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Deepa’s story: A volunteer’s heart

In 2016, Deepa Maurya was diagnosed with lung cancer. After an operation, she was declared cancer free, only to have a relapse the following year.

It returned with a vengeance —it was stage 4 lung cancer, which has since metastasised to six parts of her body, including her shoulder, uterus and her brain.

In her fight against cancer, she has undergone multiple surgeries, and has had chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.

The 51-year-old IT executive said in an interview: “My life has changed completely because of cancer. It has been a long time since I enjoyed the North Indian cuisine that I grew up with because of oral ulcers, a side-effect of chemotherapy.”

“My work, in which I take immense joy and pride, had to be reduced as I needed the time to recuperate after my treatment. I lost some long-time friends over the years as well.”

Yet despite all her challenges — both physical and emotional — Deepa continues to maintain her cheerfulness and engagement with work and life, actively participating in multiple platforms. She volunteers at the Keat Hong Community Centre as a C2E (Community Emergency and Engagement Committee) grassroot leader, and in various cancer support groups.

Singapore Cancer Society
Image Source: Deepa Maury

Most of all, she has become an advocate for regular check-ups to get timely diagnosis.

Instead of being trapped by her condition, such as not being able to use her left arm due to neuropathic pain, she is grateful that she can still use the computer to work.

Deepa recently shared her cancer journey during Lung Cancer Awareness Month and gave interviews to talk about her experiences and challenges in returning to work.

She is part of a Return to Work programme for recovering cancer patients, telling TODAY that it helps with her quality of life.

“There is this thinking that once you’re hit with cancer, you have to rest and stop working. People can’t seem to digest the fact that I can still work in spite of cancer. Work makes me happy and keeps me occupied.”

She also helps encourage cancer patients with her story on the importance of a support network.

Aside from her community centre volunteer work, Deepa is also chairperson for Bishana, a cancer support group for women. She is also a member with the Lung Cancer Education and Advocacy for Patients (LEAP) at NCCS since 2019.

Said Deepa: “With five relapses since 2017, my cancer journey has not been easy. But I have always tried to remain positive, look at the brighter side of things and use my experience and learnings to help others.

“Having seen my cancer journey at close quarters in his formative years, my son has decided to pursue a career in medicine. He is soon going to university to become a doctor to be able to help others like me. I couldn’t be prouder!”

Madam Chin’s story: A wife’s love

Madam Chin with her husband and members of the SCS Home Hospice Team during her 69th birthday celebration.

70-year-old Chin Kwee Hiong hasn’t had an easy life. She was given away as a child and has had no formal education. With no siblings or relatives, she live with her 75-year-old husband Chong Ah Kui.

In 2005, Madam Chin was diagnosed with breast cancer. It went into remission after treatment but relapsed in 2019. She was admitted to Singapore Cancer Society’s home hospice program in 2020.

Despite not being able to read and write, Madam Chin always tries to learn from her healthcare team about her condition and exercises autonomy in her care plan.

“I don’t want to burden my husband or his family in financial matters,” she said in Chinese.

Singapore Cancer Society
Image Source: Ambulance Wish Singapore

She circles the dates for her medical appointments on a calendar next to her bed, with the 24-hour hotline phone number written clearly in case of a medical emergency call.

Even though she can’t read, she has memorised a list of telephone numbers for social workers, nurses, doctors and other service providers.

She signed up with the Lions Befrienders for home befriending as well as medical escort and transport services for her and her husband.

Madam Chin lives a simple life. For example, she says she doesn’t need financial support from social services because she still has her CPF pay-outs and that the government funds can go to help other needy people.

Shy and humble, she doesn’t want to trouble others but when SCS and Ambulance Wish Singapore threw her a party for her 69th birthday, she agreed to be filmed to advocate for patients like herself to remain positive and accept care and support from community resources.

It was her first-ever birthday party.

Madam Chin wants to encourage more volunteers to come forward to help elderly folks who are struggling with old age and illness.

