“It’s the Friends we meet along the way that help us appreciate the journey.”
You really have to treasure your true friends when they are willing to go the distance to not only help you, but stay by your side. This became abundantly clear when the story of Odessa and her friends inspired us to share her incredible journey.
Cancer doesn’t have a face until it’s someone you know.
Her name is Odessa Marie De Castro.
She’s a 26 year old entrepreneur, dreamer, and warrior.
When Dessa was in grade school, her mom passed away due to a heart condition. Her older brother has a family of his own and tries to make ends meet, her older sister got married and is starting a family of her own overseas, and her father retired several years ago.
Throughout high school, she was a merit scholar at an elite private school in Alabang. A hardworking student and an active student leader in school, she’s is not unfamiliar with struggle. But she’s never complained. And she’s always considered herself infinitely blessed. She always had her family’s love and support growing up.
Her current battle is against stage 2 breast cancer. Several months ago, her entire right breast was surgically removed. Her family went to great lengths to pull together funds needed for the mastectomy and chemotherapy. Her boyfriend and aunt has been driving her to and from chemotherapy since December. Her whole family has always been her strength and support since Day 1. After several tests and biopsies, her chemotherapy course is finalized to run for 21 cycles until the end of 2018.
With the long journey ahead and a hefty amount of money needed, family and friends came together to support and save her life. When she first told us about her diagnosis last October, before we could cry, before we could brace ourselves for the difficult times ahead, the first thing we said was, “So, now what do we do?”
Who is we?
We are Dessa’s support group, her friends for life, her squad since high school. Immediately, we brainstormed different ways to tap the resources available in order to raise funds for her treatment. One spontaneous weekend last October, we launched The Brave Collection and sold over 100 shirts in just 1 month. More recently, we launched a second set of designs to commemorate Dessa’s battle with chemotherapy called, The Strong Collection:
Soon after, many had begun to inquire about monetary donations, thus prompting us to open a bank account and assist in managing the monetary donations from our other friends, relatives, and community members.
We’ve organized events, like an acoustic night and a game night:
Like many millennials navigating their way through adulthood, we hang out on weekends in local pubs or each other’s living rooms whith a glass of wine and good conversation.
An idea was born to give alcohol a life-saving purpose: By recycling leftover liquor bottles and converting them into lamps, we could sell these to different people and establishments to generate more funds. By cleaning the bottles and adding battery-operated fairy lights, we were able to produce a low-cost highly attractive product.
We shared our initiative with local pubs and many have graciously donated leftover liquor bottles, thereby cutting costs and maximizing the proceeds that go to Dessa’s treatment fund. Thus, our t-shirt fundraisers gained a sibling with Liquor Bottle Lamps for A Cause:
In addition to our liquor bottle lamps, we also make handcrafted rosaries for our prayer warriors. This 2018, we began exploring tiny market platforms and opened pop-ups in our local mall and the nearest University belt in Manila.
To date, we’ve sold over 190 liquor bottle lamps. Supporters and potential customers are extra motivated to buy our products because we tell them our story. We explain why we’re doing what we’re doing, and that we don’t profit. We include them in this battle, and they are more than glad to fight back with us.
We’ve been working tirelessly and we haven’t stopped moving. Friends don’t let friends fight cancer alone.
To see more of what we’ve done so far, please check out our Facebook page: Para sa Dibdib ni Dessa
(Para Sa Dibdib Ni Dessa, loosely translated “For Dessa’s Chest”)
In the entire time since we’ve fought alongside Dessa, I’ve only seen her cry once–and that’s when she was overwhelmed with gratitude thanking us for organizing all these fundraisers. She assured us, “Lalabanan ko ‘to, parang lagnat lang! Kasi sa inyo ako kumukuha ng lakas” (I’m gonna fight this like it’s just a fever. I get all my strength from you guys). I’ve never met anyone battle terminal illness with so much positivity and strength.
She still smiles, she tries to keep running her business, and she hasn’t lost her sense of humor. This whole experience must feel like a storm taking over her life, but she’s somehow managed to keep shining brighter than the sun. She refuses to let cancer consume her.
Times like these are hard. People are killing people. World leaders are letting us down. Hatred is polluting humanity. But the most valuable thing I learned last year was that in a world where there so much is going wrong, there’s still a lot of right being done. I saw it in the sympathies expressed and prayers chanted for our friend. I saw it in the t-shirt orders from dozens of people who didn’t know Dessa or weren’t close to her. I saw it in the number of unexpected guests at acoustic night. Even in her reality where her world was turned upside down, there was still room for hope and love.
The world can be cruel and ugly, but there are times and there are people when the world is not. Dessa’s journey will inspire the dying to live, ignite faith in the hopeless, and build courage in the weak. It will teach us to be better friends. It will encourage people to do more. It will remind us that we’re never truly alone. Where hate and fear are strong, love and friendship are stronger.
#ParaSaDibdibNiDessa Lighting the path to recovery #ShareALightSaveALife #StrongerThanCancer
We would like to thank Odette (Odessa’s sister) for taking the time to share her story with us.
We feel even more inspired to make this world a little bit brighter now. Please help us share her story of incredible perseverance and the power of friendship, especially when times get hard.