Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Singapore - What would you do if your child is diagnosed with cancer? [part 1]

SINGAPORE - When she first heard that her young daughter was diagnosed with cancer, Ms Cynthia Lim's knee-jerk reaction towards chemotherapy was a visceral and immediate "no".

"There was the shock of having to deal with the disease. Then there was a bit of denial, which made it difficult to be rational," says the 32-year-old, whose four-year-old daughter Charmaine died from neuroblastoma last October.

"For someone who did not have previous exposure to cancer, the pre-conceived notions about the side effects of chemo were so deeply ingrained in me that I just did not want her to go through that." Charmaine (right) would have turned seven yesterday.

Eventually, Ms Lim came around to the idea that her child needed to undergo the treatment.

After reading voraciously about the disease six months after the initial diagnosis, Ms Lim realised chemotherapy was the only chance for her daughter against cancer.

The New Paper on Sunday approached Ms Lim after The Straits Times reported on Tuesday about a mother who objected to chemotherapy for her leukaemia-stricken son.

The 31-year-old prefers "natural therapies" at an alternative health and well-being centre in the US state of Arizona.

Ms Lim, who misses her daughter deeply and blogs about her occasionally, says she can relate to this mother.

"The doctors told me we should start it immediately. But at first, I kept telling them to give me a couple more days to think about it," she explains.

She scoured the Internet for information, hoping to find an alternative to putting her daughter through chemotherapy.

Eventually, she agreed to the treatment after speaking with a parent whose child had a rapidly-growing tumour.

The parent urged Ms Lim not to waste any more time.

"I always felt like I was feeding her poison, but I came to see later... it was the only way to give her a chance of survival," Ms Lim maintains. Alternative treatments such as detoxification diets and Chinese herbs offer a glimmer of hope for cancer patients who shudder at the thought of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy, a common form of treatment for various types of cancer, uses various chemicals and medicines to kill cancerous cells.

These chemicals, often given in the form of injections and tablets, cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting and loss of hair.

The fear of such side effects, coupled with anecdotes of failed medical therapies like surgery or radiation, drives patients to explore alternative treatments, says Dr Lim Siew Eng, a senior consultant at National University Cancer Institute's Department of Haematology-Oncology.

Former Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs, who died of pancreatic cancer last October, refused surgery when a tumour was detected early in his pancreas.

"I really didn't want them to open up my body, so I tried to see if a few other things would work," he told the author of his biography, Mr Walter Isaacson.

Instead, Mr Jobs turned to a strict vegan diet, which consisted of large quantities of fresh carrot and fruit juices, when he was diagnosed in October 2003.

His regimen also included acupuncture, a variety of herbal remedies and occasionally other treatments he found through the Internet or by consulting people, including a psychic.

In July 2004, a scan showed that the tumour had grown and would possibly spread, forcing Mr Jobs to undergo surgery. He would fight the disease for another seven years before succumbing to it.

Other people turn to alternative therapies not in the hope of a cure, but to try to keep the cancer at bay.

After undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous tumour in her colon, 60 year-old Miss Loh, who declined to reveal her full name, found peace of mind by taking Chinese herbs from Bao Zhong Tang TCM Centre at the Singapore General Hospital.

"The doctor said there was a 30 per cent chance of the disease coming back, so I was very worried. I also experienced breathlessness, severe fatigue, and numbness in my limbs, all of which the herbs helped to ease," says the retiree.

Benita Aw Yeong
This article was first published in The New Paper.

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