The Pro

It's in the blood: The yin and yang of life

PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Q I have a strong interest in haematology because...

A Haematology teaches me about the yin and yang of life - that it is all about balance.

An abundance or a lack of certain blood cell types leads to blood disorders, including blood cancers. Too much or too little of blood clotting proteins causes abnormal blood clot formation or bleeding. If there is any problem in the blood, it can lead to dire consequences elsewhere as our blood flows to almost every part of the body.

Q If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I'd be a...

A Prosecutor, because I need to gather information in order to diagnose a blood disorder.

I ask patients about their symptoms, examine their blood or bone marrow cells under a microscope and do specialised tests to get the answer.

After this intensive interrogation leads to an accurate diagnosis, I go on to "prosecute" the incriminated cells by delivering the appropriate therapy to treat the disease.

Q I come across all types of cases from...

A Patients with blood cancers such as acute leukaemia and lymphoma to patients with benign blood disorders like anaemia.

  • Bio Box

  • DR DAWN MYA

  • Age: 40

  • Occupation: Specialist in haematology & consultant, Raffles Cancer Centre

  • Dr Mya, who is a Singapore citizen, graduated from the University of Medicine 1 in Yangon, Myanmar.

    She came to Singapore soon after that because of her family, and subsequently underwent specialist training at Singapore General Hospital.

    After her clinical training in Singapore, she took up a fellowship in Salamanca, Spain, to learn diagnostic techniques in haematology in 2014.

    For an accurate diagnosis of blood disorders, one has to identify the abnormal cells under the microscope and study the characteristics of the abnormal cells using computer programs. "This in turn enables treatment regimens to be fine-tuned for patients with blood disorders," she said.

    She said she finds it "tremendously fulfilling" to be able to give her patients an accurate diagnosis, so they can get the right treatment.

    Dr Mya is married to a paediatrician and they have two daughters, aged eight and six.

  • Brought to you by

I also see patients with bleeding disorders and venous thromboembolism, a blood clotting disorder.

Q A typical day for me would...

A Start with getting my girls ready for school. I go on my ward round to see my patients around 8.30am. After that, I run outpatient clinic sessions till 5.30pm.

Some days, I will be at the haematology section of the laboratory to investigate any abnormal blood films, bone marrow aspirates and the results of flow cytometry assay, an advanced technique to identify problematic blood cells.

Then, I will go home and spend time with my family.

Q Two little known facts about haematology are...

A That chemotherapy is not the only treatment, and that outpatient treatment can be done for certain blood cancers.

It is generally believed that blood cancers are treated only with chemotherapy, which is known to produce side effects such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting.

But most of the side effects can be controlled with medication.

Also, today, there's a newer type of cancer treatment called targeted therapy, which uses drugs to more precisely identify and attack cancer cells. Many targeted therapies such as immunotherapy and cell therapy are replacing or complementing conventional chemotherapy, thanks to rapidly evolving clinical research.

Q Patients who get my goat are...

A Those who are unreasonably rude, not only to me but also to other healthcare professionals such as nurses. Mutual respect yields the best outcome in every relationship.

Q Things that put a smile on my face are...

A When my patients recover from their illness and resume their daily activities.

Q It breaks my heart when...

A Patients with curable blood cancers refuse treatment because of fallacies or hearsay that unreliable alternative treatment provides a cure. It can be harder to change human mindsets than to cure certain blood diseases.

Q My best tip...

A Is that having a balanced diet, sufficient rest and exercising as tolerated are enough to maintain one's general well-being. This is the case even while one is undergoing treatment for blood disorders.

Also, one should discuss the use of health supplements with doctors and dietitians as some may cause unfavourable drug interactions and can even harm us, depending on the reliability of the ingredients.

Q I wouldn't trade places for the world because...

A My discipline trains me to practise medicine from bench (diagnosis at the laboratory) to bedside (instituting appropriate treatment). It is exciting and satisfying.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'It's in the blood: The yin and yang of life '. Print Edition | Subscribe