Still, this is an improvement over how she looked only one month ago. You see, my friend, Liza Mae, has a terrible cancerous tumor on her face, and she needs our help to have any chance.
FYI I blurred out the details of her face out of respect for her privacy, but also because, frankly, it's shocking to see.
I first came across Liza Mae through the Everlasting Hope organization in Cebu City in the Philippines, where I live (I recently relocated to nearby Dumaguete). When that organization, which raises funds, manages care, and provides housing and other help for poor kids with cancer, put out the call for a Santa Claus for their annual Christmas Party, I volunteered. (I figured hell, it will give me an excuse to grow out my beard - and my belly!)
The party went great (although they were curious why Santa Claus sweats so much) and I became familiar with the great work Everlasting Hope is doing. So when they told me about Liza Mae’s case a month ago, I wanted to help again.
And Liza Mae and her mother are poor even by lower class Filipino standards. The father long gone, only her mother was left to take care of Liza Mae when she first got sick and the tumor started growing. It grew alarmingly quickly, but still, there was no money to go to the hospital, or even for a simple doctor's visit.
But with our donations, Everlasting Hope was able to get her to the doctor, and then specialists, and finally to the hospital for blood transfusions and then the start of an eight course chemotherapy treatment.
My friends on Facebook, many of whom had never even met me before yet alone this little girl in the Philippines, donated enough for us to pay for the first chemo treatment, and then the second, and, miraculously, the third treatment only the day before the bill was due.
So when I had to head over to Cebu for the weekend anyways, I asked if it would be OK if I met Liza Mae and her mother - only if she was up to it, of course. Everlasting Hope arranged for the meeting, and an air-conditioned SUV picked me up at my nice hotel, full of volunteers and intern med students.
We drove down towards the port, which is a really rough area that houses hundreds of thousands of desperately poor people in shantytowns. When we pulled up in front of an industrial property walled in by a corrugated tin fence, I thought that maybe Liza Mae and her mother lived better than most in the area.
But it was actually a dirt parking lot inside where 18-wheelers and trucks parked their cargo. Liza Mae’s “house” was in there off to one side, a structure slapped together with plywood, cardboard, and tin that looked as sturdy as a house of cards.
“Here, put this on,” the Everlasting Hope staff told me, handing me a surgical mask. “It’s to try to keep any germs away from her.”
But it seems to me that dirt and germs were all that surrounded us. There was nothing but rubble and broken glass, 5-gallon buckets and discarded junk strewn about, rags hanging on a laundry line. Filthy little kids ran up to us, curious to the presence of a new foreigner – maybe the only one they’d ever seen up close.
We were led into the shade of the open-air structure, and there sat Liza Mae on her mother's lap. She was so skinny; all bones; even her ribs showing through her chest. There was still a swab of cotton taped to her hand from a recent IV, and the hospital ID bracelet that was set as tight as possible still hung from her emaciated wrist. Her clothing hung off of her like an oversized shirt on a plastic hangar.
Liza Mae was wearing a mask, too, but the top of her face above her covered nose revealed what was beneath. I said hello to her and her mother, smiled , and waved. Her mother, who didn’t speak much English, expressed her appreciation for our help and donations, and translated Liza Mae’s thanks through the Everlasting Hope folks.
They told me a little more about Liza Mae and her plight. One of the older women ran and got an old phone with a cracked phone, showing me a photo of Liza Mae only one year earlier before the cancer struck. I was shocked – she was a pretty little girl, totally unrecognizable today.
“She’s itchy and hot because of the medication,” they translated for me. I asked if they had a fan at least, and they said they did have one inside. I noticed a leaning, open-air shack in the back of the truck lot.
“Is that the comfort room?” I asked, referring to what they call their toilets. It was pretty bad if everyone had to go back there, I thought.
“No, that’s not a CR, they told me,” they told me. “They don’t have one here. They have to go outside into the street and pay a coin to rent a CR every time.”
But after spending a little more time with them, I found that Liza Mae is still like any other kid, despite her terrible affliction. She likes chicharron (crispy fried pork) and ice cream. She also likes Jollibee fried chicken (but won't eat the imitation sold in the roadside stands). However, she doesn't eat enough these days because her sickness and the chemotherapy makes her nauseas all the time.
Liza Mae still wears the hospital ID tag around her thin wrist like a designer bracelet and doesn't want to take it off. She also liked the new bright yellow baseball cap I brought her.
She was really shy around me at first, but before I had to leave, she wanted to give me a high five and presented me with this artwork, which she'd colored herself.
It says "salamat," which means "thank you."
It instantly became my most cherished possession, and it nearly breaks my heart and puts all of my petty problems in perspective every time I look at it. I carry around that drawing in my backpack as a reminder of my beautiful little friend.
Liza Mae has a long way to go, and we don't know if she'll get there. But she has loved ones around her, and now she has hope and knows she's never alone in this fight, no matter how difficult the journey ahead.
The first three rounds of chemotherapy went well, shrinking her tumor a little and arresting its growth. But each round of chemo costs about $600 USD. She also needs white blood cell infusions, medications, and other care. That doesn’t even account for living expenses, food, and transportation, etc.
I would be forever grateful if you would donate something to help with Liza Mae’s medical costs.
So that you know, I don’t give money to Liza Mae's mother directly (although I handed her about $30 of my own money before I left so Liza Mae could have all of the Jollibee and ice cream she wants!) Nor do I pay her medical bills myself.
Everlasting Hope is a registered non-profit in the Philippines. To ensure transparency and accountability, they send me detailed reports of where every dollar is spent – like this one. Of course, I'd be happy to share those reports with you.
There are several ways you can donate to help Liza Mae:
In the Philippines, deposit directly to their Metrobank account.
From the U.S., you can make a contribution through their affiliate, a church named Lake Samm in Bellvue, Washington.
Or, if you wanted to easily shoot a donation to my personal Paypal, I'll withdraw it here (at my expense for all fees) and deliver the money directly and safely to Everlasting Hope for Liza Mae's care. I can show receipts and confirmation of all funds donated, as well as those medical accounting reports.
My Paypal is hi@NormSchriever.com
Thanks so much from Liza Mae and her mom!