Marielle, the ultimate fighter

Thea Alberto-Masakayan
Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom

While most of us are worrying about bills to pay, lusting about new gadgets, or simply upset over the horrible traffic, Marielle Mae Estoy is clinging on for her dear life.

Every day, Marielle is trying her best to conquer leukemia, an illness that struck her when she was just five years old. Now already 15, Marielle is definitely a warrior: she has had two relapses, and has lost all her hair in the countless chemotherapy sessions her frail and young body has to endure. But life hasn’t been so bad—she graduated valedictorian in her grade school and is consistently on top of her class. This coming school year, she will try to become their high school valedictorian.

Born to a poor family in Pasig, Marielle grew up a cheerful girl while juggling studies and having to undergo treatment at least three times a week. She has made friends at school and at the hospital ward—she is happy despite her condition. She also lovingly accepts her brother Michael’s teasing that she is “Mrs. Clean.”

“Si God naman ang may plano nito. [This is part of God’s plan for me],” Marielle tells Yahoo! Southeast Asia when asked how she views her condition.

At the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, where she spent most of her life, Marielle has seen other cancer patients come and go. But she is hopeful that she will be among the handful lucky ones who defeated cancer.

Marielle’s nemesis, leukemia (acute lymphocytic), is a cancer of abnormal white blood cells that congest the bone marrow and crowd a patient’s bloodstream, which then leads to the disruption of its proper function. This in turn makes the body’s immune system weak. Cure for this type of cancer entails a long and truly expensive process of medication, chemotherapy, or a bone marrow transplant.

Marielle’s journey

When Meriam, Marielle’s mother, learned about her daughter’s condition, she decided to fight the disease head-on, although she didn’t know where to start. She had no money, she was pregnant to a second child, and her husband was not earning much as a construction worker.

“Three months kaming naghintay ng sagot ng Diyos. Sabi ko, kung kalooban niya na mailigtas si Marielle, kakayanin naming [We waited three months before our prayer for donations were answered,” Meriam said.
And her prayers then were answered: she had donors and was able to loan money from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. But it was just the start of their arduous battle.

For years, Marielle and her family worked hard to finance her treatment. A blood transfusion alone for the A+ Marielle means expenses. Sometimes, she needs lots of platelets which cost at least a thousand per tube, and of course the expensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These are apart from the hospital and doctors’ professional fees they need to pay each time she is admitted. Government health programs sometimes help, and there were occasional good Samaritans who cheered them on. However, Marielle and her family usually find themselves empty-handed.

“Humahanap kami ng tulong. Ang sa akin lang talaga, gagawin ko lahat bilang magulang. Hindi ako susuko. As long as lumalaban ang anak ko, lalaban din ako [We’re always looking for help. We won’t give up, as long as she is fighting, I’ll fight too,” Meriam said.

Marielle’s dreams

Now on her third round of a 3-year treatment, Marielle is determined more than ever to fight leukemia. After all, she still dreams of becoming a journalist or a flight attendant. She also doesn’t mind having bruises and burn marks all over, no thanks to the painful treatment.

“Sanay na ako. Ang sakit hindi hadlang sa buhay ko. Nasanay na lang ako sa sakit [I’m used to the pain and I don’t see this as a hindrance],” Marielle says with a smile.

Marielle’s chances of recovering from leukemia gets slim every time she has a relapse. Now, she has a 40-percent chance of recovery.
“Sana gumaling ako. And magkaroon din ng knowledge and wisdom sa pag-aaral kahit lagi akong absent,” Marielle said when asked about her wishes.

Marielle aims to accomplish more and also hopes to build a nice house for her family. She also wants to be an inspiration to other kids who are battling diseases.

“Minsan nakakapagod na rin, paulit ulit ang treatment. Pero dapat go lang ng go [I get tired too but I know I shouldn’t stop],” she added.

The author met Marielle in an outreach with the help of Project Brave Kids. Those who would like to help Marielle may send in their donations to Meriam Estoy, BDO-Cainta Junction branch, Account number 580230171. She may also be reached through 09063320162.