Cancer Survivors Draw Strength From Each Other In Sunway’s Cancer Buddy Programme

Under Sunway’s Cancer Buddy Programme, cancer survivor Filzah Farah encourages cancer patients to seek medical treatment, while Calise Teo, who’s in her fourth year after Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis, found encouragement in seeing her buddy progress.

PETALING JAYA, Feb 27 — Breast cancer support manifests in various forms – whether it’s sharing personal stories to raise awareness, emotionally helping patients undergoing chemotherapy or dispelling myths about treatment methods. 

For Filzah Farah Zainoddin, a breast cancer survivor and mother to a three-year-old daughter, supporting others battling cancer has meant encouraging patients to seek professional medical treatment. This initiative took shape under Sunway Cancer Centre’s Cancer Buddy Programme.

Though not officially part of the programme at the cancer facility under Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City (SMC) Filzah was requested to share her experience and offer guidance to new patients regarding undergoing chemotherapy treatment, as well as those contemplating alternative treatment options.

“Science says that the medicine we have today can cure us so I would encourage them not to pursue alternative methods.

“I’m happy because a few people took my advice and ended up doing their chemo, while a few others who have undergone operations. I’m happy to help them because cancer is not the end of life,” said Filzah at a Sunway Cancer Care Centre event last month. 

Her own journey began with a stage 2A cancer diagnosis in October 2022. Despite feeling no symptoms initially, she relied on scientific evidence and the support of her family and friends to undergo six rounds of chemotherapy.

“My family said, up to you. What do you want to choose [for treatment]? I told my family, I believe in scientific studies. The studies say radiotherapy, chemotherapy can all help solve my cancer problem,” Filzah said.

“Going through six times of chemotherapy was tough, but I wanted to get better. My family, friends, co-workers, and boss all supported me, which really helped. It was hard, but I knew I had to be strong. And now, here I am today.”

According to SMC consultant clinical oncologist Dr Jennifer Leong Siew Mooi, the Cancer Buddy Programme pairs cancer survivors with patients undergoing treatment to provide invaluable peer support. This initiative aims to offer comfort and understanding to patients facing the challenges of cancer treatment.

“It’s found that when a cancer survivor or a peer-to-peer support, it matters a lot to the patient because they feel they can relate better to the experience where sometimes even a family or a doctor can’t provide. So, this is a programme that we’re very proud of.

“We’ve just launched it, and we hope to see it in succession in the coming years. So, of course, there will be other parts of cancer survivorship that will integrate,” Dr Leong said during a speech at the event. 

Late-Stage Breast Cancer Survivor: Seeing My Buddy Progress Gives Me Encouragement

From left: Dr Seow Vei Ken, Sunway Medical Centre CEO; and Dr Heng Siew Ping, Sunway Cancer Centre Senior General Manager with The Radixact-X9 Tomotherapy, at the celebration of Sunway Cancer Centre at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City, on January 23, 2024. Photo by Sunway Medical Centre.

While the programme primarily supports patients in treatment, it also offers hope to survivors like Calise Teo, who is in her fourth year following Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. 

Teo, who once struggled with intense pain and mobility issues, found solace in the Cancer Buddy Programme. Witnessing her buddy’s progress instilled hope and determination in her own fight against cancer.

Teo, a mother of three, faced intense pain in her shoulder following the birth of her child in 2020. She was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer that affected her spinal cord and required her to wear a corset or spine support and use a wheelchair to get around. At that time, even lying down was difficult for her. 

When Teo had first heard about her diagnosis, she thought it was the “end of the world” for her, and after having consulted with five oncologists, Teo settled on SMC, as her oncologist had given her hope. Her oncologist said that he treated other patients who were in a similar boat as her, and they had survived past the five-year mark. 

Today, Teo is still on targeted treatments and while still experiencing some discomfort, her involvement in the Cancer Buddy Programme gives her hope as she witnesses her buddy fight and inch closer to overcoming the battle against cancer. 

“I went to Singapore with my parents and kids [on a holiday when] I received a call from Sunway. They called me and asked if I could speak to one of the patients who is now bedridden in hospital.

“I was occupied at the time, but I said, I’m coming back the day after, which is tomorrow, I said. Maybe, I can call when I’m back in Malaysia. So, I called this patient who had been bedridden at SMC for a few weeks. She sounded very weak on the phone, even weaker than I was when I first got diagnosed.

“She wasn’t able to speak much, but her sister was beside her. I had a brief conversation with them because I sensed it might be difficult for her to speak on the phone. Basically, I chatted with her to offer support.

“We actually have similar conditions: she was bedridden; I was in a wheelchair, but our spines, the whole thing was cancer cells. We were in pain, so we were sharing things like what painkillers you are eating, how many hours you eat, and we have all these things. 

“One of the reasons I am a cancer buddy is because I hope that I can also shed some light and give hope to others as well. Because I’m stage 4, and everybody who’s stage 4 thinks it is really the end of the world; but it’s not, I’m still here. 

“This is my fourth year; I’m still surviving. I believe the encouragement that I gave to my cancer buddy – she was bedridden, and she’s now able to walk. So, it’s something significant to celebrate about. 

“Actually, it’s not the encouragement that I gave her, but seeing her recovery progress is the thing that gives me encouragement. I’ve seen the recovery and it’s like tears of joy when we have seen a buddy who achieved this. For me, when I look back and I see that, it makes me feel like I have achieved a lot, and I have a lot of wins as well on this journey.”

Parents Of Children With Cancer Coordinate Appointments For Mutual Support

The Radixact-X9 Tomotherapy, a customised radiation treatment that delivers a high dose to tumours while minimising damage to healthy tissue, automatically adapting the treatment, and identifying when re-planning is necessary to improve treatment precision. Photo by Sunway Medical Centre.

While the paediatric oncology department does not have a Cancer Buddy programme for children and their parents, SMC consultant paediatrician and paediatric haematology and oncology physician Dr Yap Tsiao Yi has observed a heartening trend of mutual support among parents facing similar challenges.

“In fact, actually, a funny story, I have a few leukaemia patients where their fathers would meet with each other. To coordinate care, to see when their children come in for chemotherapy, and when their children get admitted for chemotherapy, the fathers hang out. 

“They leave the ward when mom is taking care of the child to the mamak stall nearby and hang out, and they provide support for each other. And then you see they come back, they take over the role to take care of the kids, and the moms in turn would go and hang out. 

“And the kids, they know each other. So, this kind of support has always been present,” Dr Yap said in an interview with CodeBlue

Dr Yap hopes that the Cancer Buddy Programme will be extended to the paediatric oncology department in future. 

Dr Yap said parents are not the only people who support children undergoing cancer treatment. Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City specifically provides training for nurses serving in the paediatric oncology ward. The nurses are trained in-house and are required to study a curriculum within the hospital. 

Additionally, the hospital offers the services of an in-house counsellor dedicated to assisting parents as they navigate their child’s cancer journey.

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