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Reader’s Digest Article: Pedal Power

Somewhere in the hills of Samar, in the southern Philippines, James Auste struggles through the rough terrain on his muddied bicycle. As fatigue takes its toll, the faces of the children in cancer wards he has visited appear before his eyes, goading him forward. He knows that every kilometre he covers might mean a life saved, a sick child restored to health.

To get here, Auste fought his own battle with cancer. As a 19-year-old political science student at Ateneo de Manila University, he was diagnosed with two brain tumours in 1996, although it was unlcear whether they were cancerous. Auste went to the United States for diagnosis and treatment, and while waiting for his biopsy, he was found to be suffereing from a rarely diagnosed condition called panhypopituitarism that stops the body from producing hormones necassary for survival and growth. He would need replacement therapy for the rest of his life.

By February 1997, the tumours had grown considerably and his doctors were now sure it was cancer. Fortunately, after a six-week course of radiation therapy, the tumours disappear.

During his illness, Auste discovered the survival rate of Filipino children with cancer was often compromised becasue they didn’t have access to proper medical treatment. “These children die needlessly and painfully because they cannot afford the high cost of treatment,” he says.

Around this time Auste saw a television documentary about a group cycling around the Philippines to raise awareness for cancer. He decided to do the same thing to raise funds for children with cancer.

Auste was inspired in part by Frederick Dalisay, whom he had met in the hospital. Dalisay, a cyclist also undergoing treament for a brain tumour, had encouraged Auste to cycle. In no time he was pedalling as far as his strength could take him. Dalisay was delighted by Auste’s progress but was too sick to join him.

After Dalisay died in December 1999, Auste pushed harder to realise his plans. The following June, Auste, wearing Dalisay’s favourite cycling jersey, led a core group of eight bikers out of Manila. The plan was to cycle 1000 kilometres in two weeks through Luzon and Visayas, creating awareness of the disease while collecting money for kids with cancer.

Soon the number of bikers ballooned to 300. “When we reached a town, local cyclists would just appear and follow us,” Auste recalls.

He was particularly touched by the children he met on the tour. In Catbalogan, a group of primary school children from poor families gave him their school allowances.

In all, two cycling tours have raised over $19,000 for Auste’s Cancer Warriors Foundation (CWF). The foundation covers the medical costs of poor children with cancer, provides counseling for cancer patients and their families, and funds cancer awareness campaigns.

While fighting his own battle with cancer, Auste continues to find new ways to raise funds, including an annual concert in Manila. “Despite having cancer, I feel blessed,” he says, “It has taught me the best way to live–enjoying and valuing life, and trying to make a difference with every precious moment.”

— by Jennifer Yap Caspe

from the March 2003 issue

of the “Reader’s Digest,”

pages 11-12

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