and more, we thought it was a great opportunity to hear what people gain when they have access to treatment.

So we created a fun way for people to share their thoughts – hundreds of buttons with different answers to the question, “What does treatment access mean to you?” Attendees selected (and sometimes wrote out) words that reflected their thoughts and then pinned them to our display. Watch as delegates at the meeting shared their responses.

What about you? What does treatment access mean to you and your community? Share your words in the comments below!

This experience with our new friends at the MSH Annual Scientific Meeting showed that everyone has a role in treatment access. We were proud to represent Max at MSH and to showcase the ways treatment access empowers patients around the world.

Lan’s Story

In Vietnam, due to the lack of specialist in rural areas, a significant number of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients with minimal cash in hand must travel hundreds to thousands of kilometers to reach the hospitals in the city. The expenses for the trip itself is already a challenge for many patients let alone the cost of treatment. But today, there are numerous CML survivors who directly benefit from The Max Foundation’s patient access program to receive their cancer treatment at no cost. A living testimony to the success of our program is Lan.

Lan is a young, enthusiastic, Vietnamese woman living in Ha Noi, who refuses to be ordinary. On World CML Day 2017, Lan decided to let her treatment journey story to be heard. Lan was diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia when she was 23 years old. Initially, she was hesitant to share her story with anyone. It was kept within the family, as she was scared, weak and lost. With an attitude “Never give up nor abandon hope” she kept searching and successfully found what she looked for – The Max Foundation’s “magical” patient assistance program that would bring her the necessary CML treatment. 11 years later and the innovative program still supports Lan and many other CML patients in Vietnam.

Today Lan is living a happy normal life. Like other people in Vietnam, she goes to work and contributes to society. Because of the benefits of the patient assistance program, and continued stigma against cancer patients, Lan has started sharing her story – starting with this video.

Lan is forever grateful for the government that acknowledges the importance of patient assistance program. With Lan’s advocacy and our ongoing work, we hope to see other sustainable treatment access programs extended to many other patients in need.

Max Climbs Mt. Kinabalu!

Update: Watch our climbers take on Mount Kinabalu in our new video!

We’ve said many times since the inception of Max Global Experience – Mt. Kinabalu that the climb itself is a metaphor for living with cancer, but it all took on a new level of meaning as we set out on July 22nd to finally start the climb we’d been training and planning for.

This climb was not only a physical challenge, but mental and emotional as well. Each of us had to dig deep within ourselves to summon the strength, courage, and determination to keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, until we reached base camp and then set out in the dark early hours of July 23rd for the summit.

Each of us had our individual experience with the climb, and at times we climbed silently, working hard for each step and each breath as the altitude increased. But we were not alone – we shared a strong connection and solidarity among our team of 23 that in just a few short days grew close through our shared experience, supporting one another at every turn and celebrating each climber’s milestones along the way.

We also had guides, whose calm and reassuring presence helped us through each twist and turn of the summit trail. Finally, we had our friends and family at home cheering us on individually and collectively, many of whom were donors supporting our fundraising campaigns. For me personally, each climber on our team, every patient I was fortunate to meet and speak with in Malaysia, and each of my supporters back home motivated and inspired me to put everything into my climb!

Reflecting on our climb just a couple of short weeks ago, I still find myself amazed by our team’s hard work, dedication, and heart that they put into every step of this journey. It wouldn’t feel right to talk about only my experience, which would not have been the same without our team. Below are just a sampling of impressions from our other climbers, but you can read more from other team members in Max Family Malaysia’s “The Climb Series” blog and see the full album of photos from the climb on Facebook!

