Friday, February 5, 2010

World Cancer Day - A Reflection

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.


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.


Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your blog.
My niece had the same cancer as yours but a worse stage. She was in her early thirties, married with a small girl, and got divorced after her treatment. My sister (her mother) had to go all the way o Canada to be her caregiver for 6 months. My niece knows the Lord, though not so fervent in her faith. She had quit her job before giving birth and is now without a job. She hardly contacts me, though I sent emails to her sometimes. My father had anaplastic thyroid cancer. I broke down and cried after the doctor told me that my father had only 3 months to live. It was a scary experience taking him to Mt. Miriam for treatment.My mother had been praying for his salvation. Although she never got to see him saved on earth, I'm sure she met him in heaven. God used her funeral to touch this man who was against our faith. Now I am contemplating whether to see an ENT as I have been experiencing thick muscles on the right side of my neck and have been waking up every morning with stiff neck on the right side, for a few months now. Still in the 'wait and see' mode cos I don't want to go through another mistake that the doctor did for my eye disease - wet macular degeneration. I've already lost the central vision of my right eye.
Will come back to read the rest of your stories. Too strenous for me. God bless. Jesus loves us. Amen!


Anonymous said...

Oh,I forgot to tell you that my dad didn't die of cancer. He had an easy death - fell into a coma from diabetes.

Yours Faith-fully said...

Thank you for sharing. Every journey is different. If we appreciate what we go through rather than focus of what think could be the outcome, we will be the richer for it. Go see the ENT. From your post, I surmise that you are from Penang. :)- Ewe Jin

Anonymous said...

Yes, a Pgite like some of the staff of StarTwo. My physcian thinks I should see an orthpaedic surgeon since the problem is with the neck and shoulder muscles and bones. I am confused myself. Will pray, wait and see.

Emily said...

Hello Mr Soo

I stumbled upon your blog.I must say how timely it is for this to happen. Reason being that I have recently made a big life-changing decision,ie, to retire early (with the support & encouragement of my husband,a PFS old boy) and to make a commitment for volunteering services. The first opportunity to do so is with the local cancer society. Your sharings on "Do"s and "Don't"s answer my long-held concern and will be my guiding lights whenever I am in the company of those affected by cancers.
I have not yet your earlier articles/blogs and inorder not to err on putting the"foot in the mouth" , may I share with you my favourite verses Prov 3:5,6.
God bless.

Yours Faith-fully said...

Thanks for dropping by Emily. You may also be aware that I am an old Free. Through this blog, I am not sure how to respond to you directly since there is no email. But do feel free to email me direct if there is anything I can help with. I have many friends doing good cancer support work in Penang.