|Sharing of Moral Values
The above Chinese calligraphy is kindly
contributed by Ms Florence Shen
Cancer - An Eye-opener
The death of my beloved mother led to the "birth" of CancerStory.com which has provided me with a new insight of life. Since the launch of CancerStory.com in September 2000, I have helped both local and overseas patients and their
caregivers with their problems that go beyond my life experience and working experience as a chartered certified accountant.
I likened myself to a frog living in a small well and what I previously saw was only the little patch of sky above the
Today, I came out of the well after going through the grieving process.
I learned to face the hard
realities in life and share the wisdom and life philosophy of my late mother, as well as the life experiences of others
with people who approached me for help.
- Is Cancer = Misfortune?
- Cancer leading to broken marriage and relationship
- Life can be tough sometimes, but you are not alone
- To reveal or hide the truth
- Time is not enough
- Not ready to face one's own mortality
- Concern over loss of breasts
- Desperate attempts & vulnerability
- Information is overwhelming and contradictory
- Religion - a sensitive barrier
- Motivational message
(1) Is Cancer = Misfortune?
Many patients and their caregivers have the misconception that "good" people do not suffer from illnesses. They feel that
I will be blessed with good health as I am accumulating merit by helping them in their arduous battle against
However, I think otherwise. Illness is part of our natural life cycle;
Even spiritually enlightened people cannot escape from diseases and ailments, for example, Mother Teresa was ill towards
the end of her life.
Hence, patients and their caregivers must not regard illnesses as a misfortune. With courage and determination, they can
turn adversity into strength. The following quotation was extracted from a healing book :
My symptoms alert me that my body needs more self-respect, compassion, and my focused attention. They may require that I
spend quality time with myself, or even guide me to change my direction and choices in life. I patiently accept my symptoms
as information, vibration, and pulsation, with a story to tell me about my life's journey.
(2) Cancer leading to broken marriage and relationship
Some marriages and relationships broke down upon diagnosis of cancer. Some patients failed to accept the sudden turn of
events and plunged into depression. These sad incidences go to show the selfishness and self-centeredness of some unkind
human beings. Indeed I had the toughest time in helping these "broken-hearted" patients to come to terms with
problems involving affairs of the "heart".
Seldom are patients reassured by my belief that the world is a balance of "good" and "bad" people. If only they
are prepared to receive help and love, there will be kind-hearted souls who are more than willing to extend their helping
hands. One female patient commented that the feeling is never the same; crying in the arms of her lover is so different from
getting help from another person. Well, this is a fair statement.
Letting go the past is never an easy task, especially when giving up a special bond. Certainly, it will take time to heal.
Some patients ended up full of hatred for their partners. Forgiving is even tougher for them.
Very often, female patients find it difficult to let go the past and forgive others who have wronged them. Even when they
spoke, I could feel their intense anger, bitterness and resentment. In such cases, I would advise them to seek
'refuge' in any religion of their choice and find peace within themselves. Though I am a freethinker, I strongly
believe that the "mighty one" can provide spiritual healing to these patients.
I also shared the stories of Kelvin, Yvonne and Jeanette who are "survivors" and "victors" of broken relationships. Their
stories were posted at our Stories Corner.
I admire Kelvin's fighting spirit. Even though he is losing control over his battle against cancer, he is always
so willing to share his story and motivate others to cope with cancer positively and fearlessly. Through CancerStory.com,
the New Paper reporter got in touch with Kelvin to share his story with their readers as well.
Click here to read the write-up in the New Paper.
Follow-up : Sadly, Kelvin lost his battle against cancer in December 2003. His story
and fighting spirit shall 'live on' to inspire other cancer survivors to
face the cancer challenge bravely and cherish each day till the end of their life journey.
(3) Life can be tough sometimes, but you are not alone
Some patients cannot accept the diagnosis of cancer and their mortality. They feel that life is unfair and cruel. They also
told me that their feelings and problems could only be well understood and shared by people living with cancer.
Certainly, people with the same plight can relate better and support one another. This explained why I always encourage cancer patients to join cancer support groups. In some instances, I also referred new patients to cancer survivors
so that they would connect and talk.
