Malaysian Cancer Patients Share Ways You Can Support Them Throughout Their Journey

Sometimes all they need is to have you by their side. <3

Cover image via Sunway Healthcare Group (Provided to SAYS)

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Do you have a friend or a family member with cancer?

Sometimes, it may be challenging to know what to say or to do, especially since it's a difficult time for them. 

Cancer is such a life-changing diagnosis — it's never easy watching a loved one go through a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

And, their journey doesn't stop after that, as their whole lifestyle will have to change. 

In conjunction with National Cancer Survivors Day, we collaborated with Sunway Healthcare Group to speak with three cancer survivors, who opened up about how they found support in their journey:

1. As a father of two, Hilmi was grateful to have his wife as his rock throughout his cancer journey

Hilmi was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer after having constant bloating, diarrhoea, and vomiting that resulted in him losing around 14kg. He decided to get an endoscopy and colonoscopy to investigate further and to his surprise, the doctor found a tumour that blocked his ascending colon. 

What helped him through his battle with cancer was his family's presence around him, which he calls a blessing. 

"My wife was with me from day one. She took on the role of a father to my two daughters when I was battling cancer. To this day, she still motivates me to be positive and enjoy life to the fullest. We will go for jogs and exercise together, which has been helpful in my journey.

"Initially, I was hesitant to seek help from my loved ones, as I didn't want to concern them, but I came to the realisation that my family will always be there for me with unconditional love and support. So, I began confiding in them," shared Hilmi. 

Seeking consolation with those going through the same battle as him, Hilmi decided to join support groups on WhatsApp

Hilmi, his wife, and their two daughters.

Image via Sunway Healthcare Group

It was helpful for Hilmi at first, and played a role in bringing him the support he needed at that time. However, he decided to leave the group later on, as the news of group members passing began to make him feel depressed.  

"Support groups can be very beneficial and useful to others as you are able to connect with those who are undergoing the same struggles as you. However, you must be careful when choosing which groups you join, as not all are helpful. I believe Sunway Cancer Centre's Cancer Buddy Programme helps you manage the mental and emotional strains that you may be facing," shared the 35-year-old.

Hilmi also encourages everyone to conduct frequent health and cancer screenings, especially those who are at high risks, like himself – he is the sixth member of his family to suffer colorectal cancer.

"Early detection is very important so that you can increase your chances of survival," said the father of two.

After two years of treatments, Hilmi is thankful that he is declared cancer-free recently in April 2023.

2. 42-year-old Bowie Tan was thankful that she had her witty husband to comfort and care for her everyday needs

In 2017, Bowie found tiny particles growing on her neck and was suspected to have Nasopharyngeal Cancer, according to the CT scan. But, after the doctor removed a small tumour to test it, the test results showed that it wasn't cancer.

However, in 2018, Bowie's neck became swollen again and it grew bigger. This was when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Nasopharyngeal Cancer. 

She felt her whole life took a turn after the day she got back the test results and report.

Apart from experiencing physical pain due to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, cancer took a toll on Bowie emotionally too.

"Being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatments caused immense stress and emotional ups and downs. I felt fear, sadness, and helplessness. I was worried about death and leaving my family behind."

But with the emotional and spiritual support from her partner, Bowie found strength and courage in his words, sacrifice, and company

Bowie, her husband, and their three children.

Image via Sunway Healthcare Group (Provided to SAYS)

"Even in the early stages of my cancer diagnosis, my witty husband comforted me in a funny way. He said that God only chooses those capable of overcoming difficulties to have cancer because He wants them to be reborn after the experience! While it may have been said to bring comfort and made me smile, it made me reflect deeper and adjust my mindset and attitude."

"During my treatment days, he took meticulous care of me, spending every night at the hospital, and still went home to be with our three children. He never expressed his exhaustion in front of me. Seeing the pain I endured after radiation therapy, he held my hand and said, 'I would rather be the one who is sick, the one enduring all this pain'," added Bowie.

The professional help from her medical team also contributed a lot to her journey, as the doctors were always there to address Bowie's concerns and questions.

"They gave me detailed explanations and guidance, keeping me informed about the progress of my treatment and possible side effects.

"Their support and care instilled in me the belief that I could overcome cancer under their guidance," shared the 42-year-old. 

With the hope of shining some light upon those on the same journey as her, Bowie is now a cancer buddy with the Sunway Cancer Centre's Cancer Buddy Programme

Bowie said that her doctor, Dr John Low Seng Hooi, Clinical Director and Consultant Clinical Oncologist of Sunway Cancer Centre at Sunway City was the one who inspired her to help others in her similar predicament.

"Being a Cancer Buddy is a calling, a calling to pay it forward. Dr John is one of the messengers who sent this message to me.

