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The Value of Helping Hands

Mr Noh with his children

How would you respond to a nose cancer diagnosis, amidst the restrictions and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic? This was the situation that 48-year-old Mr Mohammad Noh had to grapple with when he was diagnosed with Stage 2 nose cancer in June 2021. To add to the anxiety, the father of four school-going children was also going through divorce proceedings at the time of his diagnosis.

Mr Noh’s health crisis started when he had a migraine, experienced poor vision, and felt a lump on the right side of his face. He made an appointment at Sengkang General Hospital and had a CT scan. He was supposed to return for a follow up appointment within the next 2 days. However, due to the COVID-19 situation at that time, Mr Noh deferred his appointment, so the doctor called to tell him about his diagnosis over the phone.

“Everything seemed to happen at once…first my divorce and then cancer. The worst thing is that I had terminated my insurance coverage just a few months earlier because I could no longer afford the premiums,” shared Mr Noh. He was very worried about the burden of impending costs of cancer treatment on top of providing for his children.

Mr Noh was referred to Dr Fong Kam Weng, Senior Consultant, Department of Head & Neck and Thoracic, Division of Radiation Oncology at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) for treatment. As the two tumors on his face and near his neck were affecting his speech and ability to eat, Dr Fong arranged for the earliest consultation slot and started Noh on radiotherapy.

“I experienced bad side effects from radiotherapy, I lost my sense of taste, had to go on a liquid diet, felt tired and the skin on my face turned dark because of the radiation,” said Mr Noh. For someone who enjoys food, the diet changes were especially difficult to bear. Yet, he persevered and continued his job as a senior logistics assistant throughout his treatment. This was not easy as the job involves sorting cartons for shipment and requires physical strength.

“I felt exhausted all the time. Fortunately, my colleagues encouraged me and helped me at work. I was grateful for their kindness,” he said.

To help Mr Noh ease the cost of treatment, Dr Fong referred him to Ms Sarah Yap, Medical Social Worker, Department of Pyschosocial Oncology at NCCS to apply for transport assistance from the NCCS Cancer Fund. With the assistance, Noh was able to get reimbursed for two-way transport by taxi for his daily radiotherapy sessions. “Due to the tough physical effects of the treatment and time spent commuting, I would feel extremely tired and unwell by the time I got home. So I was really grateful for the assistance as it takes a long time for me to get home on public transport,” said Mr Noh.

Transport is a main concern for many cancer patients like Noh, who have to balance work commitments and treatment. Their immune systems are weakened, and they feel extremely fatigued after chemotherapy or radiotherapy sessions. Hence it is important that patients have timely and safe transport, particularly now with the risk of COVID-19 infection.

Mr Noh completed his 33 sessions of radiotherapy in September 2021, and his cancer is now in remission. He has since regained 90% of his taste and while he still has to go for regular follow up appointments, Noh has returned to his normal lifestyle, going for short walks and enjoying family meals with his children.

Noh would like to encourage other cancer patients to think positive. “Listen to your doctor and proceed with the treatment, even if the side effects are bad. Don’t let yourself fall into depression, get the support you need and look forward to the future ,” said Noh.

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