Undoubtedly, each individual has his/her unique life experience. However, this does not necessarily imply that nobody can
understand and help with one's feelings and problems. Most importantly, one must not be afraid to ask for help when the
situation calls for it. An example :
In mid 2002, a young lady confided her problems to me after her mother was diagnosed of advanced pancreatic cancer.
She had a sad story behind her - she survived a suicide attempt after a failed relationship with some physical disabilities.
Her mother had been giving her both physical and emotional support. What will happen if her mother succumbed to her illness?
Who is going to help her with the simple task of putting on her clothes? She is lost and she asked me for direction.
I urge her to stay strong and assure her that help will be made available if she calls for it.
Life is always full of unexpected events and challenges. If only one is mindful of this fact, one will continue to take
everything in stride no matter what happens. My translation of the Chinese proverb :
"When the sky falls onto you, take it as a blanket."
(4) To reveal or hide the truth
I also noticed that some patients could not talk freely and openly with their families because they hid their
illness from their loved ones for some special reasons. Wherever possible, I would advise patients and caregivers
to be open about the illness.
"The most important medicine is tender love and care." - Mother Teresa
Web site on Taking Time : Support for People with
Cancer and the People who care about them.
(5) Time is not enough
Many patients lamented that they did not have enough time to pursue their dreams and enjoy life. The fact is nobody has
control over time and one's mortality. Ironically, though cancer might be deadly, yet it gives most patients some time to
complete any unfinished business during their lifetime.
Cancer jolts us out of our complacency and teaches us to cherish our days. Indeed, many people only realize that time is
running out when cancer strikes. Suddenly, families get closer in order to cherish the remaining days of their loved ones.
Everyone does his/her utmost best to provide quality time for the patient. Isn't this the best thing that has ever happened
Quantity does not equate to quality of life. One young man shared his observation - as his late grandmother grew older each
day, her children also grew older and were no longer capable of taking care of her. In the end, the old lady was sent to die
in loneliness in an old folks' home. He commented that though his grandmother was blessed with a long life, it was without
quality. Did she have a choice? The answer is "NO".
One patient expressed her strong desire to stroll along the beach and collect seashells, and to learn how to play the piano.
However she feels remorseful for not doing so when she was healthy. She is pessimistic about life and keeps reminding me not to follow in her footsteps. She feels that one should do what one wishes while one is still healthy, otherwise
one will live with regrets. This lady is a breast cancer patient and is still coping well with her illness. She can certainly
still stroll along the beach and take up piano lessons but she chooses to "immerse" in her own sorrow. On several occasions,
I had tried in vain to change her negative thoughts. This is a sad incident but I accept that it is her choice of life. She is a Christian and may God bless her with the wisdom to set herself free from her own "trap". Hopefully she will learn to live positively and fulfill her wishes during her remaining days.
The great teacher, Confucius, was also resigned to the fact that no one has control over time. Time is like a stream which flows incessantly. I reckon the best we can do is to spend our time wisely and meaningfully instead of trying to stall time.
(6) Not ready to face one's own mortality
Some patients and caregivers find it difficult to accept the diagnosis of cancer especially when the patients appear
healthy and strong previously. Cancer has no respect for anyone; it can strike even healthy-looking people.
One caregiver argued that his brother is too young to die when the latter contracted colon cancer in stage 3. Again,
cancer has no respect for age. I witnessed a baby diagnosed with a brain tumour at a tender age of 6 months.
How do we explain this unfortunate case?
Death is a scary word to most people. Sadly, death is inevitable for all human beings - it is a natural phenomenon.
Certainly, it takes time for one to accept one's own mortality.
Getting patients to accept death, is another tough challenge. I was bombarded when I advised patients to face
death peacefully. Some patients commented that it was easier said than done, especially since I was not facing an
impending death. "How could I understand the fear?" This is a fair remark.
In 2000, I was also chided by a pastor for being cruel by providing conflicting directives. On one hand,
I help cancer patients fight the illness. On the other hand, I ask them to accept death. Being a non-Christian, I was not at all disturbed by the pastor's harsh words.