Said Carol Wee, Vice-Chairman of Ambulance Wish Singapore: “She does not take any of our efforts for granted and expresses her appreciation often with a sincere simple thank you. This warms our hearts and through Madam Chin, we learnt what it means to shine through adversity!”

Madam Chin’s resilience is built upon her life experiences. She had a rough childhood and was not sent to school. She started working in her teenage years but remained strong and determined to build a life for herself. She learnt to speak Mandarin and Malay while working as a cleaner. She is proud to have paid off her HDB flat and today, she can depend on her CPF pay-outs for living expenses.

When she was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, the couple downgraded their 3-room flat to a 2-room to pay for treatment. She continued to work till her relapse in 2019.

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When she learnt that there would be no more treatment for her cancer, Madam Chin coped with her pain and grief by attending church with her niece from her husband’s side.

“Religion can help in relieving my pain and give me peace at times when nothing can help me,” she said simply.

She believes that she has to remain strong for herself and for her husband who has relied on her to look after him for almost 50 years.

Her niece Phoebe said: “My auntie has shown me what faith and courage is in the face of terminal illness. For 7 years, she kept her spirits up. She is a lady who does not give up easily!”

Last year, when her husband lost a toe due to diabetes, she cared for him despite her own illness. She came up with a detailed plan with the rehab team, complete with diagrams, drawings, and numbers to ensure that her husband took his medication, performed his exercises, and attended his medical follow-ups. Within six months, her husband was back on his feet.

Madam Chin said that her resilience comes from religion and her love for her husband.

“I want to remain stable so that I can look after my husband and myself and not have to trouble people.”

Mr Woo’s story: A caregiver’s life

His wife was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016, and he has been caring for her since, even through his own medical challenges.

Mr Woo, a 68-year-old technician, has been the sole caregiver for his 66-year-old wife Madam Ang, ensuring day-to-day care and support for her at home.

The couple is shy and reserved, which is why they declined to give their full names or share any photos.

Mr Woo is very attuned to his wife’s emotional and psychological needs especially since she lost her mental capacity and has been bed bound after a stroke more than two years ago.

He said: “I try to make my wife understand I still love her and will not abandon her. I will massage her legs, move her limbs to help her exercise, and massage her face after work every day. I also get a chance to exercise when I massage her. I will also talk to her and hug her.”

They have a helper, but Mr Woo still made sure he knows the necessary skills, such as tube feeding, to care for his wife at home.

As a result, when SCS volunteers visit, they often note how Madam Ang is usually calm and cheerful, and responsive to her husband’s presence.

Even though Mr Woo has had a stroke before, and had a heart operation recently, he persevered through his recovery as quickly as possible so he could return to work and care for his wife.

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Mr Woo has a deep sense of gratitude for being able to be a caregiver to his wife despite their circumstances. While he is sad that she can no longer talk with him since her stroke, he is grateful to be able to care for her with support from SCS.

His commitment to his wife has even moved social workers who check in on the couple.

In their reports, they would describe how he would always spend his evenings after reaching home from work massaging his wife, something even without first having his dinner.

He works hard and keeps himself active so that he is in good condition to care for his wife.

His story is so inspirational that one social worker has added his account to a series of stories on how people cope with terminal cancer, shared with others going through similar end-of-life difficulties. He shared about how he made efforts to care for himself so he could continue to care for his wife and how he maintained meaningful connections with his wife despite the limitations of having a terminal illness.

When they ask him why he has such a strong sense of perseverance and responsibility, Mr Woo’s answer was simple.

He said: “My wife will always be my life partner.”

This article was contributed by Singapore Cancer Society, a self-funded voluntary welfare organisation which provides patient care services to needy cancer patients through its welfare, hospice home care, cancer treatment subsidy and rehabilitation support programmes. In addition, SCS also provides free cancer screening services and promotes cancer awareness and prevention through its public education and community outreach programmes.

As part of its fund-raising efforts, SCS is organising the Singapore Cancer Society-TalkMed Relay For Life. Registration closes on March 3. Find out how you can do your part to help those dealing with cancer.

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