A Legacy of Hope and Compassion

March 19, 2017 Elizabeth M. San Nicolas

“Guam is Good.”

That’s the slogan of the Edward M. Calvo Cancer Foundation, but it isn’t a catchphrase pitched by a committee around a conference table. It’s the last words and lasting legacy of a Calvo family patriarch. 

When successful Guam businessman Edward M. Calvo died in 2004, he was surrounded by his family. His granddaughter, Marie Calvo-Monge, remembers, “He passed away in a hospital in California. And he was just there for about a month. As his condition got worse, it was apparent that he just wouldn’t be able to come home. He would speak only in Chamorro, he would say things about how he missed Guam, and he’d still ask his sons for the daily numbers report for the business, which he ran.

“He just longed for home. And so, he would say over and over, and when my great-grandmother came to visit him shortly before his passing, he was speaking with her, he was telling us, ‘Ok let’s all go back. Let’s just all go back home now.’ And we were just appeasing him, saying yes, we’re going to go. That’s when he said to my great-grandmother, ‘I love you, mom. Guam is good.’” 

Marie’s voice breaks as she says, “And those words, just, you know…we just held that so close to home. So that wasn’t a slogan that we sat down and came up with drafts. It was like, when we put the foundation together, we said, ok that was his very essence. Those three words, they spoke volumes—and that’s where the slogan comes from.”  

Edward’s family felt a deep need to help other families on island devastated by a cancer diagnosis. “It was basically a collective family decision and the seed money to start the foundation was the chenchule’ that he received, so we wanted to do something that paid tribute to him,” she said. 

Now the foundation’s president and the COO and an executive producer with KUAM, Marie is proud to keep her grandfather’s memory and legacy alive. “He was a very generous person. Whenever people approached him for their medical treatment, he was always willing to give what he could. So basically we thought this was the best way to honor his memory.”

The foundation is entirely family run on a volunteer basis. Marie says a hundred percent of the funds raised are used for support and financial assistance to those living with a cancer diagnosis. There’s no staff, and the office space is donated by an aunt. “We do sometimes have community volunteers, but for the most part it’s a labor of love with everybody—his three sons, including my father, their wives, children, grandchildren. It’s a family affair, really.”

The foundation provides grants of $750 to cancer patients on Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Those with an active cancer diagnose need only fill out an application and have a verification letter from their doctor to apply. In partnership with St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the EMCCF also offers grants and travel assistance for children. Applications are available at the foundation’s website, http://guamisgood.org

Marie says, “I mean, we do what we can because we’re just a family-run, volunteer-based foundation. But initially, when we were so ambitious, before we got back into our daily lives, we thought we need to do something on Guam. There are actually more places now that offer treatment so people can stay, but at the time if you had a diagnosis you had to figure out how to get off island because it was a race against time, and there was no treatment.”

She continues, “Ultimately, what we’re doing now is helping with the quality of life, we know treatment is expensive and there is travel involved, so by offering financial grants we feel like we can provide that assistance and peace of mind.”

With help from the Guam Cancer Trust Fund, the foundation conducted three Guam is Good Cancer Symposiums, which were a full day of sessions devoted to bringing people together, education, fitness, and therapeutic activities. With the feedback from those events, Marie says they learned the participants wanted regular activities held more often. 

This led to the Circle of Care program for cancer survivors, patients, caregivers, and their loved ones. The program features monthly activities like yoga sessions, cooking demonstrations, and art therapy. A calendar is available on the foundation’s website. The biggest recent event was a free cancer retreat held in December. Participants could choose from a variety of sessions with titles like “Coping Through the Holidays” and “Beautifeel,” as well as yoga, zumba, photography, painting, meditation, and more. 

The foundation puts emphasis on including caregivers in every event. “Because we know first hand cancer takes a toll on the whole family. Whether it’s just a day, a retreat, for a caregiver that can help as well,” Marie says.

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