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  arrow Cancer Survivorship


Soo Ewe Jin's experience:

14 November 2007

Soo Ewe Jin, a journalist by profession, was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal (nose) cancer five years ago.

This was not the family's first experience with cancer - his fourth sister passed away in 1983 at the age of 34, and his father passed away in 1987, both from cancer.

His experience, supplemented with insights from his wife, is recorded in a self-published book, Face to Face with Cancer. It's available online at

The following is an extract:

In the middle of November 1998, I experienced nosebleed and a blocked ear. Ordinarily, I would never have consulted the doctor for such seemingly small problems. But for some reason, I went to see my GP friend, who referred me to the ENT specialist at a government hospital. A biopsy turned out negative, and my family and I celebrated the "good news" with a Thanksgiving Christmas Party.

In March 1999, when the ear pressure problem returned, a second biopsy was recommended together with a CAT scan and I was told to collect the results on April 15.

The doctors told me that I had cancer. It came as a shock to me that the cells had evolved from benign to malignant in a matter of four months. The good news was that my cancer was in Stage One and was 100 per cent curable.

I was referred to a private hospital to prepare for radiotherapy, 35 sessions over a seven-week period. The first two weeks were a breeze. Staff at the clinic dubbed me the "most cheerful patient". Then came weeks 3-5. My throat was attacked by bacteria and fungi that caused a serious infection. I was only able to take fluids and my weight dipped steeply. My entire throat area hurt so much that even taking fluids was torturous. I felt nauseous most of the time.

RT ended in early June, in time for my wife and I to celebrate our 13th Anniversary, which was also the day we got the results of my liver and bone scans. Everything was clear -- the cancer had not spread! I still have to go for check-ups every six months, and record five years of remission before I am officially pronounced "cured".

Throughout my seven weeks of treatment, I never went to radiotherapy alone. My wife Angeline was my constant companion. Friends rallied around me. It was such a joy to have family members from Penang (sisters, in-laws, nieces and nephews) who traveled all the way for the privilege of accompanying me to the room where I was zapped by the linear accelerator. My sons Kevin and Timothy came along once during the school holidays.

I made many friends in the clinic. Most were in worse shape than I was. We encouraged and prayed for each other. There was no class distinction, no racial divide, no religious barrier among the patients; all of us were comrades-in-arms. The radiotherapy sessions last only a few minutes or so. But there were always extra minutes in the waiting room for all of us to fellowship with one another. But after treatment, the rest of the day, I had to be taken care of "like a baby".

A special mention for my wife: She is wonderful. She was there when the results were made known to me and handled all the preliminaries with full efficiency. For someone so used to letting me do everything for her, it was an eye-opener for me, indeed, that she will be able to cope no matter what.

For both of us, I know that life will never be the same again. No matter how positive the prognosis, a question mark will always remain. If it is tough for me as the patient, I know it is doubly tough for my spouse.

Throughout my treatment and recuperation, I rejoice at all the cards, letters, faxes, e-mail and flowers I received... so many that I have lost count. And the visitors! As hard as we tried to keep the news from non-family members, eventually
word did get out. We had a constant stream of visitors, from the headmistress and teachers of SK Sri Kelana (the boys' school) to neighbours, former colleagues and old school friends.

I was given more fruits than I could possibly eat. Friends took the boys off our hands regularly and ensured that they had some activities for the school holidays. A couple tracked down hard- to- get prescription medication for my throat infection. Others came by with home-cooked meals, chicken soup and flowers.

Two weeks after my radiotherapy was completed, my appetite was still poor. If I succeeded in eating something other than fluids, it felt like something that should be recorded in Hari Ini Dalam Sejarah!

I managed to take the boys to the club for a swim and although I didn't swim as long as I used to, it was wonderful to watch the boys enjoying themselves.
I think that was the one thing I - and the boys - missed most during my RT - doing so many different things together. But the boys never complained and were quite happy to do their own things at home, allowing me to rest and recuperate.

Of course, there is always a flip side to all the good cheer and positive vibes that people like me experience. I have had days when I just wanted to scream at loved ones. Days when I just broke down in tears.
But over time, those incidents pale in comparison with the joy I feel each day just to wake up and know that the sun, as always, has risen. Three years after my journey with nose cancer began, I am, medically speaking, in total remission.

Soo Ewe Jin

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