My father’s battle with cancer
Family is important during tough times and most importantly, in looking back, it is being able to have prevented the disease from striking early on.
BY: Sandra Choo
When my father, Choo Chut Pan (left), was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer at the age of 72, his condition was devastating – the cancerous tumour of 7.5cm in diameter had badly perforated his colon; the cancer cells had spread to his duodenum (first section of the small intestine) and also vastly into his lungs; and he was heavily malnourished with an extremely low blood count of five (normal blood count ranges from nine to 14). The hard truth was we had discovered his illness far too late and it was difficult for us to accept, as my father was a physically strong and active person who exercised regularly under the sun through gardening. For half his life, he was a vegetarian who believed in healthy home-cooked food.
Since he had always led a very simple and healthy lifestyle physically and spiritually, it had never occurred to my father or the family that cancer would strike him. Though my father appeared healthy, he was after all, an aged and thus, susceptible to chronic infections and illnesses. The discovery of my father’s fatal disease at late, only revealed my ignorance on this subject known as “ageing”.
The acute pain caused by the bleeding tumour had become so unbearable to my father that removing it to relieve his pain first, was the only option left. My father went for his first operation on September 29, 2010, and the tumour was successfully removed. Unfortunately, caused by the surrounding cancer cells, the duodenum broke down unsparingly a few days later and an emergency operation was called forth to repair it.
A month later, the duodenum did recover but further diagnosis revealed a new problem – there was a small hole in my father’s small intestine, which resulted in continuous bile discharge. He then went for a third operation to surgically close it in the following month. The third operation was a great success and while we all rejoiced with my father’s speedy recovery, the unexpected happened shortly after two weeks – he was attacked by a severe infection, which eventually took away his life on December 30, 2010.
It was not difficult to imagine how tough this journey was as my father sailed through the rough patches to challenge colon cancer. Fighting alongside him at the National University Hospital (NUH) was a heart-wrenching experience when I saw how he had suffered because of this illness. Together with my siblings, we gave him our unfailing love and support to battle on despite the setbacks. Being my father’s full-time caregiver during those trying times, I reckoned that no matter how much effort the healthcare team could put in to treat and care for a patient, a family’s strong support, love and encouragement (which cannot be outsourced) were vital catalysts for one to fight on.
Throughout his stay in NUH, I was grateful that my father was well taken care of by his attending surgeon, Dr Dean Koh and his team who led and orchestrated his overall medical treatment; the nurses and staff who cared for him angelically at Ward 43; Dr Noreen Chan who provided palliative care for his acute cancer condition, as well as Dr Tan Wah Tze who upheld his dignity and comfort with the best supportive care in the ICU as my father took his departure and bade us goodbye joyfully and peacefully.
Through these humanistic touches and encounters, my father had transformed while undergoing these successive challenges – from an egoistic man of pride to an amicable old man of pure self who never failed to appreciate others’ kindness and never failed to reprimand others’ carelessness, ingenuity and wishy-washy performance; from a strict father who never liked us to touch him to a loving father who allowed me to wipe his tears softly when his ego fell apart; from an angry patient who chased me out of the room to a happy patient who asked only for me to clean his face and brush his teeth every morning. Returning to the purest state of life, my father was like a child beaming with hearty smiles, curiosities and wisdom, who taught and amused many at Ward 43.
Turning back the clock
Although ageing and sickness are the indisputable laws of life, if the associated sufferings to the latter can be reduced by early detection, it is definitely worth the effort because if I can turn back the clock now, this is what I have wished for my father.
Sandra Choo, 41, a former IT project manager, is the author of Ward 43 where she shares her father’s battle with colon cancer. She penned the book to honour those who spend each waking moment of their lives serving patients and saving lives. She is one of four children. Ward 43 is now available in local major bookstores for S$19. For more information, you can also refer to www.sandrachoo.com.