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A Caregiver and Cancer Survivor Who is Doing Her Best to Help Others

When Mdm Tan Siew Eng’s late husband was diagnosed with gum cancer in April 2018, it came as a shock for both of them. Her husband, Mr Foo Choon Yin had to stop working as a taxi driver. Their daughter, who was 25 at that time, became the family’s sole breadwinner. Mdm Tan, who was his sole caregiver, felt depressed at times but wore a façade of strength for her husband.

Mr Foo’s cancer journey had not been easy. He underwent a surgery in May 2018, followed by radiation therapy to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Unfortunately, he developed a recurrence in the neck six months later. He declined surgery and opted for a second course of radiation therapy, which did not completely eradicate the tumour due to the aggressive nature of his cancer. He then underwent a second surgery in May 2019 to remove the tumour. When the cancer recurred again in the neck three months after surgery, Mr Foo decided on comfort care measures, a form of medical care that focuses on relieving symptoms and optimising comfort for patients to improve their quality of life towards the end of their journey.

Every week for two to three days, they travelled to the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) to receive treatment. As Mr Foo was already feeling weak from the treatments, commuting on public transport made him feel even more tired. He was also suffering from asthma and walking was an arduous task for him. Due to the surgery, he experienced swelling in the neck that attracted stares and insensitive remarks from commuters, which over time, affected his emotional health.

“We were taking a walk near our home when strangers advised my husband to stay home because of his appearance. Seeing how upset he was, I told them off instantly and advised them to show compassion to people in need and be mindful of their words,” Mdm Tan recalled.

Mdm Tan approached the Medical Social Workers (MSW) at NCCS for transport assistance. “The NCCS Cancer Fund’s Welfare Fund, which paid for our taxi fares to and fro NCCS, was a huge help to us,” she said. Besides transport assistance, the MSW applied Medifund to help them with Mr Foo’s medical cost, and provided supportive counselling to both of them in his cancer journey.

After her husband’s passing in December 2019, Mdm Tan, who is now 60, continues to volunteer by providing care for the elderly, which she has been doing since her recovery from breast cancer in 2013. “When I was fighting my cancer, I told myself that I will pay back to society if I were to recover. Even if I do not have the financial means to help the needy, I can do it through my actions,” Mdm Tan shared.

“Having cancer can be scary but we have to fight it on our own. I hope cancer patients and their caregivers will stay strong and stay positive for better recovery,” she added.


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