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Art transforms into compassion

It's about money

In December 2003, I met a young lady at a movie preview cum fundraising function. She told me that her father was diagnosed with liver cancer and he had sought treatment from a "Celebrity" doctor. She mentioned that her family had spent a hefty sum but it was well spent because her father's tumour shrank. From my experience, I realized that most patients would also receive favourable results just from their treatment administered at the public hospitals. I felt sorry for this young lady who thought that the expensive magic bullet was actually worth that much. As time passes, she will realize that the tumour cannot be contained as it is a case of advanced liver cancer. In days to come, more expensive treatment will be recommended. I am worried that her family will end up like many families who have had to switch to cheaper medical institutions for treatment because their financial resources were depleted by the initial hefty medical bills.

Certainly, this is wasteful, and I feel apologetic that CancerStory.com has failed in its mission to educate patients and their caregivers to be more careful in their choice of treatment. However, there is nothing much I can do, as I always have to respect the choice of treatment decided by the patients and their families.

Indeed, I hesitated to pen this write-up for a long time because I was not sure if it would be helpful. However, after reading a letter on "Why great doctors deserve top dollar" in the Straits Times Forum of 27 April 2004, I decided to share the experiences of some cancer patients with their doctors in Singapore. Despite that, I still believe that most doctors are compassionate and caring. In addition, I also posted a write-up on Dr Midas and his Golden Touch. Please click here to read it.

Sharing of Some Cancer Patients' Experiences

Update (25 April 2007) :

In 2007, the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) has no choice but to withdraw SMA Fee Guidelines after some legal advisers confirmed that it may be in contravention of the Competition Act passed in 2006. SMA wrote to Ministry of Health and the Competition Commission of Singapore for guidance. You can read the letters and SMA's media briefing at www.sma.org.sg.

With the withdrawal of SMA Fee Guidelines, it is likely that some opportunist-oncologists will increase their medical fees. Hence cancer patients who are already paying hefty medical fees to private oncologists must be prepared to pay higher fees.

Case 1 : Dr Celebrity

In one counseling session, a breast cancer patient asked me if she could improve her chance of survival if she sought treatment from the "Celebrity" doctors who were involved in the successful treatment of Mr "VIP" cancer.

Word of Advice :

I was baffled by her question. I reckon many doctors have their own successful medical cases that involved the ordinary people. In reality, each cancer case is unique. The survival of cancer patients does not depend solely on medical treatment and herbal medicine. Many other factors such as the lifestyle, attitude and diet of a cancer patient, and family care and support play a part in true comprehensive cancer care.

Case 2 : Dr Midas

In one counseling session, an ovarian cancer patient was disappointed when the "celebrity" doctor did not want to take up her case as the doctor only treats "A" class patients. She was disappointed but I assured her that a "celebrity" doctor is not necessarily the "best" doctor. Update (25 April 2007) : Both "celebrity" doctor's father and the patient died of cancer in 2007.

Word of Advice :

Most importantly, the doctor must have your interest at heart regardless of your financial standing. Be careful, Dr Midas' touch might turn you into lifeless gold. On the other hand, Dr Compassionate will give you a therapeutic touch.

Case 3 : Dr BMW

The husband of a breast cancer patient relates the following remark made by a doctor during their first appointment :

Dr BMW : "If your wife wishes to seek treatment from me, you must be prepared to pay the price of a BMW car and not that of less branded cars."

Despite paying a premium, the patient failed to survive cancer.

Word of Advice :

Cancer in its advanced stage has a poor survival rate. For miracles to take place, medicine is secondary.

Case 4 : Dr Hope

One leukemia patient told me that he was disheartened by the "gone case" remark made by his doctor in a public hospital. As he was reluctant to accept this death sentence, he went to seek treatment from a doctor in the private practice who gave him hope.

Word of Advice :

Very often, the prognosis given by doctors is strictly based on statistics that only serves as a rough yardstick. In reality, each cancer case is unique. With one's wisdom, one will realize that the word "hope" given by a doctor is not always foolproof, especially if there is monetary concern. In one incident, a private doctor had to charge a discounted price, when his recommended chemotherapy drugs failed to work in the best light.

Case 5 : Dr Indifferent

One young ovarian cancer patient was badly hurt by her doctor's blunt remark when she "bargained" to keep her womb. The doctor was very stern and challenged her to choose between life and death. She was confused and lost. Finally, she relented to the doctor's decision.

Word of Advice :

Some doctors can be tactless and blunt with their words. Most importantly, patients must bring along someone with them when consulting their doctors. At least when one meets up with an indifferent doctor, one can rely on his/her caregiver for emotional support.

Case 6 : Dr Compassionate

Many cancer patients in their terminal stages would experience severe pains that their doctors could not manage. Doctors tend to view pain as a secondary problem to a disease.

Some patients approached me for help and they were referred to seek help from the hospice care doctors who are competent in pain management.

Word of Advice :

One cannot rely on Dr Celebrity, Dr Midas, Dr BMW, Dr Hope and Dr Indifferent for effective pain management. Your saviours will be the hospice care doctors - Dr Compassionate. They are experienced and competent in pain management and, in most cases, their services are rendered free.

Posted on 13 May 2004

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