“I remembered the moment, the same exact moment of wanting to quit in the midst of your body falling apart. But again, I didn’t know where it came from, there was an unleashed momentum and burning passion kept pushing and telling me that I got to finish whatever I had agreed to start.” —Dr. Abd Razak Muhamad, CML survivor

“Walking in the dark is just like having CML and not knowing your treatment will be successful or otherwise. It’s just the belief in us and our spiritual and mental strength that say, yeah I can do it, I can reach the summit and I can overcome all the fear and stigma of CML.” —Abu Hurairah, CML survivor

“We were connected through a deeply bonding experience because our lives depended on it. Very much like our cancer survivor friends around the world who come together to support each other as they each climb the mountains ahead of them.” —Erin Schwartz, VP of Strategic Partnerships and Communications

Read Tony Leo’s 10 Year Journey to the Top of Mount Kinabalu

See more from our Mt. Kinabalu trip

Ten Long Years to Climb to the Top

Tony Leo from from Malaysia and living in Singapore inspired The Max Foundation to host our 2017 Max Global Experience in Malaysia to climb Mt. Kinabalu. Tony’s story explains how this climb closes a 10-year-journey of discovering and living beyond his cancer diagnosis.

10 years ago, for my first attempt to climb Mount Kinabalu, I felt prepared. I was a 27-year old living an active lifestyle of soccer and gym and I just started out being a full-time musician and music teacher. I had everything going for me and I thought I could have conquered Mount Kinabalu easily when I went with some teachers and students of a music school.

The first couple of kilometers proved really tough and I began to realize something might be wrong with my body – especially my lungs. It could not only be the altitude as I had no energy to even lift a leg up or get enough air; the strangeness of it engulfed me and it took me a very long 12-hours climb to Laban Rata, the base camp where we would stay the night.

I was very tired and baffled at why it was so difficult. I cried in that darkness when I saw the grounds of Laban Rata. I slept that night after telling myself maybe I shouldn’t continue. But when everyone started waking up to attempt the summit at 1:30 AM, I thought let’s give it a try regardless. I was doing okay until my fear of heights gripped me and I walked back to the camp in the dark, alone and dejected after failing to get over my fear.

When I reached back home, I immediately had a checkup and that’s how I found out my body is wrecked with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). No wonder I struggled so much, my body lacks red blood cells and that’s why it is so tough for me when I tried climbing the mountain.

My hopes were not completely dashed as I was exuberant to find out I can receive very expensive medicinal treatment at no cost thanks to the help of a patient support group called The Max Foundation. Feeling so grateful for the help, I wrote a song, entitled You for Max who I felt paved the way for me and for The Max Foundation CEO, Pat Garcia-Gonzalez. I was soon on the way to recovery and was encouraged to have met many other CML patients and their caregivers as well as the staffs of The Max Family.

Last November, Pat and I recorded a conversation about my story and when we were almost done, Pat had the brilliant idea to climb Mount Kinabalu after revealing to her I failed to reach the summit for the 2nd time that same year! We would do it as part of her birthday fundraising efforts for The Max Foundation. This idea birthed a plan to include another 21 climbers: patients, advocates, partners and even a representative from Novartis!

Ten years later, after gaining life-saving treatment for my CML through The Max Foundation, and feeling much better (and happier, and thus, fatter), I was ready to take on Kinabalu again.

On this climb, the all too familiar tracks, the all too familiar signboards and scenery greeted me but, thank God, this time we had beautiful weather. I am much more prepared (been hiking and cycling 2-3 times weekly) and I had a game plan: to take each step whether up or down, slow and steady and to enjoy the view. The climb was interestingly easy and enjoyable this time while I kept my breathing regulated and I managed to reach Laban Rata this time in six hours with lots of energy and laughter to spare!

The next day in the early morning, I applied the same technique and I slowly but surely climbed up and reached the last station within an hour. I continued climbing and reached the summit in the next 2 hours! 😄

Oh, the view is beautiful at the peak. I was in awe of the creation of this quiet, steady mountain but it cannot match the feeling of exuberance I had. Finally, after 10 years, I managed to reach the summit!

I am eternally grateful to God who helped me along the way and to my family and friends and especially Pat, everyone at The Max Foundation, The Max Family patient group in Malaysia, the other patients and partners who cheered for me along the way.

Oh, the feeling of conquering the mountain finally is answered but this time, with so much more respect to the ever-steady mountain of life that has taught me to be humble, alerting me to the web of support that exists and feeling the love of unity with similar purpose!

Thank you for letting me experience, learn and enjoy the process!

Maybe another song might come out of this “mountain”…

Hear from others about their Mount Kinabalu climb See more from our Mt. Kinabalu trip

Scaling New Heights!

We’re getting ready to climb Mt. Kinabalu in a little less than a month! Over the past several months, we have been training, fundraising, and preparing to conquer Mt. Kinabalu, and now we’re counting down the days until our team meets at the foot of the mountain for the big climb. Why climb a mountain, you might ask? This climb is as literal as it is symbolic, and was inspired by the journey of patient and longtime friend Tony, whose cancer journey began after trying to climb Mt. Kinabalu 10 years ago.

This July, Tony will join our team of climbers, each one fundraising to support The Max Foundation’s work in Malaysia, helping people face their cancer diagnosis with dignity and hope. The funds we raise together will make it possible to offer support and education programs for patients, raise awareness of early diagnosis and treatment access, and to develop and train leaders and advocates, broadening access to treatment and support for people living with cancer.

Support our work in Malaysia – donate to one of our climbers today! The Max Foundation’s CEO, Pat Garcia-Gonzalez, has set an ambitious goal of raising $25,000. Will you help her reach her goal? Donate to her fundraiser.

Vulnerability

“Don’t cry baby, you’re a strong kid,” what I normally hear when parents try to console their children here. As I’m growing older (there you go my honest confession), I come to learn it’s okay to cry, to be sad and to be vulnerable at the certain time.

These past two weeks also in a way regained my perspective about vulnerability.

Each month, I call all 18 families of Max Schooling Project, an initiative of The Max Foundation to support children whose families are affected by a cancer diagnosis. January marked my first “anniversary” of our relationship. If I can describe our relationship in marriage term, it’s still in “honeymoon” phase.

I am beyond grateful to learn so much about people and real challenges. Challenges such as: families with only RM 900 (around $200) to spend monthly with 5 children; families living with grandparents because they could not afford housing; or eldest children needing to drop out school to support their families…I heard them all. It hit me when I recently spoke with a mother and she burst into tears while telling me her struggles. I was unsure on how to best console her, so I chose to keep silent for a moment. I let her being vulnerable. I should not stop her from crying, that’s one thing I was sure about.

That’s when I found myself reflecting about vulnerability. In a way, vulnerability is an impact. After hours of phone calls throughout the year, families have opened themselves up to me. The vulnerability is not just a spur of the moment but hopefully built on mutual trust and respect. I gain a new perspective about vulnerability – it draws out your strength when you respond to it with care.

When someone is vulnerable to us, it comes with a sense of responsibility. At The Max Foundation, we value that our patients open up themselves, telling things they are fearful of or things that may be viewed as “weaknesses”. It’s not just about how much money they earn per month, but about their life. It goes beyond facts, you know. We’re dealing with real people with very real feelings. When someone is vulnerable, I have focused less on trying to say the right thing, and more on attentively listening to them first and lifting them up in the midst of their grief.

I can’t wait to unfold their beautiful stories through my next monthly phone calls. We learn best when we are willing to listen. The most important thing is being vulnerable is not being weak. That’s what I have learned through this initiative. I am grateful to be able to learn about the precious lessons from my day-to-day job.

Stories of Dignity and Hope: India and Philippines

Throughout the month of October, as we celebrate the Maximize Life Campaign, we’ve invited team members to share stories of dignity and hope from patients and caregivers. We share these stories so they may inspire you to raise your voice, fight the stigma cancer carries, and offer hope to all. Read the first post and second post in this series.

