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A caregiver's experience – tips on caring for a loved one with cancer

In January 2014, when Mrs Cecilia Lim's husband Mr Lim Ing Yew was diagnosed with stage 3 lymphoma, she felt like a heavy burden was lifted from her shoulders. This was because, prior to the diagnosis, Mr Lim had been experiencing worrying symptoms such as aching joints, walking difficulties and persistent coughing and the many tests he had taken to determine the cause had inconclusive results, causing anxiety for the couple.

"When we found the diagnosis was lymphoma and that it was treatable, I was so relieved. Of course, I was still worried as we had never heard of lymphoma," shared Cecilia.

The news lit a fire in her - to learn everything she could about the disease to help her husband navigate treatment and the journey ahead.

A few years after he recovered from lymphoma, Mr Lim was diagnosed with Stage 1 renal cell carcinoma in 2018 and later in 2020 was diagnosed with Stage 1 prostate cancer. Cecilia was unfazed and dealt with  both diagnoses head-on. Armed with experience and knowledge acquired during her husband's earlier illness, Cecilia was confident her husband would respond well to treatment, just as he had in the past.


Mrs Cecilia Lim and her family enjoying a meal in January 2023 while on a holiday trip. 
(Credit: Mrs Cecilia Lim)

Mr Lim underwent a surgery for renal cell carcinoma in 2018 and completed proton therapy treatment for prostate cancer in August 2023. Thanks to the care of his competent medical team, devoted wife and family, he is currently cancer-free.

Looking back at the experience of navigating her husband's multiple cancer diagnoses, Cecilia shares a few ways caregivers can support a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer:


1. Knowledge is key

Arming herself with knowledge about the disease was a key factor that helped Cecilia during her caregiving journey.

"I learnt how to use the computer from my children and constantly read information about the cancer and the latest treatment options.  As my husband was a third-time cancer patient, proton therapy was recommended to treat the prostate cancer as it could potentially have fewer side effects," shared Cecilia.

Mr Lim was advised by his doctor to include more eggs in his daily diet to boost his protein intake. While Cecilia was daunted, she referred to many recipes and got advice from the healthcare team to plan and prepare nutritious daily meals for her husband during and after treatments.

"I would prepare different types of egg dishes at every meal to encourage him to eat more eggs. And to show my support and keep him company, I would eat the same food he ate. It worked well and he even put on weight," recalled Cecilia.


2. Get organised

As Cecilia was her husband's main caregiver, she would document everything about his care to effectively manage every aspect of his health.  

"I made a list of everything, including a recipe book for all the meal preparations! By following this routine, it made it so much easier for us to keep up on top of things during the very challenging and hectic period," advised Cecilia.


3. Remember to take care of yourself

Mr Lim is grateful for his wife’s loving support and care that saw him through his multiple cancer diagnoses.
(Credit: Mrs Cecilia Lim)

A caregiver's role is demanding, time-consuming and requires a lot of patience, perseverance and positivity.

"From 2014 to 2016, I was juggling caregiving duties for my husband,  father and late mother and nephew. It was exhausting both physically and mentally.  Thankfully, I had family and friends who supported me. I found preparing and cooking homemade meals very therapeutic," said Cecilia.

Cecilia encourages caregivers to stay healthy with regular exercise and to find time to do things they enjoy.

"Make sure you take care of yourself and find ways to destress and rest, so that you can properly take care of someone else," advised Cecilia.


4. Don't be shy to ask for help

"When I had a question or just wanted a listening ear, I would reach out to someone. Don't be shy to ask questions or reach out when you need help. Having a support network, whether it is your family, friends or the healthcare team, really makes a positive difference to a caregiver's mental health," emphasised Cecilia.

Cecilia also recommends joining a support group as that can be particularly helpful.

"People in support groups have gone through what new patients and caregivers are going through and can share their thoughts, useful tips and learnings," explained Cecilia.

All patients and caregivers from across Singapore are welcome to join NCCS support groups which are co-led by medical social workers, clinical psychologists and patient leaders.

Support groups at NCCS include:

  • Adolescents and Young Adults Oncology (AYAO) Support Group
  • Breast Cancer Support Group
  • Combined Genetic Support Group
  • Hereditary Breast & Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC) Support Group
  • Grief in Recovery (GIR) Support Group for Bereaved Spouses
  • Grief in Recovery (GIR) Kin & Kith - Support Group for Bereaved Family & Friends
  • Lung Cancer Support Group
  • Nasopharyngeal Cancer (NPC) Support Group
  • Neurofibromatosis (NF) Support Group
  • Sinar Harapan Malay Support Group
  • Singapore Sarcoma Support Group

Click here to find more about our support groups or call our Cancer Helpline at 6225 5655 for more info.