Robotic surgery helped ease cancer patient's worries

For 66-year-old Mr Teng, it was not the cancer that worried him, but the fact that he might have to undergo open surgery, the traditional type of surgery where a long incision is made by the surgeon.

"Open surgery is really major and I'd never had an operation in my life," he told The Straits Times. "It's risky, painful and you need a longer time for recovery."

It all started in June last year, when a routine polyclinic check- up for diabetes led to a barrage of tests and the final verdict: early- stage liver cancer.

But Mr Teng, who declined to give his full name, was not unduly worried. Doctors he initially consulted told him that the tumour - relatively small, at 2cm - could simply be burned away in a minor procedure.

"My initial reaction (to the news of cancer) was of course disbelief and disappointment," he said. "But being a positive-thinking guy, what was in my mind was that after (the procedure), I would be cured."


Stay calm. Think positive. Trust your doctors. The surgeon and his team, they are now my heroes.

MR TENG, sharing his advice for those who have been diagnosed with early-stage liver cancer.

Two months later, the Rotary Club member met Professor Pierce Chow at a talk the latter was giving on liver cancer.

The surgeon at National Cancer Centre Singapore looked at Mr Teng's scans and recommended surgery to remove the tumour. Mr Teng was sceptical at first, but the opinions of another group of doctors soon convinced him that that was the best course of action.

But first, he had to go on a diet. He weighed nearly 100kg at the time.

"Because of all my fat, the surgeon would have had a hard time looking for the tumour," Mr Teng told The Straits Times candidly. "I had to lose weight to help the surgeon do a better job."

By cutting the carbohydrates from his daily meals, he managed to shed 4kg in a month.

He also had to undergo tests to check his liver function and make sure that his heart could withstand the surgery.

"Both my hands and arms have been pricked by needles many times in the past three to four months," Mr Teng said ruefully.

Then he got a piece of good news. Prof Chow decided to perform robotic surgery instead, which meant only a 4cm cut across his abdomen to remove the tumour. This was a less risky procedure and it put many of Mr Teng's worries to rest.

He stayed four days in the hospital after his surgery earlier this month and did not have to undergo chemotherapy. He is now able to walk on his own and is determined to lose more weight.

For those who have been diagnosed with early-stage liver cancer, Mr Teng has this piece of advice: "Stay calm. Think positive. Trust your doctors."

He added: "The surgeon and his team, they are now my heroes."

Linette Lai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Robotic surgery helped ease cancer patient's worries'. Print Edition | Subscribe