Storytelling in India

Shared by the South Asia Team

The following story comes from a caregiver out of our Storytelling Workshop, which forms the bedrock of our belief in the therapeutic value of sharing stories.

Cancer survivors like my mom are real heroes, not many people have the courage to look at death in the eye and say CATCH ME IF YOU CAN!!!

In November 2011, my parents and I started for our native place to attend a family wedding. We were enjoying ourselves and my mom looked fit as a fiddle. But the very next day she started feeling weak and dizzy. We all assumed that it was due to the fatigue of five long days of wedding celebration. But we were soon proven wrong when her condition deteriorated further and she could barely walk.

Once back in Mumbai, we managed to take her to local hospital, where Dr. Shishir Shetty found that a tumor in her stomach was malignant and my mom urgently needed an operation.

That was a doomsday for us.

But my mom showed tremendous courage. The operation was not easy, but her willpower was tremendous during this phase. Soon after, she was on treatment thanks to The Max Foundation.

My family members urged me to marry during this time, saying, “If anything happened, my mom would at least see me settling down.” But my mom was against it. She wanted her daughter to finish her studies and stand on her feet. During this time, she was worried about my welfare. Her battle for survival was more for me! She knew that her daughter needed her.

Today I stand high, completing my graduation because my mom was there for me, smiling despite all her agony. Thanking her is the least I can do! Her survival and struggle has made me grow as a person and understand the unconditional love of a mother.

Cancer played the role of a bonding agent in my family’s story.

Jhonnel from Philippines

Shared by the Asia Pacific Team

Jhonnel was diagnosed with CML at the age of 12 – a total shock for a child who is so passionate to learn and play. Jhonnel recalled how that year marked his most confusing moments. His family had been greatly affected, not only financially but also emotionally. As a young boy, he persistently searched for answers for things that were difficult to understand. He was a silent participant during the patient gathering.

But during the 2015 Maximize Life Campaign, Jhonnel bravely shared his story to hundreds of patients and caregivers. His perspective on life eventually changed. Through his testimonial, he came to realize his needs are not greater or special in any way. The Maximize Life Campaign event brought out the best in him. Today, he’s one of the many hardworking volunteers of Touched by Max, our regional patient advocacy organization. He is proud to inspire people because of his medical condition. He is passionate to help and continues to share his God-given talents to the patient group. His transformation from being a shy member to becoming an active and highly-motivated volunteer has brought positive energy to the group!

Stories of Dignity and Hope: South Africa and Thailand | Maximize Life Campaign 2016

Throughout the month of October, as we celebrate the Maximize Life Campaign, we’ve invited team members to share stories of dignity and hope from patients and caregivers. We share these stories so they may inspire you to raise your voice, fight the stigma cancer carries, and offer hope to all. Read the previous post in the series.

Ka from Cambodia

Shared by the Asia Pacific Team

When Ka came to Thailand for access to treatment, she had the chance to join the MaxSmiles patient group meetings. Ka started to dream about having her own meetings and soon found support from Dr. Mary Cluck, an Australian volunteer working with Cambodian CML patients. Ka stepped up and called the patients one-by-one to invite them to their first patient meeting.

On January 11th 2013, Ka’s first patient meeting was underway! We offered MaxSmiles T-shirts and bags to all in attendance. There was a patient education session from Dr. Mary (as they call her in Cambodia) in Khmer language, and there was Q&A session. Lunch was traditional Khmer food, prepared with love by Ka’s mother. Ka’s friends even sang a song they wrote which became the group theme song! On that day, Max Miracle was founded in Cambodia.

As I always say, Ka never gives up! She does anything to make her dreams come true. She made history with Max Miracle by being one of the first patient groups for CML patients in Cambodia!

The Memorial Wall in South Africa

Shared by the Africa & Middle East Team

During the 2010 Maximize Life Campaign, The Max Foundation in South Africa created a message board within one of the largest libraries in Pretoria. The objective of the wall was for members of the public to write messages of encouragement and hope to those living with cancer. Following the campaign, the messages would be distributed to cancer patients and caregivers and posted on The Max Foundation website – spreading hope and decreasing isolation.

