Biker to ride 2,200 km for kids with cancer, other chronic illnesses

Raisa Serafica
Biker to ride 2,200 km for kids with cancer, other chronic illnesses
Japo Parcero plans to bike from Pagudpud to Davao to raise awareness about the plight of kids suffering from cancer

MANILA, Philippines – Imagine biking non-stop for 18 days, travelling from Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, through different Luzon provinces, then hopping from one island to another. By the end of the trip, you have covered 2,200 kilometers and reached Davao City.

That’s roughly a thousand rounds around the Academic Oval of UP Diliman. Broken into days, that means biking an average of 160 kilometers per day.

Armed with her fixed gear bike, this is the goal that cyclist and performing artist Japo Parcero aims to accomplish within the year. 

Parcero hopes that this would also help trigger conversations along the way, bringing her closer to her purpose for riding across the archipelago: raising awareness about the plight of kids suffering from cancer and other chronic diseases.

The biker calls this initiative “Ride for Life.”

“The cause that we thought of was to help children suffering from cancer. I want to ride for those who can’t. I want to ride because I want to be able to help them look forward to a future where they can also choose what they want to do,” she said.

Chronic diseases affecting kids

Globally, over 200,000 children develop cancer, according to the 2014 World Cancer report of the United Nations’ International Agency for Research on Cancer. In the Philippines, it has been projected that there would be 3,500 new cases of children being diagnosed with the disease every year.

The estimate, according to experts, is too high to ignore, especially for a disease that is highly curable. 

The report added that 70% of the cases would likely be found in the late stages, when cure is either impossible or excessively expensive.

Fortunately, recent figures from the Department of Health (DOH) showing that the number of survivors has increased in the past 10 years gives advocates like Parcero reason to hope. The DOH said around 82% of children with cancer reach adulthood. This is a significant improvement given that, around a decade ago, the survival rate was only 16%.

Parcero is optimistic to help turn the grim picture around, by increasing awareness, through the Ride for Life campaign.

Ride for Life partnered with Kythe, a group that provides psychosocial support for kids with cancer and other chronic illnesses such as biliary atresia, a disease that attacks infants’ livers. (READ: ‘Seeing kids fly’ – battling cancer with a smile)

Baby Johann

On a hot Sunday afternoon somewhere in the Sierra Madre, during one of her trainings, Parcero sat down with Rappler to share her advocacy and the story behind Ride for Life. 

Ride for Life, according to Parcero, started with a baby named Johann, who was suffering from biliary atresia in 2016.

When she learned about Johann’s plight, Parcero thought of ways to help him and his mother, Joan. The biker believed that Johann deserves to grow old and maximize his childhood. 

Infants suffering from biliary atresia would usually need a liver transplant – an operation that that costs around P3 million. Worse, the operation needs to be done as soon as possible. 

Baby Johann’s family, however, did not have that much money.

“I told Joan, [Johann’s] mother, that we need to find a way to really gather money. The doctors gave the family until [she reaches] two years [of age]. Usually, after reaching two years old, the chances of saving the kid is really low. He was past one year old back then,” she recalled.

“I wasn’t able to cuddle baby Johann because he was too tiny and fragile. I remembered that he always smiled. Even though he is hurting, he always smiled,” she said in mixed Filipino and English. 

Parcero initially helped spread the word about Johann’s plight on social media, encouraging her friends and family to pitch in. 

“People started sharing it. It gained some traction and then, all of a sudden, people from Bulacan, Pampanga, Isabela and Bicol  wanted to help. They wanted to help, they just did not know how,” she said. 

Collective power

The movement grew, and she realized that she can harness her hobby for biking to gather more donations for Johann. Eventually, they dubbed the movement “Ride for Life.” 

“I rode 3,000 kilometers. My pledge was I will ride 30 days. Wherever you are in Luzon, if you have something to give for Baby Johann, I will go to you and collect that. The great thing about that was I wasn’t alone,” she said. 

She said that biking community started to reach out to her, volunteering to help collect donations from their community. 

Unfortunately, the first Ride for Life initiative did not have a happy ending. 

On her 31st day on the road, the day she was scheduled to head home, baby Johann’s health drastically deteriorated. The following day, baby Johann died. 

“We really thought we had time. After that I got depressed. I didn’t hold my bike for half a year,” Parcero recalled. 

Moving forward

A few months after, she realized that there are other kids like baby Johann who need help.

“There are a lot of opportunities to help and I shouldn’t be selfish in thinking that because I failed and Johann died, we can no longer do anything,” she said. 

Around a year after baby Johann’s death, they revived Ride for Life in a bid to help more kids. 

Aside from collecting monetary donations and raising awareness on the different kinds of cancer afflicting kids, she will be dropping by some of the 8 affiliate hospitals of Kythe Foundation for storytelling activities.

Parcero will dress up as “Tita Beauty” and tell happy stories, hoping to help the kids battle cancer with a smile. The biking community, she said, has already pledged to help. However, she said much more can be done if they involve other people outside the community.

“We really want for people to know that you can do this – you can visit the hospitals, you can volunteer for Kythe. Whatever help – whether monetary or through your own efforts – you can help,”  she said.

Just like her brake-less bicycle, there is not stopping Parcero and the Ride for Life initiative. Her dream is to be able to someday bike alongside the kids she will help. Would you come along for the ride? – 

If you want to help Japo Parcero and the Kythe Organization, visit Ride for Life on Facebook

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Raisa Serafica

Raisa Serafica is the Unit Head of Civic Engagement of Rappler. As the head of MovePH, Raisa leads the on ground engagements of Rappler aimed at building a strong community of action in the Philippines. Through her current and previous roles at Rappler, she has worked with different government agencies, collaborated with non-governmental organizations, and trained individuals mostly on using digital technologies for social good.