"During my first follow-up appointment after completing treatment, I asked the doctor if I was strong. Dr John pointed to the door and said, 'You are now a senior. The patients outside need you'," shared Bowie. 

She is happy that cancer has given her a new purpose in life, which is to add value to others by sharing her experience, listening to their concerns, and giving emotional support. This opportunity to positively impact others has been deeply meaningful to Bowie.

3. For Ng Ji Yin, a.k.a Carol, having a positive mindset together with the love from her family helped her get through tough times during treatment

At the beginning of 2021, Carol started falling ill and in just two months, she began to feel a lump in her breast. After seeing a doctor and getting an ultrasound, it was confirmed that she had breast cancer. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 Triple Positive Breast Cancer after attaining results from further PET tests and biopsies.

During this time, Carol's career was also at its peak and that weighed heavily on her emotionally because she felt it was the end of the world.

"I would cry every day and couldn't sleep peacefully. Even if I managed to fall asleep, I would be startled awake by nightmares.

"I deeply regret not taking better care of myself and felt a tremendous sense of guilt towards my parents. They gave me a healthy body, but I didn't take care of it properly, which led to me falling ill and causing them to worry about me. I felt incredibly unfilial," said Carol. 

What helped Carol immensely with her fear and emotions was having open communication and empathy from her loved ones

"I'm grateful to my boss for reaching out to me. One sentence from her made me let go of everything and seek treatment. She said, 'There is no health product in this world that can cure cancer. These products are only for prevention. With the advancement of medical technology, lesser people die from cancer. Many deaths are caused by emotions. Trust the doctors and follow the proper treatment, and you will definitely recover'," shared Carol.

Words of encouragement from her children and family when she lost her hair also made her feel more confident and courageous.

"They constantly expressed their love for me and complimented me, saying that I still looked beautiful even without hair."

Since Carol had a fear of chemotherapy after listening from various people about how the side effects were horrible, she thought she could opt for alternative remedies.

However, the 46-year-old defied the myth, saying, "We should take the time to understand what chemotherapy really is. Chemotherapy is not as terrifying as it is often portrayed by many. It is important not to rely on hearsay because cancer is not the end of the world."

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, knowing what to expect and making plans to cope will lessen the burden of this difficult time

While we can be present throughout their cancer journey and provide them with emotional support, it's impossible to fully understand the pain and emotional challenges that a cancer patient goes through without being in their shoes. 

Sometimes, having external support groups where cancer survivors or patients share their stories and experiences may help one in the battle to find hope and courage during difficult times. 

National Cancer Survivors Day falls on 4 June, and to honour this special day, Sunway Healthcare Group recently organised a lighthearted and insightful event for cancer patients to partake in a bunch of cool activities

Candle-making workshop.

Image via Sunway Healthcare Group (Provided to SAYS)

The event was hosted at Sunway Medical Centre in Sunway City and included an exercise session, a Laughing Yoga session, and a candle-making workshop which is meant to signify the sharing of hope from one cancer survivor to another. 

The main highlight of the day was the informative panel discussions that provided insights into psychosocial support for cancer survival

The session was moderated by Lee Kah Yee (Clinical Psychologist at National Cancer Society Malaysia) with guest speakers, Dr John Low Seng Hooi (Clinical Oncologist and Clinical Director of Sunway Cancer Centre at Sunway Medical Centre), Jared Lee (Filmmaker and Founder of The GRIM FILM), and Jefferson Ng (Clinical Psychologist at National Cancer Society Malaysia).

Dr John Low started off by sharing that about 76% of cancer survivors actually face depression and anxiety following their diagnosis and treatment.

"There are a myriad of emotions that surface almost immediately such as fear, anger, confusion, and disbelief, thus resulting in a flurry of overwhelming emotions. Additionally, the treatment process also tends to take a heavy toll on their physical well-being along with their emotional and mental health," shared Dr John Low.

This is why it's important to provide proper psychosocial support to make sure these patients don't get affected further. One of the ways suggested by Lee is to seek help from clinical psychologists to show them how to navigate through ups and downs. 

To bolster psychosocial support for cancer survivors, Sunway Healthcare Group took the initiative to start a Cancer Buddy Programme

This programme that is run by Sunway Cancer Centre will help patients address the challenges of cancer beyond their medical treatments, and focus on three pillars, which are emotional wellbeing, staying active, and eating well. 

Apart from that, Sunway Healthcare Group is also showing support to cancer patients and raising awareness of cancer by donating RM2.5 million to the Sunway Cancer Support fund to subsidise cancer treatments for eligible patients, as well as provide up to 2,000 free cancer screenings under their 'Brave the Cancer' campaign. 

Visit the Sunway Cancer Support Fund's website to learn more about their initiatives

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