World Cancer Day: Rainbow after the storm

(From left) Mr Yip Beng Harng, Mr Tony Leo, Mr Ezzy Wang and Ms Calin Tan are cancer survivors. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM, ALPHONSUS CHERN, AZIZ HUSSIN

Every day, about 37 Singaporeans find out that they have cancer, according to the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS).

Cancer is a top killer in Singapore, claiming the lives of more than 17,000 people from 2013 to 2015, according to official statistics. Despite the harm that cancer can bring, not only is survival conceivable, but living with dignity and purpose is, too. Today is World Cancer Day, and this year's theme, decided by the Union for International Cancer Control, is "We can. I can."

The commemorative day was established in 2000 as part of the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in Paris, France. It seeks to raise the global profile of cancer in the hope of promoting support and solidarity for cancer patients worldwide.

The Straits Times speaks to four cancer survivors, each of whom has gone through different trials and tribulations.

They were first featured on citizen journalism website Stomp as part of its World Cancer Day campaign.

Despite being blindsided by cancer, the four survivors share the same grim determination in the face of adversity. By sharing their journeys, they hope to dispel perceptions that cancer is an unconquerable illness.


Pushing through coma and paralysis

Mr Yip endured harrowing complications from treatment for his cancer, such as toxoplasmosis and partial paralysis. On his forearm is a tattoo of the word Survivor, which serves as a reminder of how he conquered his medical nightmare.

The pain was so excruciating it roused him from his sedated state.

Mr Yip Beng Harng was having a brain biopsy to find out if he had a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis. Doctors had drilled a small hole in his skull and inserted a needle to extract brain tissue for tests.

He had also just completed his sixth and final session of chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer treatment that left his immune system in tatters and opened him to opportunistic infections like toxoplasmosis.


Cancer need not be the death knell

Digital marketer Tony Leo, 38, used to be an active person who frequented the gym and played football regularly.

In 2007, after an exhausting climb up Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia that he had to abort halfway as he was having trouble scaling it, Mr Leo, who is Malaysian, decided to have a medical examination.

In the months preceding the climb, long-lasting headaches that would only disappear with sleep had not hinted at any major illness.


Bone cancer survivor was 'happy' to have leg amputated

Mr Wang was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in 1996 and had his right leg amputated three years later. Today, he is at peace with his condition.

When faced with the unthinkable prospect of amputation, most people would seek a second opinion or hesitate to go ahead.

Not Mr Ezzy Wang. The training and competency manager at AIA Singapore was 33 when he happily and emphatically told doctors to remove his right leg.

Mr Wang's ordeal began in 1995, when he was diagnosed with synovial chondromatosis, a disease which causes calcium leakage in the bone. Though the extra calcium mass in his pelvis was removed in an operation, it forced Mr Wang, an avid athlete, to stop playing sports.


Support groups key to battling disease

Ms Tan credits support groups with helping her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.

Seven years ago, Ms Calin Tan led an ordinary life, working as a patient service assistant and taking care of her family.

Today, she heads a cancer support group for women, inspiring and helping those who are battling the disease. She is also more active in the community, taking part in Zumba and singing classes. This is a turnaraound from her previous lifestyle, where her main concern was work.

The shift was prompted by her own brush with cancer in 2010 when she was 46. A routine check-up revealed there was a lump in her breast, indicating the possibility of breast cancer, which typically occurs in women above 40.


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