27 OCTOBER 2015

Knowing the right time and place to speak

Loke Jun Leong, a counsellor at Parkway Cancer Centre, draws on personal experiences to help patients cope with diagnosis and treatment.

When Mr Loke Jun Leong’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she kept news of her treatment largely to herself.

“Shutting us out was her way of protecting us, but I now wonder how lonely she must have felt during those difficult times,” he recalls.

Jun Leong joined Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC) in January 2015, with a Master’s Degree in Counselling from Monash University.

Since graduating, he has worked as a counsellor in an array of fields that includes mental illness, addiction, prisoners and at-risks youth.

As a counsellor at PCC, he now helps cancer patients and their loved ones battle the illness.

Jun Leong has also come to realise that his mother’s reaction was not entirely unexpected for someone with cancer.

“On a psychological level, everyone copes with his diagnosis in his own way. It should also be noted that when someone gets cancer, it is not just the individual that is affected, but his loved ones as well,” he said.

“Parents, spouse, siblings, and even children have to be approached differently.”

There was a male patient who was critically ill and his youngest son was just four years of age. At his wife’s request, the doctor, nurses and counsellor did their best to explain and help the couple’s child cope with the inevitable news.

Jun Leong also prepared the patient’s wife for scenarios that were likely to arise in the future and what she could do to manage them.

However, he is mindful that certain patients or loved ones may not be in the right emotional state to receive counselling at all.

“As counsellors, we have to recognise when’s the right time and place to speak to someone. For example, an individual who is very emotional or in pain would probably not be receptive towards receiving counselling at that moment,” he said. “What they might really need, is time and space to cool down first.”

Even patients who are in remission may require some help to make the transition back to normality. Hence, PCC has launched a support group for male cancer survivors who meet once a month to share their experiences and to support one other.

Jun Leong said: “We felt that there may have been certain treatment-related issues, which some men might not feel comfortable sharing with their spouse or loved-ones. The participants may sometimes be surprised and even relieved to learn that others share a similar problem as they do. The discussion that follows would then serve to dispel any misconceptions and find a viable solution to these issues.”

He added: “As the group’s facilitator, I can honestly say that these sessions have been very productive for everyone involved.”

“At the end of the day, we want our patients to know that regardless of what happens during or after treatment, they are never alone.”

POSTED IN Psychological Health
TAGS cancer counsellor, experience with cancer patient