Spending time at the wall I soon realized that a secondary objective was reached. People were not only writing messages, but they were openly engaging in dialogue with those around them, all sharing stories about cancer. The wall was no longer a static receiver of messages, it had become an active encourager of cancer conversations amongst strangers. Behind every short message was a longer story to be told, people want to talk about cancer. We are all affected by cancer, and platforms such as the Maximize Life Campaign not only allow us to gather as strangers for a cause, but leads us to being friends in victory.

Around the World for Max’s Day!

It was an amazing 24 hours! To celebrate Max’s birthday anniversary, we went around the world through Facebook Live to visit each regional office, meet special friends, and learn how each of us contributes to caring and supporting people facing cancer. Never before has our team felt so close and united.

Watch each of the six Facebook Live recordings below to celebrate this brilliant team of advocates!

Live in Singapore

Our dear friend and CML patient, Tony Leo kicked things off on October 19 in Singapore! Tony shared a bit about his journey and experience with cancer. He also gave a special performance of his song, You, dedicated to Max’s legacy through The Max Foundation.

Live from Malaysia: Celebrating Max's Day!

We're traveling around the world with Facebook Live! First up, Tony Leo, a CML patient and musician, shares the story behind the song You and gives a special performance live!

Posted by The Max Foundation on Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Live in Thailand

Next we head to Thailand, where our Asia Pacific team members interview a patient who gives back to the MaxSmiles community by cooking large servings of delicious Thai dishes for patients. It’s a testimony of the power of hospitality and kindness.

Live from Thailand: Celebrating Max's Day!

Our Thailand team shares how hospitality and kindness are simple but powerful ways to make a difference in the lives of people facing cancer.

Posted by The Max Foundation on Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Live in India

Over in India, our South Asia regional office join in the fun with a wonderful skit showing the patient journey through cancer. Community is key when you’re faced with a cancer diagnosis, and the South Asia team is creating committed networks of patients throughout the region.

Live from India: Celebrating Max's Day

The Max Foundation team in India joins us on Facebook Live to share how people in India are facing cancer with dignity and hope. In the journey of life, no one expects to get cancer – but that doesn't mean the story is over!

Posted by The Max Foundation on Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Live from Kenya

In Kenya, Lucy represents our Africa & Middle East region and is joined by patient advocates who have gone above and beyond their cancer diagnosis in order to help others face cancer with dignity and hope. They also brought out a beautiful cake decorated by a local patient!

Live from Kenya : Celebrating Max's Day!

From our Nairobi, Kenya team, we hear how cancer patients are combating stigma and raising their voices to support and care for everyone facing cancer!

Posted by The Max Foundation on Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Live in Argentina

Our Latin America team was represented by Vicky and Melisa in our Buenos Aires office. Together, they shared their love to all in the region and around the world. They also led us through a special mindfulness exercise to focus our attention and energy!

Live from Argentina: Celebrating Max’s Day!

Our Latin America team in Buenos Aires shows how they care for patients in the region by leading us in guided mindfulness. They also share a tour of the office and how they offer support and care to others.

Posted by The Max Foundation on Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Live in the USA

Finally, we cap off our very full day with a celebration in our Seattle headquarters. Team members and friends gathered to watch the live streams of the day and Pat took to Facebook Live to reflect on Max’s legacy. We also revealed the winner of this year’s Excellence in Patient Advocacy award – congratulations to Viji Venkatesh, South Asia Region Head!

Live from Seattle: Celebrating Max's Day!

We visit The Max Foundation headquarters to join the celebration with friends and team members! Pat offers her thoughts on the day and reflects on the legacy of Max. She also awards one team member with the Excellence in Patient Advocacy award!

