Strategies to Navigate Cancer with Knowledge & Positivity

Contributed by: Chia Hui Erl, Dr Richard Quek

Expert strategies for tackling cancer’s multifaceted challenges.

CANCER TREATMENT IS OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY AND PRECISE MEDICAL PROTOCOLS. However, addressing the patient’s holistic well-being is equally essential. Dr Richard Quek, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology at Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC), emphasised this during his keynote at the PCC Adjusting to Changes symposium.

The event, conducted on 23 March 2024, was crafted to support those newly diagnosed with cancer or nearing treatment completion, as well as their caregivers. It brought together five healthcare professionals who provided actionable insights for navigating the complexities of cancer.

Gain control through understanding

Ms Jeyanthi Anandan, Nurse Manager at PCC, highlighted the importance of being well-prepared for treatment, noting that side effects — including nausea, constipation and mood changes — can differ greatly between patients, but are typically manageable and temporary. “Know which side effects are most common for your type of chemotherapy treatment,” she advised. Understanding how chemotherapy works, as well as setting clear expectations of positive and challenging outcomes, will give patients a sense of control and help them come to terms with their cancer diagnosis.

Acknowledge that fatigue is part of the journey

A lack of motivation and difficulty in concentrating are common signs of fatigue during and post-treatment. Ms Stella Teo, Senior Staff Nurse at PCC, recommended including complex carbohydrates in meals to sustain one’s energy and taking five- to 10-minute walks each day, incrementally extending the time as a patient’s stamina permits. Introducing aromatherapy into the living space can also offer a sense of rejuvenation.

Experiencing guilt for resting throughout the day is a typical response among patients. Ms Teo encouraged them to acknowledge their need for rest without self-criticism. “Be compassionate towards yourself,” she said.

For caregivers, Ms Teo advised them to listen more and give constructive feedback when necessary. In order not to stress out both parties, caregivers are to practise self-love as well.

Sometimes, patients experience side effects and might just not feel like eating. Instead of forcing them to eat or self-doubting that the food is not good enough, empathise with the fatigue they are experiencing. “Only we can motivate and work ourselves to a better goal. Don’t give up,” she said.

Do what you enjoy

Cancer-related fatigue can often lead to reduced physical abilities and a negative self-view. However, embracing exercise can significantly enhance body strength and uplift mental health. Ms Kira Ho, Senior Physiotherapist at Parkway Rehab, IHH Healthcare Singapore, recommended integrating enjoyable and manageable activities into daily routines. These could be as simple as walking, light dancing or stretching at home. “Any movement is better than none at all,” she said.

Accept the “new” you

Coping with cancer requires numerous personal adjustments that takes time and ongoing effort. Ms Chia Hui Erl, Senior Counsellor at PCC, recognised that feeling sad and uncertain is part of the cancer journey. She encouraged patients to embrace their “new” self. Patients are encouraged to take an active involvement in their care, for example, documenting their thoughts and milestones is one way to allow themselves to evolve mentally and emotionally. Ms Chia highlighted the power of positive self-talk: “Listen to what you tell yourself; make a choice to be compassionate to your internal narratives and focus on what you can control,” she said. “This will help you to navigate better to your new normal.”

Stay adaptable and resilient

Ms Shanice Yeow, Senior Occupational Therapist at the Singapore Cancer Society, spearheads the Return-to-Work Programme. This programme is tailored to assist cancer survivors in overcoming work-related hurdles. It was highlighted that it’s common for survivors to experience limited mobility and concentration issues, which may affect work performance and self-esteem. Additionally, well-intentioned but overbearing colleagues could inadvertently impact a survivor’s sense of achievement. Ms Yeow underscored the importance of open dialogue between survivors and their employers, advocating for mutually understood expectations and flexible work adjustments.

“In the past, our focus has always been on treatment — the biggest machine, the best technology. In the recent years, this has gone beyond treatment to also include the overall well-being of a patient-centric journey.” - Dr Richard Quek

POSTED IN Cancer Treatments, Psychological Health
TAGS cancer diagnosis, cancer latest breakthrough, cancer positive thinking, cancer survivorship, common side effects of cancer treatment