Minimising cancer, maximising life through support programmes

We wholly agree with Associate Professor Alexandre Chan's emphasis on and advocacy for greater support for cancer survivors in Singapore ("Structured support for cancer survivors 'reduces side effects'"; June 7).

Cancer is prevalent in Singapore, with 37 people being diagnosed daily. Many are often unable to obtain adequate support before, during or after treatment.

The support services we provide can make a huge difference in the lives of patients.

In a joint survey conducted in 2014 by the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) and the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore, 87 per cent of cancer patients experienced functional decline as a result of cancer and/or its treatment.

Many survivors were unable to cope with long-term physical side effects. Fifty per cent of those surveyed experienced side effects such as pain, 45 per cent experienced weakness, while 40 per cent experienced numbness and tingling.

Out of those who experienced cancer-related functional decline, close to 50 per cent had sought out support in the form of physical rehabilitation, while those who didn't cited cost and mobility considerations as obstacles.

To enable cancer survivors to better respond to their post-treatment side effects, SCS has built in a structured support programme to serve survivors of colorectal, breast, prostate, lung and nasopharyngeal cancers.

Our support groups involve survivors, nutritionists, counsellors, social workers and caregivers, and are designed to educate, engage and empower survivors to take charge of their own well-being.

A survey conducted among cancer survivors from SCS cancer support groups revealed that they experienced side effects even before and during treatment. After treatment, side effects persisted, with 31 per cent of respondents experiencing numbness, 21 per cent experiencing sleep difficulties, and 15 per cent experiencing pain.

To address different survivors' needs, SCS established Singapore's first community-based cancer rehabilitation centre at JEM Office Tower to provide holistic support and rehabilitation tailored to the specific needs of cancer survivors.

SCS professionals use one-to-one counselling, group-based interventions and psycho-education ranging from nutrition and cooking workshops to educational seminars, hobby sessions, social gatherings and excursions.

These provide survivors with opportunities to learn new skills, engage in meaningful activities and share learning experiences with their peers.

Journeying together in support groups has helped survivors improve their quality of life and regain a new sense of normalcy.

SCS strongly advocates that structured support for cancer survivors be incorporated into every patient's cancer journey as a necessary follow-up to treatment.

Albert Ching
Chief Executive Officer
Singapore Cancer Society

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Minimising cancer, maximising life through support programmes'. Print Edition | Subscribe