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Oncologist as facilitator

Oncologist Chin Tan Min says her job is to explain medical jargon to patients in easy to understand terms and to "treat the treatables", while remembering that it is a person who is being treated, and not just the cancer or illness.
Oncologist Chin Tan Min says her job is to explain medical jargon to patients in easy to understand terms and to "treat the treatables", while remembering that it is a person who is being treated, and not just the cancer or illness.PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Q I specialise in medical oncology because...

A It is a holistic discipline. There is a good mix of science and the art of doctoring.

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

A A facilitator. Cancer is a daunting disease to many and the lack of accurate information can make it worse.

My job is to explain medical jargon to patients in easy to understand terms. I discuss the options, propose a plan and allow patients to come to an informed decision.

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

  • Bio Box


    Age: 43

    Occupation: Specialist in medical oncology & consultant, Raffles Cancer Centre

    Dr Chin graduated from the National University of Singapore in 1997 and completed her internal medicine and oncology training at the National University Hospital. She went on to do further sub-specialisation training in thoracic oncology with a clinical and research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre in the United States from 2006 to 2007.

    She said: "Cancer medicine is a very fascinating field with many exciting developments. In my years of practice, I have been fortunate to witness tremendous improvement in the care of cancer patients, from the development to the availability of new classes of drugs."

    Doctors now have effective treatments and patients also suffer from less side effects than in the past, when the common perception was that the side effects of treatment could be worse than the disease.

    "There continues to be much research in cancer and I believe that this would translate into many more treatment options for cancer patients in the near future," said Dr Chin.

    She and her husband, a doctor in his 40s, have a son and a daughter.

A Early-stage curable cancers to later-stage advanced cancers in the young and the old. To be able to cure all of them would be ideal, though it's not quite possible all the time. My modus operandi is to "treat the treatables", while remembering that it is a person we are treating, and not just the cancer or illness.

Q A typical day for me would be…

A To start with taking my children to school before work.

I usually begin by visiting my patients in the wards. After that, I see patients at the clinic.

The later part of the afternoon is usually spent on following up on the test results of patients. I end the day by doing a quick check in the wards.

I then go home for a homecooked dinner with my family. We talk about the day's highlights, such as a heartwarming story about a patient, and, for the kids, something interesting that happened at school.

Q One little-known fact about my field is that...

A Many patients on treatment are well enough to go back to work. Cancer treatment and many aspects of life, such as work and travel, are not mutually exclusive.

Q Patients who get my goat are...

A Cancer patients already have it tough. It is hard to be upset with them.

I enjoy treating patients who take on an equal partnership with the doctor in "the journey of getting well". It is a big step forward when they are willing to comply with treatment and are motivated to get well.

Positive energy from patients can rub off on doctors and the heathcare team too.

Q The things that put a smile on my face are...

A When my patients get better and when I see those I treated many years ago remain cancer-free, knowing that I have made a difference to their journey in life.

Q It breaks my heart when...

A Patients opt to not treat their cancers for fear of the side effects from the treatment.

These days, there are many effective treatment options, with very tolerable side effects. Even when side effects do occur, there are effective supportive medications that can counteract them.

It is a shame that some patients forgo effective therapy because they think that treatment is more detrimental than the cancer.

Q My best tip is...

A To eat well, rest more and enjoy each day as it comes. Life can be unpredictable and we do not want to live with regrets.

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

A I am fortunate to enjoy the work that I do. My profession gives me the opportunity to interact with people on a very deep and personal level and, often, at vulnerable times when they most need help.

It is a real honour and privilege to be in this position. It has made me realise that humanity spans nationality, age and diversity and is binding.

Q The challenges of my work are ...

A Numerous. The discipline comes with its own highs and lows.

As oncologists, we can make a real difference in what we do - which is the best part - such as preventing the recurrence of cancer or making patients feel better by treating the disease.

But our work also comes with many challenges.

One is to inject humour into the consultation. The discussion in the clinic is often a serious one. But, as with everything else in life, a dose of lightheartedness always helps.

Another challenge is learning to let go. Life and death are part of the circle of life and yet, each time a patient goes, it takes a toll and this can be emotionally draining.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2017, with the headline 'Oncologist as facilitator'. Print Edition | Subscribe