It’s difficult not to give up on life or be angry at the world upon the loss of a loved one especially when we lose them to a terrible disease like cancer. But for the Castañeda family, the loss of their 3-year-old boy Enzoe gave them the drive, strength, and inspiration to put up a foundation for underprivileged children diagnosed with cancer.
I Love Enzoe was established in October 2011, just a few months after Enzoe succumbed to hepatoblastoma, a type of liver cancer in children, on June 27, 2011. It has a presence in East Avenue Medical Center in partnership with Dr. Ramon Severino of the Tumor Clinic department.
I Love Enzoe has over 250 beneficiaries, from cancer patients to street children. In addition, the foundation regularly donates medicine to a hospital in Pangasinan, and during the summer and December break, the family opens their home to kids from the Manila Children’s Home in Muntinlupa.
Enzoe was only a week old when he was adopted by Victor, 52, and Cheche, 50. He was diagnosed with liver cancer a year after the family took him from the streets of Tondo. They had no idea he was sick, but the Castañedas believe that everything happens for a reason -- God works in ways we can’t understand. “Enzoe was really for us,” said Enzoe's sister, Evee, 24.
Though all too brief, little Enzoe’s life was an inspiring one; his heart was always bigger than his illness. “Every time na nagpapa-check-up kami sa [East Avenue], nakikita ni Enzoe yung mga bata [from Tumor Clinic]. Sasabihin niya, 'Mommy, can we buy goodies to give the kids,'” shared Cheche. Enzoe was only 2 years old then.
“Kaya ang tawag kay Enzoe sa East Avenue ay 'Santa' kasi every time na pupunta siya doon meron siyang dalang container of candies,” added Victor. On one particularly hot day, he even asked his parents to bring electric fans for the kids. The family has also donated hospital beds.
“Every 21 days nasa ospital kami,” said Victor, explaining the treatment Enzoe went through. “After nung chemo nag-shrink yung tumor niya, naging 20 percent na lang.” The next step was surgery where half of Enzoe’s liver was removed. But it was too late for the cancer had already spread. “Dumating na sa lungs, meron na sa brain, meron na din sa heart. Sabi nung doctor, 'Expect the worst. Dadating yung time na yung pain talagang masakit. Baka ‘di niyo kayang tingnan.'”
“Pero kahit nalaman naming na nag-metastasis na [yung cancer], we still fought,” said Cheche. They never gave up, and attended every healing mass they could until Enzoe passed away 3 and a half years old.
I Love Enzoe foundation provides funds (accessible through Dr. Severino) for medication and cancer treatment, organizes activities like parties for the kids, and offers a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for parents. “More than the financial aid, we want to build a community of hope talaga,” says Evee.
On Wednesdays, Dr. Severino’s non-paying patients are at the clinic where Cheche often keeps them company. She also restocks the clinic's mini-library that the Castañeda family set up for the kids (she needs to restock because children often ask to take the books home).
Recently, the foundation held a carnival-themed party at a barangay basketball court, complete with snacks, games and prizes for everyone. All of it came from generous donations, including the venue, which was offered for free by the barangay official who also provided the tables, chairs and sound system.
It’s not unusual for people to contact them asking to celebrate a birthday with the kids, too. The family shared that just last September, they organized party for a 22-year-old who wanted to celebrate her birthday at a fast food resturant with the kids.
“Yung pagiging hands-on naming tatlo ‘di mawawala. I think that’s what sets us apart from other organizations,” says Evee. The family, with the help or relatives and friends, individually packs loot bags, goodies and presents themselves during the start of a school year and Christmas time.
For the couple’s 25th anniversary, Victor and Cheche and asked guests to give their gifts in kind and to be donated to the foundation. Evee would also organize activities at her school, De La Salle University. “’Di kami humihingi. Laging may activity to get funds and donations,” she said.
The foundation’s ultimate goal is to help the parents and their kids to keep fighting their cancer. “Gusto naming sabihin sa mga parents na ‘wag kayo mawalan ng pag-asa’,” says Cheche. It’s hard, she adds, especially when most of the families have little money and barely have any for cancer treatment. “Sasabihin namin, ‘Lalaban tayo. Gagawan natin ng paraan. Itutuloy natin ‘yan until the end’. Yung hope di dapat nawawala.”
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The family hopes to build a home for the foundation where patients can stay while they undergo chemo, especially the ones from far-flung provinces. “May times na sasabihin ng ospital they cannot accommodate a patient and have to reschedule to another date. Because they live far, mauubos yung pera ng pamilya sa transpo. Kaya gusto namin ng home for them, they can stay there,” Victor explained.
The home can also be a place for the children to recuperate and get their strength back after chemo, said Cheche. “Imagine after three days of chemo babalik sila ng, say Tuguegarao. Nanghihina pa sila. 'Pag nagkaroon tayo ng home, they can stay there.”
As a parting message, we asked them to tell us why they do so much for other people -- what do they get out of all their hard work for the foundation? They answered, “Happiness.”
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Victor, Cheche, and Evee were awardees during the 6th Jollibee Family Values Awards, which honors Filipino families with inspiring advocacies. Find out more about I Love Enzoe through their Facebook page at facebook.com/ILoveEnzoeFoundation.