A supportive hand
A 76-year-old woman has found her calling, to reach out to women with menopause and those who suffer from colon cancer. A warm hand can make a world of difference!
BY: Eleanor Yap
This spunky woman of 76 years’ young, Dincy Lim, is determined to make a mark through her work setting up two support groups – one on menopause in KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) and another on colon cancer at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). Lim, who was the first runner-up in the Singapore Woman Award 2009 (shown below, right), is as busy as ever, heading both groups and counseling those in need as a volunteer.
We managed to squeeze some time out of this grandmother of three’s busy schedule to talk about her work, what keeps her busy and what is her secret to looking so good, especially in those shorts that she wore during the interview! A celebrity in her own right, we discovered she is related to another celebrity – she is the zoo-man Bernard Harrison’s mother-in-law:
When did you start volunteering?
When I was in my 60s and my two children had left to go overseas, I was alone here with my husband. I am an active person and I felt I needed to do something with my life. I started volunteering for the Gospel Mission to the Blind. Every day, I had to look after blind children and had to travel to all areas of Singapore such as Woodlands, Bukit Batok, Tampines and Upper Thomson Road. It was the first time I rode an MRT as I would mostly use a cab or be driven! I would spend five hours with the child, playing or feeding him or her. During the weekends, I travelled to Johor Bahru for another blind child.
You mentioned you are caring for your husband.
When my children were around, I was very close to them and spent a lot of time with them. Those days, I was caring for my children … now I am caring for my 82-year-old husband who really needs me! We have been married for 49 years! He is not sick but he is frail and sometimes he has good days and bad days. Three weeks ago, he had a head injury – he fell in the study and hit his head and there was a pool of blood. I quickly brought him to the hospital and he was discharged with an abrasion. He is tough! At his age, he is still working as the Information Representative of Oman for the Asian Countries. He wants to be independent but he can’t. If I happen to go out for awhile, he would ask me where I had gone to. He enjoys hearing my many stories and they keep him amused. (EDITOR’S NOTE: As of presstime, we are saddened to share that Lim’s husband passed away in late November. Lim had approved this story after his passing so as a tribute to him and her love for him, we have decided to leave the copy as is.)
Tell me about the ‘Woman to Woman’ Menopause Support Group that you founded in KKH.
I founded it in 1996. Women at that time would chat about their husbands’ infidelity rather than talk about menopause. It is very different now. I remembered our first meeting we had 16 people and all were cross-armed and quiet!
I knew nothing about menopause; I was still menstruating. KKH at the time had set up the first-ever Menopause Clinic. I was taking hormone therapy and decided to see Associate Prof Tay Boon Lin, who is currently senior consultant of the Menopause Clinic at KKH. I felt I could relate as I belonged to that age group. Every time I visited Assoc Prof Tay, we would talk about my lifestyle. One time, in passing, I brought up the need for a support group. That followed with him asking me to be a guest speaker at the first menopause public forum. Two months after the forum, he asked me to join in on a meeting to start a society of menopause. I was nominated president! I couldn’t believe it. However, that never got off the ground and instead the support group got born. I was a housewife and now I was going to chair meetings!
Initially, when we were discussing the name of the group, I suggested calling it Menopause Support Group as it was what it was, and many were against it. They didn’t want others to know they had menopause; they wanted the name ‘Golden Girls’. In the end, the group became the name I proposed and later we added ‘Woman to Woman’. We got members from the exercise group for menopause women in KKH, as well as women from the Menopause Clinic, hence the 16 that came together. Today, we have 100 active members. We initially only had a hotline counseling as women didn’t want to show their faces. Only later on we included face-to-face counseling for those women who have really bad symptoms like mood changes.
What about your Colon Cancer Support Group at TTSH?
I started that group six years ago on my 70th birthday! Only during that time did I figure out the seriousness of colon cancer. Before the group got started I invited Dr Richard Sim, currently, senior consultant of Colorectal Department at TTSH, to speak to the women in the Menopause Support Group. Through the talk and later the women went to get screened, two from the group actually had polyps and they were malignant. Dr Sim suggested I start a group and hence I did so and the group has grown to 35 members, some unfortunately have passed on. At KKH, women are encouraged to have a mammogram, Pap smear, as well as a colon cancer screening.
The Colon Cancer Support Group is the only such support group in Singapore. The cancer support groups that exist are mainly mixed bag of cancers such as lung, liver and prostate, but this is the only one solely for colon cancer. It was for TTSH’s colon cancer patients. Once we started the hotline counseling, we now counsel patients from all over, including other hospitals. The support group is mainly run by volunteers who are colon cancer survivors, myself being the exception.
Any other support groups that you started?
When the Breast Centre opened in KKH, I started a breast support group. However, the nurses and doctors there wanted to have their own programmes so I gave it up.
You mentioned that there is a link between breast and colon cancer, can you explain?
If you have either, you need to be extra careful as you can get the other. If you are in your late 40s, do a colonoscopy every five years if everything is ok. If not ok, I would recommend doing one every year or do one every three years.
Any other volunteer work?
This is more than enough.
Since you did not know about menopause or colon cancer, how did you arm yourself with the knowledge?
My volunteers and I had to go for training and get educated on the topics. We need to talk less and listen more. I counsel for both support groups. I spend a total of six hours a week doing hotline counseling and face-to-face counseling. Besides that, I also allot two Saturdays a month for social activities for the groups. Occasionally, I help WINGS out with the hotline counseling on menopause.
Knowing what you know on the subjects of menopause and colon cancer, any advice that you can dispense?
For colon cancer, I would recommend those in their late 40s to do a colonoscopy. If you catch it early, you can be cured. However, if you are in stage 4, it is really too late. In terms of menopause, if you have mood swings, do talk about it. Don’t keep it to yourself. Also, if you have bladder and vagina problems, do talk about it to other women and your doctor so you can get help. It may be embarrassing but don’t worry, speak up!
Also, you know your body the best, better than anyone including your doctor as he or she could be taking a cautious approach. If you feel a particular solution is best for you, tell your doctor and he or she can monitor you.
Why do you do this work?
I believe menopausal women need someone to help them. I want to help them. They are lovely people and they should not suffer. I have the persuasive power and I want them to have a good life and to be confident in themselves. A confident woman can be very attractive! When you are a confident woman, you can look good, even if you are in your 80s.
For the Colon Cancer Support Group, I teach them about drinking vegetable juice! I try not to get emotionally involved. Since I am a Christian, I know when they pass on I will see them again. It is really my mission to help them. All this keeps me active. I have learned so much from them – I am confident and privileged. I credit my strength to being a Christian.
I hear you skip 100 times everyday. Is that true?
It is the only exercise I do. First thing in the morning, I come down to my living room where the rope is and skip 100 times. It is a good rope, nice and thick from the US. I skip using alternate legs instead of both, as that would be too painful.
How do you keep your mind sharp?
My mind is so focused. I remember everything that is said in a meeting, I don’t ever write things down.
** For more information on the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s ‘Woman to Woman’ Menopause Support Group, call 6394 1499. For information on Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Colon Cancer Support Group, call the general line at 6256 6011.
(PHOTOS provided by Dincy Lim)