Posted by The Max Foundation on Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Not Just a Diagnosis, Cancer Touches so Many Lives

Cancer is a life-changing event; not just a medical condition. It changes your priorities, causing you to make different life choices.

People facing cancer sometimes choose to delay their treatment in order to send their children to school. That is what is being observed by Dr. Ong from the Hematology Department of Hospital Ampang, one of the important people behind the inception of The Max Schooling Project (or Sambung Sekolah in Malay) in 2014.

“This project is to make the children feel they are not different from their friends. For example, they could also go to the school trip. They deserve to enjoy the same school experience.”

“We’re also giving a chance to the community to help these children who are normally unnoticed,” Dr. Ong added.

Through the Max Schooling Project, hospital physicians refer children to The Max Foundation’s Malaysia team. The Max Foundation matches children with an ‘adopter’ who coordinates financial assistance on a monthly basis for the child. The Max Foundation carries out regular follow-up contact with the enrolled child and their family to provide financial and emotional support.

I have the opportunity to call all the families on the monthly basis. One of the families is Kak Ida’s. We have talked on the phone for 9 months now. Every month, I will chit-chat with Kak Ida. Her only child is one of the 7 children who are the early beneficiaries of the project. If I am lucky, I manage to talk briefly with her shy son, Ahmad.

The pain from her chemotherapy treatment that made her sleepless, and her vomiting blood with the chest pain, she told me all through our monthly phone calls. Her openness shows she is the right person to speak before the Maximize Life Campaign audiences.

It was a quiet Wednesday morning in August, we finally met for the first time. Amid the nervousness, I greeted her, quietly standing behind her is Ahmad. She smiled a charming smile. In the next hour, she shared about her journey, when it started, how far she has come.

Being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma (a type of blood cancer) since 2012, she is not only a cancer survivor but a single mother to her teen son, Ahmad. He was only 12 years old that time, and cancer was like an alien. He was only aware that his mother was sick, dressed in a hospital gown for 6 months. He was taken care by his grandmother during the difficult time.

Kak Ida is a sole breadwinner — working at a factory, his teen son is still in high school, taking care of her sick parents, they are all living in the humble flat.

I asked her how she reacted to the cancer diagnosis.

“Treatment cost, how would I manage that?” Her doctor referred her to the hospital social department to ease the financial burden.

“My son, he is the motivation for me to keep going. I will do my best to take care of you, even though you’re being abandoned by your father,” her voice was breaking into sobs and tears rolled down her cheeks.

I paused. I reached for her hands and squeezed them gently.

She also confessed that she planned to quit her job after being hospitalized for 6 months. She felt guilty. She has been working in the factory for 8 years that time. But her diagnosis could not change the fact that she is a good employee. Her employer not only visited her in the hospital and talked with her doctor, they also assured her she could stay working and seeking treatment.

Now, after four years, she knows her health should be prioritized. She trusts her doctors and is compliant to improve her health. She wants to do the best for her son and her parents. Every time she goes to the hospital, Ahmad will accompany her. He wants to make sure his mother is not fainting, especially during the bus ride to the hospital.

Ahmad is a lanky boy with a bit tanned complexion. Throughout my conversation with his mother, I noticed he was listening attentively.

“How do you feel knowing your mother has cancer?” I asked him.

“I feel sad seeing my mother in pain.”

His answer reminded me of love, by its nature, is unconditional. As we finished talking, I realized Ahmad has become more opened. He shared his dreams to become a policeman and to represent Malaysia in Sepak Takraw.

I gain a deeper understanding of how cancer touches more than a patient. It can be very difficult for some people to understand the needs of people living with cancer. But Kak Ida’s willingness to share her testimony in this year Maximize Life Campaign can increase the local community awareness and the support for people living with cancer.

And through it all, a cancer survivor like Kak Ida remains a loving daughter and mother. Having cancer doesn’t define her. Max Schooling Project reminds us that the care is ultimately delivered at the individual level “Who is this person I’m speaking with?”

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