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Volunteer writer You Zhen uncovers the stories of four cancer warriors who have endured life-shaking diagnoses and now give back to a unique group therapy programme.

 “Life doesn't get easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient.” – motivational speaker Dr. Steve Maraboli

I had the privilege of meeting four amazing individuals who have been living with advanced cancer. In separate sessions, each of them graciously offered me a glimpse of their journey, from receiving their cancer diagnosis, how they have coped, to why they have chosen to volunteer in L.I.G.H.T. groupwork (LIGHT) organised by the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS).

Meet our cancer warriors

Lee Lee

Lee Lee, 66, a mother of three and grandmother of four, spent over six years in rural Thailand with her family. There, she worked with minority tribal groups and migrant workers while home-schooling her children. She is currently living with advanced lung cancer, first diagnosed in 2019.

John fin2

John, 69, is a father of three and newly-minted grandfather to a three-month-old granddaughter. He is currently living with advanced prostate cancer, first diagnosed in 2018.

karyn

Karyn, 49, is a mother of two sons. She is currently living with advanced lung cancer, first diagnosed in 2017.

Eddie photo

Eddie, self-professed “65-years-young”, is currently living with three cancers (lung, liver and prostate), diagnosed between 2017 and 2018. An avid Liverpool fan, he lives by the mantra: “You never walk alone.”

A glimpse into their journeys

As I listened to them recount their experiences, I began to empathise with the profound changes and emotions that cancer brought into their lives. Although no two persons’ journeys are the same, there were some common challenges they encountered.

For one, learning about their cancer diagnoses drew a myriad of responses. Some were caught off-guard while others were already expecting the news.

“Why me?” For Lee Lee, it felt like her world had collapsed. In addition to sorting out her legacy such as writing a will, making a Lasting Power of Attorney and even stipulating funeral details, she was also haunted by the fear of not being able to see all her children married.

Often, the diagnosis triggers a flurry of further tests and doctors’ visits to understand the prognosis and decide on treatment or management approaches. This period can be challenging for both patients and their loved ones.

In Eddie’s case, his initial diagnosis of lung cancer forced him to retire temporarily from his non-profit work. He was mentally prepared, due to prior knowledge from his siblings’ battles with cancer. Eddie took proactive steps to manage the situation with faith as his anchor, even as he received further diagnoses of liver and prostate cancers.

Treatment can take a nasty toll on the body. For Karyn, her diagnosis came while the family was still adapting to the aftermath of her husband’s layoff. After two years of treatment including chemotherapy and surgery, Karyn had finally been medically cleared of lung cancer. Unfortunately, she suddenly collapsed a year later and scans revealed that the tumours had spread to her brain. It took doses of punishing radiotherapy and other targeted treatments before her tumours showed some signs of stability.

In the period following John’s diagnosis, he had to take time off work in the afternoons to attend radiotherapy sessions. This went on daily for more than a month, except for weekends and public holidays. After each session, he reached home immensely fatigued and often fell asleep on the couch.  Eventually, he was put on an oral medication, which drained his fitness and stamina. He continues to exercise and is going through a   programme on how to work out  safely with  his condition. He hopes to rebuild part of his stamina.

Through their topsy-turvy journeys, they found their own pillars of strength. This often came from faith, a deep sense of purpose, or the unwavering support of loved ones. There are also avenues for help and support. Through their research or doctors’ recommendations, they learnt of the L.I.G.H.T. programe.

L.I.G.H.T groupwork by Singapore Cancer Society

SCS conducts L.I.G.H.T. workshops for advanced cancer patients, with 7 to 8 participants in each run and up to 3 volunteers to facilitate and share their experiences. Participants go through several sessions where they share their stories with one another and unravel the whirlwind of emotions that cancer has brought to their lives.

Cancer can be both catastrophic and alienating. Some people living with cancer may feel that others around them cannot understand what they are going through. L.I.G.H.T. groupwork brings together people living with advanced cancer and establishes a mutual understanding of their experiences and challenges. The connection and sense of camaraderie established is powerful. After completing the program, many groups have continued to meet informally over mutual interests and stay connected by  sharing tips and updates with one another.

light volunteers

For our cancer warriors John, Lee Lee, Eddie and Karyn, L.I.G.H.T. represents strength and clarity. Living with cancer has sharpened their intent on how to spend each day meaningfully. Despite everything they face, they have found the will and energy to volunteer in L.I.G.H.T. to facilitate sessions for others. In return, they have watched the participants progress and complete the program with a better grasp of their emotional journeys and a supportive group that understands what they are going through.

 

Writen by volunteer You Zhen

Thinking of volunteering?  Learn more about SCS’ volunteering opportunities at https://bit.ly/volunteer-scs

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