A battle fought together

Hope & Healing, a collection of stories
by Dr Ang Peng Tiam, was launched in JB
It was good to see Dr Ang Peng Tiam in Johor Baru for his book launch held on the 8th anniversary celebration of CanHOPE Johor Baru recently.  Last year I met Dr Ang at a regional Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC) event in Singapore and remember how he held an audience captive with his engaging manner.  Cancer survivors in JB, their friends and family members who met the Medical Director and Senior Consultant of Medical Oncology at PCC, paid rapt attention to his talk on, Advances in Cancer Treatment, because they are aware that cancer is indeed, one of the most devastating diseases worldwide and certainly one that strikes fear in the hearts of many.

“Cancer is not a death sentence,” said Dr Ang as he explained how doctors have the responsibility to keep themselves updated in the advances in cancer management and to treat each patient with dignity and compassion.  In his 29 years as a cancer specialist, Dr Ang has cared for more than 20,000 patients.  He said some 50% of his patients are Singaporean while other patients are from the region including Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. 

A photo he flashed on the screen depicted him in his clinic seated behind his desk, wearing his usual white tunic, surrounded by photographs of his family.  He told the audience, “I want patients to see that I’m also human and have family members, just like them.”

Doctor Writer

In his career as one of Asia’s leading oncologists, Dr Ang has written and published more than 100 papers and abstracts for medical journals.  In 1991, he was the founding head of the Department of Medical Oncology at Singapore General Hospital and received Singapore’s National Science Award in 1996 for his outstanding contributions in Medical Research.  In 1997, he started his private practice with Mount Elizabeth Hospital and in 2006, PCC was formed.

Dr Ang Peng Tiam [Left] at the book launch
with CanHOPE JB Director, Desmond Wong
“I like to tell stories to my patients – stories of hope to inspire them, so that they should not be disheartened but instead battle the illness with courage,” said Dr Ang.  He said PCC strives hard not only to meet the physical needs of patients but also to provide necessary psychological support to the patients.  This is done through CanHOPE counselors, monthly newsletters, regular public seminars and TV medical documentaries.

In 2006, Dr Ang published a book, “Doctor, I have cancer.  Can you help me?” a title that was inspired by a question he has heard numerous times in the course of his work.  This book of patient stories revealed their hope, strength and grace in the face of despair and has been translated into nine languages.  These stories aim to inspire patients in their battle with cancer, and educate them about the truths and myths of this disease.  The follow-up volume to his previous book, Stories of Hope from the Cancer Clinic, included patients of other doctors in 14 stories of cancer survivors and 10 accounts by nurses, counselors and doctors with PCC. 

“Living with cancer and fighting cancer can be a frightening experience.  I hope that sharing patient stories and showing patients that there are others who have walked the same journey and triumphed over their illnesses, will encourage them,” said Dr Ang.

Since 2007, Dr Ang has been contributing health articles to the Mind Your Body column in a weekly health supplement section of The Straits Times newspapers to share his experiences and insights into the disease through patient stories in their journey against cancer.  These patient stories, written with a good dose of compassion and humour, stated the facts as well as shared the hope that life goes on.  A collection of 37 stories first published in Mind Your Body, are compiled into Dr Ang’s latest book entitled, Hope & Healing, a Doctor’s Reflections on Cancer

Doctor Friend

Over 250 guests at the CanHOPE anniversary event benefited from Dr Ang’s engaging talk and those who bought his book, had them signed by the author.  Some 140 copies of, Hope & Healing, a Doctor’s Reflections on Cancer, were sold at RM20 each at the event to raise funds for two cancer patient support groups in JB.  Proceeds from the book sale at the event were equally distributed to the JB Breast Cancer Support Group and I-Care Support Group.  In addition, each group also received 100 complimentary copies of the book for their fund raising needs.

An avid audience listening to the presentation by
Dr Ang Peng Tiam at the recent event held in JB
He said his book was not intended to make money but to share the stories to encourage people in their journey against cancer.  Many patients die happy, rich with the love of family and friends, so his hope is for people to be encouraged to live such meaningful lives that death will be accepted with peace.  “The common thread that runs through each of the 37 stories is the focus on what’s really important – enjoying a fulfilled life, helping others and spending meaningful time with family and friends” said Dr Ang. 

“Doctors not only have to be competent and compassionate, they should also have the skill to communicate to the patient that he cares and has the patient’s interests at heart,” said Dr Ang, well aware that patients are eager to hear the doctor’s offer of hope and the course of action.  He said the doctor’s journey with the patient begins from their first encounter and continues through to the joys and trails of treatment, follow-ups, supervision and relapses, and in the vast majority, to walk with them in the final farewell.  Dr Ang said he tries to be as honest as possible with adult patients because he believes a patient has the right to know about his own health.  But this was not always possible.

Dr Ang signing a copy of his book
for me!
In a typical work day, Dr Ang will be doing his ward rounds with inpatients by 7am and starts to see outpatients at his clinic from 9am to 7pm.  Before he heads home, he returns to the ward to review the sicker patients.  The clinic does not stop during lunchtime so he does not take lunch but has a big food flask filled with homemade soup which he drinks in between seeing patients.  He is able to do what he is doing with the support of his wife, who is also a doctor, and four children who are also pursuing medicine as a career.  

Looking back, Dr Ang is glad that he followed his calling to help in conquering cancer.  He finds it personally satisfying to look after patients and in establishing a rapport and relationship with them.  He said cancer often can be controlled for months, years and sometimes even decades, simply by continuing treatment.  Over the years, many of his patients have become like friends and family as they share their triumphs and sorrows, while they battle the disease together like true cancer warriors.

It’s encouraging to see the smiling faces in the audience as they listened attentively to Dr Ang at the event.  I overhear whispered conversations declaring their admiration for the good doctor’s passion and commitment to his calling.  Like many of them, I too cannot wait to start reading my signed copy of his book.

Fast Facts

The Parkway Cancer Centre is operated by Parkway Pantai Limited (PPL), the largest private healthcare provider in Singapore.  Website: www.parkwaycancercentre.com  PPL owns and operates nine Pantai Hospitals and two Gleneagles Hospitals in Peninsular Malaysia.  Website: www.parkwaypantai.com  CanHOPE is a PCC non-profit counseling and support services centre that provides help and hope to patients and families battling cancer in JB, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.  Website: www.canhope.org

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 11 April 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment