27 JULY 2015

Stories and humour in the cancer journey


For over an hour, Dr Ang Peng Tiam, the Medical Director of Parkway Cancer Centre, was able to inform, educate and yes, entertain some 500 people who had come to The Star Performing Arts Centre on a Saturday morning on 16 May to know more about cancer.

Mixing humour with a serious message, Dr Ang recounted the stories that inspired his column in the Straits Times health supplement Mind Your Body. He also drew lessons both for himself and for the audience who had signed up for the Mind Your Body 360° Health Management Seminar.

Apart from Dr Ang, the other doctors who spoke at the seminar were Dr Melvin Tan, an interventional cardiologist who spoke on managing diabetes and hypertension; Dr Stanley Chia, a cardiologist who spoke about heart disease; Dr Kevin Lee, an orthopaedic surgeon who spoke about cartilage injuries and osteoarthritis of the knee; and Dr David Su, an orthopaedic surgeon who talked about women and osteoporosis.

One story that got the audience laughing was that of a man in his 30s who had a positive pregnancy test. This, Dr Ang said, did not mean that the man was pregnant, but that he might have a highly curable cancer known as germ cell cancer.

The man had been previously told that he only had a few months left to live. “Please just do your best, I’m too young to die,” the patient told him. Fortunately, the treatment worked.

Dr Ang also described how he had learned various lessons from his patients.

One patient taught him that no one is too old for treatment. Mr Tan was in his 70s and had colon cancer that had spread to the liver. A surgeon had removed the tumour in the colon but had not pushed for chemotherapy to address the cancer in the liver.

Mr Tan’s daughter brought her father to see Dr Ang who proposed a cocktail of drugs. Mr Tan responded to the chemotherapy and most of the liver metastases disappeared. He was not cured, but he had bought himself time.

While the cancer goes into remission for some people, this is not always the case. “Seventy percent of my patients are Stage 4, many of my patients die,” said Dr Ang bluntly. “But it’s not how long you live, it’s how you live.”

One example of someone who used her time well was a woman with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer who was determined to see her second daughter graduate. The woman had missed her older daughter’s graduation and didn’t want to repeat the mistake. “I want to be there for her graduation in 18 months’ time,” the woman told Dr Ang. With treatment, the proud mother managed to hang on long enough. Two weeks after her daughter’s graduation, the woman stopped treatment and later died.

On the other hand, there was another patient, an Indonesian businessman in his 70s, who wanted more time so he could hand his business over to his children. However, even from the hospital bed, he focused on his business instead of spending time with his family. One day, after hearing bad news about a business deal, he became so angry that he suffered massive bleeding in the brain and died.

By Jimmy Yap

 

Hope & Healing: A Doctor’s Reflections on Cancer is Dr Ang Peng Tiam’s latest book. It is a collection of 37 stories about cancer patients, taken from real-life scenarios in Dr Ang’s clinic, and packs heartwarming anecdotes, humour and compassion as it debunks the myths surrounding cancer and offers hope for patients.

POSTED IN Cancer Treatments
TAGS cancer doctor stories
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