As Feb 4 was World Cancer Day, let’s take a look at the term cancer survivor, which has taken on a broader meaning these days, and is often used to include the caregivers and family members.
By SOO EWE JIN
SOMEWHERE in Istanbul, a four-year-old boy with leukaemia is bringing much joy to his parents because of his bright and cheerful nature. They see much hope despite the difficult situation. We connect by email now and then, just to share and encourage one another.
A new-found friend told me he was diagnosed with cancer at a time when he was still recovering from the loss of his teenage daughter in a traffic accident.
Life’s tough, he said, but we have to move on. I visited him at the oncology ward, supposedly to encourage him, and left feeling much blessed.
Another two friends had cancer scares in recent months, but subsequent tests revealed that the tumours had disappeared. They do not know each other, but I received their wonderful news half an hour apart.
When one has been through a cancer journey, such stories are not rare. I have lost many friends to cancer, but their amazing stories of hope in despair never fail to lift me up.
And many who have conquered cancer are out there doing their part to educate and encourage others on the same journey.
The Star’s Fit for Life section has been a treasure trove of good and informative stories about the Big C, especially those written by medical specialists,
But in reality, those going through cancer interact more with ordinary people than they do with the doctors.
The term cancer survivor has taken on a broader meaning these days, and is often used to include the caregivers, family members, and even people working in cancer-care organisations, like Hospis.
So, as we celebrate World Cancer Day (Feb 4), I would like to share some lessons that hopefully can benefit us when someone close to us has to go through a cancer journey.
> If you are not a doctor, and especially if you do not know anything about cancer, please do not give medical advice.
Not only do I not give medical advice, but I also take care not to overly share my own experiences because we know every patient is different, not only by way of temperament, but also in the way he or she reacts to the treatment.
> I find that I often have to help people debunk the myths. I tell them not to listen to the horror stories of people who were there years ago.
A problem that all cancer patients face is that the moment the Big C is mentioned, everyone will have a horror story to share, a supplement to recommend, an alternative cure to promote, and a doctor to criticise. Such unsolicited advice can confuse, depress and disturb. Let us be careful how we give advice.
> I have learnt, through many trials and errors, that at a time when someone is facing a problem, the last thing he wants to hear is another person’s problem.
Do take note that when you visit a cancer patient, make the person you visit the most important person for the moment. There is no need to tell him about another person’s problem.
> Rather than dispense advice, the best thing you could do for a cancer patient is to simply be there. If we are the person with whom someone wants to share his burden, let’s learn to keep our mouth shut and our ears open. Let’s just be there to hold their hands.
> Practical help, often behind the scenes, is the most useful. Help with transport, help with the cooking, take the patient’s children out. Share your CD and DVD collections with patients.
> Remember the caregiver. I remember how happy my wife was when a friend came by not only to give me my fruits, but to also give her a pack of essence of chicken and a bouquet of flowers.
Take the caregiver out to a meal or to a movie, or even for a walk in the park. Remember the caregiver, not just the patient.
> And finally, as we live through such tumultous times when irresponsible elements are playing up racial and religious differences, take a trip to the oncology wards, and be encouraged by how Malaysians from all walks of life relate to one another in love and harmony.
I have shared this before but let me share it again: One day, I was visiting the oncology ward and saw three women – a Malay, a Chinese, and an Indian – reading the little book, Face to Face with Cancer, which I had written with my wife about my journey with the Big C.
The nurses excitedly told them that I was the author because I was quite bald at the time, having just completed my own chemotherapy, and they did not recognise me.
The Malay lady smiled at me and, waving the book, said, “Your Tuhan is very good!”
Yes, I replied, and He loves all of you too. And in solidarity with me, they removed their wigs and we had a good laugh.
> Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin, like all cancer survivors, is thankful for the many blessings in his life, especially being a Malaysian where we can celebrate our differences and still be united as one.
This article appears in The Sunday Star on Feb 7.