I witnessed the death of my mother. My right hand was placed on my late mother's chest during the final moment. I knew that I had lost her when her heartbeat stopped abruptly. I was helpless in the face of a life that had just ended! From that very day, 4:55am on 30 September 1999, I plunged into grief, having experienced life and death. I finally accepted that life is impermanent. Since then, I am prepared for my own death. I will always thank my friends for reminding me that I am another step nearer to my grave upon receiving their birthday greetings. Even when one does not have cancer, he/she still cannot escape death. Sooner or later, one's life will expire! I am contented to live one day at a time. If there is a tomorrow, it is my bonus time. Certainly I have plans but their materialization must happen naturally! I hope to "expand" my life rather than trying to "extend" it.
I also shared my late mother's life philosophy with some older patients. Indeed my mother's belief had
helped some patients to overcome their fear and urge them to count their blessings and live each day to the fullest.
Web site on End of Life : Exploring Death
(7) Concern over loss of breasts
I noticed that most of the female breast cancer patients (men can also contract breast cancer in rare cases), the
thought of losing a breast is a nightmare, especially for married women.
Very often, patients complained about the indifferent attitude of some medical doctors who made blunt remarks such as "You
want to save your life or keep your breasts?" Undoubtedly, mastectomy is necessary in some cases but the patients' feelings
and concerns need to be addressed as well. I admit that it is certainly no easy task to help patients come to
terms with this ultimatum - the loss of breasts.
In the case of married women, they are concerned about their sexuality and attractiveness to their husbands. They feel that
they are no longer "wholesome" with the loss of breasts and that it will affect their love life.
My belief - "true love is independent of external appearances and physical condition", rarely assures the patients.
They feel that majority of the men are sex-oriented and seek a "wholesome" body. With the emphasis on breasts as sex objects
and write-ups on women's obsession over bustlines in commercial advertisements and sex magazines, it is no wonder most women
feel compelled to conform with the norm defined by the sex industry.
Nevertheless, I had also witnessed cases where female patients remain attractive to their husbands and lovers after
mastectomy. Spouses are encouraged to attend support groups organized by the Breast Cancer Foundation to learn how to help
their wives cope with breast cancer.
I urge female patients to view their breasts as gifts of nature to provide milk for the young and not as sex
objects for men's pleasure. The scar left behind by conventional treatments is nothing more than a defence against cancer.
Female patients should have faith in oneself as it is one's personality that keeps a relationship strong.
In the book, "Cancer has its privileges", a cancer survivor wrote : "When told I would have to have a
bilateral mastectomy upon receiving a diagnosis of cancer, my husband hugged me and said, 'When we hug our hearts will
(8) Desperate attempts & vulnerability
In Singapore, many people term cancer as a "rich man's illness" because cancer treatment is an expensive affair especially
if patients seek to have the "best" doctor, "best" treatment and "best" medicine.
Indeed, cancer is a money-spinner. Once, I received an enormous offer (a 6-digit amount in Singapore dollars) if
I could help prolong the life of a pancreatic cancer patient. The patient had suffered a relapse after 5 years. I advised the young son of this patient to accept the fact that no amount of money could help to prolong his mother's life as she was already terminally ill and there was no magic cure. As a last straw, his mother sought alternative treatment overseas. Shortly, his mother succumbed to her illness.
A year later, another young man on the verge of tears, begged me to save his mother with advanced ovarian cancer.
He had mistaken me to be a supplier of a certain health product that claimed to cure cancer. Our local TV station
had given him the wrong contact. Immediately, I knew who he was looking for and offered to provide him with the
correct contact but warned him against bogus claims.
I would advise patients and their caregivers to remain sensible in their choice of treatments. Expensive treatment
does not necessarily improve one's survival rate. I strongly urge patients to live within their own means.
As long as patients and their caregivers are pro-active in researching on their specific type of cancer, I would
encourage them to seek more affordable treatment at the National Cancer Centre. Whether rich or poor, it has already been made known to the public that no patient will be deprived of a subsidized PET scan if his/her case warrants it.
In Chinese literature, one will realize that great men with extraordinary talents, skills and knowledge often lived in
seclusion in faraway places that were not exposed to the "limelight". They were righteous, humble and compassionate
people who believed that the "truth always speaks for itself" and they did not
rely on any form of publicity or "gimmicks" to "showcase" their capabilities and competency.
