She would have been 25 today.
As a wine educator, no matter how I try to avoid it, I tend to get attached to a few students… It was particularly difficult to avoid getting close to a former student of mine named Jen.
She was pretty hard to miss in my class on the third term of 2011-2012, because she was bright, bubbly, had one of the most radiant smiles I’ve ever seen…
And had one leg.
Now, one of my weaknesses is an amazing lack of tact… So of course I decided to ask her what happened to her leg.
It turned out that she had to have it amputated because of bone cancer.
I thought to myself how brave she was (she was 19 at the time) to have gone through that and to retain such a positive spirit.
The term after, I couldn’t find her anymore… I found out that her cancer has returned to attack a different part of her body.
It ended up becoming more serious and put a huge emotional and financial strain on her family (she and her single mom reached a point of homelessness), so my husband and I decided to help out.
As months went by, I saw how the disease ravaged her little body… But I never saw her spirit or the love around her diminish.
When she finally passed away in June of that year (at an unfairly young age of 20), I found that there was some sort of irony with the fact that, while I was supposed to be the adult and her teacher, she taught me what it was like to be grateful, to be cheerful, to have hope, and to love.
I know that this seems like a morose way to start an article (and people might be wondering what this has to do with drinks), but I just wanted to share my realisation that being a beverage instructor does not insulate me from the pain of losing someone from cancer… On the contrary, it put me face to face with it.
This is why, in any capacity that I could, I try to find ways to help.
When some of my favourite partners (Sunny Ku of Mastermind Asia and Katherine Yao-Santos of Happy Living Philippines) asked me to help out for their project with EPCALM to raise awareness for leukemia, I decided to lend what little voice I have.
Fast facts about leukemia: It doesn’t discriminate. What’s scary is that, like an unwanted visitor, it just pops up unannounced because it makes no clear indications of its presence. It is now the 4th cancer killer in the Philippines (source: Department of Health Philippines). And, like in Jen’s case, it puts a massive burden on both the patient and his or her family.
Having gone through a similar experience with her brother, Doctor Erlyn Demerre started EPCALM, along with a vision to build the “first adult leukemia foundation in the Philippines”. “Going through that journey made me realise that there must be other people out there who are going through the same thing I went through. It would be a huge injustice if I couldn’t help them,” said Demerre.
Today, it is a foundation that “provides all the support that the patient and the families would need.” They provide spiritual, physical, and emotional “nourishment” to patients and their families. They are working with the Amorsolo Foundation and Don Greggy Licaros (who lost his wife to cancer). Some of the local celebrities who support the cause are Martin Nievera, Boy Abunda, Angel Aquino, Isabel Granada, Tessa Prieto Valdes, Michael V, Anne Curtis, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, and Tirso Cruz III.
In line with that, EPCALM has launched the first Hope in Wellness Convention at the Samsung Hall, SM Aura Premiere last 8-10 September, with talks, health tips, food, and of course, drinks (there were natural juices, green coffee, and of course, wine… After all, there are many studies that prove that there is a correlation between drinking moderate amounts of wine and good health).
Those who seek assistance (or would like to find ways to help the organization) can visit the EPCALM office at room 341 St. Luke’s Medical Center Medical Arts Building. People can also check out their website at www.epcalm.org, or follow them on Instagram via @epcalm.
For Jen, for whom I’ve always wanted to do an article for. We still miss you, our little angel.