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Butter-scotch ice cream, buckets of oysters and delectable hawker treats were just some of the things that Francis Koh, a self-proclaimed gourmand, never failed to indulge in.

 

Francis Koh

Wife Brenda inspires Francis through her indomitable & adventurous spirit

Compounded by an unhealthy smoking habit, his epicurean pursuits were the defining characteristics of his pre-cancer lifestyle. Without any forethought, Francis prioritised his decadence over his health, believing that his immune system and body were in perfect harmony and that nothing would afflict him. But everything changed when cancer attacked.

Now a retiree, Francis distinctly recalls the fateful morning that everted the normalcy of his life. Up until then, he had been living a carefree life, oblivious to the ailment which had already established a deep-seated foothold in his body. In February 2019, Francis fell from his bed and fractured two ribs. Consequently, he went for a full-body medical check-up. Little did he know that this little misfortune evolved into the discovery of something more insidious - an abnormally large prostate. The doctor immediately referred him to a specialist for a detailed examination.

On that very day, deemed by Francis as a “Day of Reckoning”, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Cancer.

He had a few options. Surgery, Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy were paths that provided immediacy, but proved daunting to him as they came with many side effects. He preferred a less-invasive approach and found that dieting and living a healthy lifestyle while on long-term hormone therapy was a viable alternative to take, with guidance from his urologist.

The next two weeks in hospital was a battle of wits, as he struggled to come to terms with the terminality of his affliction. It was a tough mental battle as one question above all loomed ominously over his mind: how much time did he have left? 

With much support from his wife Brenda, Francis took time to steady his mind, rerouting his focus toward factors that were in his control. Deciding then and there to take life by the reins, Francis set out to make drastic, but necessary changes to his life.

As a first, he adopted a pescatarian diet excluding shellfish, axed all processed foods, sugar and carbohydrates, and also went cold turkey with smoking. To shed excess weight, he picked up table tennis again, a sport he once played in primary school. Actively participating in the grassroots community club table tennis team, he also found peers who in his words “viewed him not as a cancer patient, but as a friend”. The whole ordeal also galvanised him into stepping up to be a grassroots leader and volunteering at various social enterprises beyond his local community, with social work being another of his life’s passions. 

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Keeping in touch with loved ones & community groups provided pillars of emotional support. (Francis with wife Brenda (left) At Char Yong Veterans Mixed Team Championship /(right) with the church choir.

 

His sheer determination to stay on track with his diet paid off and the results spoke for themselves. In a span of merely 6 months, his PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen, of which elevated levels could indicate the presence of cancer cells) had gone from beyond 5000 ng/mL to just 0.03 ng/mL, a number well within the “safe” range. To this day, he continues maintaining this lifestyle, focusing on his mantra of “Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit.”

Committing to the drastic change in lifestyle was a hard pill to swallow as the toughest moments for Francis came from the psychological distress he faced. The medications that he had been prescribed resulted in frequent mood swings and increased sensitivity, a side-effect of hormonal changes. Nonetheless, Francis remains assured that better days are to come and is vigilant about the quality of his thoughts and habits. He beckons other cancer patients to practice mindfulness and positive thinking.

During post-treatment, Francis was referred to SCS’ Rehabilitation Centre where he received therapy recommendations. Over a period of two sessions, Francis was monitored by a SCS therapist who guided him through strength training with the aid of stretch bands to regain muscular fitness. Rehabilitation involves personalised goals to be crafted according to a patient’s needs. With the advice from SCS medical professionals, such regimes allowed Francis’s physique to assimilate back to a state of normalcy.

 

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Walnut Warrior Exercise Programme (for Prostate Cancer)

 

Beyond the scope of friends and family, Francis also highlights the importance of a relatable community in the role of psychosocial rehabilitation. In SCS, men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer bear the mantle of “Walnut Warriors” in the specialised SCS Support Group. Hosting meetings monthly, the SCS Walnut Warriors share their personal challenges with prostate cancer and the various methods they cope with it. This mutual exchange of ideas and experiences thoroughly inspires others with a comforting sense of camaraderie and serves as a bold reminder that they are not on this journey alone. In conjunction with the psychological support, SCS Walnut Warriors Support Group curated an exercise regimen specifically tailored for patients on hormone treatment to bolster their muscular strength and revitalise their joint functions. Walnut Warriors are provided resistant bands and complimentary instructional videos on top of the weekly exercises at ActiveSG Bishan Sports Centre to thwart spells of fatigue.

True to its epithet as a beacon of hope, SCS is unrivalled in its efforts to excite cancer patients to set sights on an optimistic future- The SCS Walnut Warriors Support Group is no exception. Educational talks, workshops, recreational interest-learning sessions and social events are amongst the slew of events regularly organised for members to enjoy life’s little joys, whilst confidently taking cancer head-on. Francis is duly grateful and heartened that support networks, such as this, extend a welcoming hand to ease patients through such turbulent transitory periods. 

Francis’s emphasis on taking concrete actions is manifestly seen from his journey against cancer. From his resolute conviction to adopt a healthier lifestyle in the daunting face of mortality to the guided strength training with stretch bands at SCS Rehabilitation Centre, Francis advocates for patients to no longer dwell in their doubts and consternations. He has now made steady recovery and a newfound sense of peace from where he began.

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Article contributed by  volunteers: Ian Chia, Gabriel Chin, Nathaniel & Yong Teng

About the Walnut Warriors Support Group

Walnut Warriors reaches out to men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. This support group provides psychosocial support and encouragement to its members. It helps them make the transition in life by enhancing their well-being through therapeutic and enrichment programmes. 

Find out more here: https://bit.ly/2kr6QTA 

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