Taking cue from the wisdom of ancient Chinese great men, I would like to put across the following message to
patients and their families.
"Your choice of treatment is not limited to well-known medical institutions and "famous" doctors. Like those Chinese old
sages, some good medical institutions, and skilful doctors prefer to keep a low profile for "special reasons".
Quote extracted from The Yellow Emperor's Medicine Classic:
From the above quote, one will realize that in the present world, most doctors treat the full-blown disease. Yet, many
patients and their caregivers are still pinning their hopes on them and seeking the best among them. Sadly, many patients
and their caregivers who are desperate for a cure, do not hesitate in paying a premium for good "healers" who claimed that
they have cured some important celebrity, even though it is an isolated case. In reality, many factors come into play to
bring about the successful treatment of a patient.
To help patients make a wiser choice, please refer to our write-ups on magic cure and
(9) Information is overwhelming and contradictory
Many patients were confused when they read more, know more and listen more. Very often, they are caught in a maze of
Some patients tried to seek clarification from me on certain claims and information given by a third party.
I would advise patients to go back to the "source" and seek clarification. I would only share my views if
patients failed to get a reply from the source.
(10) Religion - a sensitive barrier
With much hesitation, I finally decided to post this section. I hope that the web surfers would be open-minded about my thoughts.
In 2000, I received a feedback from a web surfer questioning me about the inconsistent use of the words "God",
"Gods", "gods", and "god" in my web site. He also made a remark that if I do not know who is God, I cannot find
peace with God. I know that this world is made up of many different individuals and it was not my intention
to debate over religions. I endorse the below quotation :
"Religions are different roads converging to the same point.
What does it matter that we take different roads as long as we reach the same goal.
In reality there are as many different religions as there are individuals".
-- Mahatma Ghandhi
In the past, one of my friends, who is a Christian had also advised me to remove reading materials on Buddhism from my
web site as they would put off web surfers of the Christian faith. My argument :
"The fact that Singapore is a multi-racial society, CancerStory.com will support all human creeds regardless of race,
language or religion.
Interestingly, some people mistook me to be a Christian and some mistook me to be a Buddhist. These people share
a common mindset, i.e. only individuals with a religion would do such voluntary work. The truth is that I am a
freethinker. My brother shared with me that when he indicated on a medical record that he is a freethinker, the doctor
(a Christian) made a remark that "freethinkers are non-thinkers." My family members and I respect all religions.
Our ability to show compassion for others is the basic instinct inherited since birth and reaffirmed by our late mother's
I am indeed disturbed but helpless when religion becomes a "stumbling block" in the path of cancer healing. I came across the following incidents :
(1) Most of the patients have a religion and somehow they feel that I could not fully understand them because I do not share their faith. On one occasion, a mother was concerned over her son's condition as he does not look too well of late. I advised her to read up more about sarcoma cancer in order to help her son cope better if a relapse should take place. However, she told me that as Christians, they cannot doubt God's healing and her son was already healed two years' ago. She went on to say that I, being a non-Christian will not understand God's healing power. Immediately, I knew that she would not be convinced with the medical fact that a relapse of cancer can happen at anytime, especially within the 5-year yardstick. In this instance, I could say nothing else and remained silent as a good listener. Anyway, I respected her choice of healing for her son.
(2) Some patients stopped practicing qigong when their church friends told them that as Christians, they are not allowed to
practise qigong. Even though they are experiencing the benefits of qigong exercises, they decided to give it up for good.
(3) I informed some patients that they can receive free organic vegetables from a Buddhist's charity but the
Christians would not go. It was reported that some mosques and Indian temples are already receiving financial help from
the Buddhist temples - a good broad step towards achieving harmony among religions in Singapore.
(11) Motivational message
Very often, cancer patients live in fear and worry as they have little control over their illness, especially when cancer
has reached an advanced stage - it's like reaching the end of a flowing stream where life can expire anytime. However, if
patients are able to see "life and death" as a natural cycle, they can always relax by appreciating the clouds passing by
and live each day to its fullest.
Updated on 23 January 2005