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One woman's fight against lung cancer

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One Woman's Fight Against Lung Cancer – Live Great – Great Eastern Life

Women are also more susceptible to lung cancer than men. A woman who smokes one pack a day is more likely to get cancer compared to a man with similar habits. Also, there is a genetic component to lung cancer. Family history of lung cancer means other members are at a higher risk of the disease.

Lung cancer is a prevalent killer in Singapore. It is the second most common cancer affecting men, and the third most common cancer among women. Dr Ang Peng Tiam, medical director of Parkway Cancer Centre, shares his patient's inspiring fight against lung cancer. But first, let's look at what causes lung cancer.

Causes and symptoms of lung cancer
Smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, but even 'second-hand smokers' can get it. In the case of lung cancer, prevention is always better than cure. Smokers should quit smoking, and non-smokers should try to avoid second-hand smoke. This will reduce the risk of getting lung cancer.

Women are also more susceptible to lung cancer than men. A woman who smokes one pack a day is more likely to get cancer compared to a man with similar habits. Also, there is a genetic component to lung cancer. Family history of lung cancer means other members are at a higher risk of the disease.

In the early stages, lung cancer typically has no symptoms. It is usually only detected in the advanced stages, where persistent cough, coughing of blood, shortness of breath, wheezing and hoarseness begin to show. Lung cancer can also strike people who are not in the high risk group.

Case Study: The Will to Live
Madam Wong Mei Leng was in a low risk group, as no one in her immediate family smoked. Yet that did not stop her persistent cough in early 2010. The cough would come and go over a few months. Eventually, she went for Computed Tomography (CT) scan in June 2010 and found a shadowy mass in her right lung. She had cancer.

The first doctor she saw told her she had six months to live – but that wasn't enough for Madam Wong. She said, "I did not want to die, I want to be with my husband until we grow old. I want to see my three children graduate and have children. I want to help look after my grandchildren."

The strength from within
She did not succumb to fate. She fought back, turning to qigong. When that did not prove effective, she eventually found Dr Ang. By that time, her physical situation had deteriorated. Two months after the diagnosis, she could not walk and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of her spine showed that the disease had spread. The cancer which started in her right lung had spread to the left, and affected the lymph nodes in the chest and neck. She was in such great pain that even sitting in a wheelchair hurt.

Dr Ang started her on a treatment course of 10 radiotherapy sessions, followed by chemotherapy. Already weakened, the sessions were punishing for Madam Wong. She suffered from diarrhoea and it left her so dehydrated it threw her off the chemotherapy cycle.

But she persevered. She drank and ate so she could continue with the treatment. And she soldiered on, going through session after painful session.

A stand for hope
And one day, the breakthrough came. She could sit up and walk without pain or numbness, an almost miraculous change. For the first time in a long while, she could see possibilities. She could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

After three cycles of chemotherapy, Madam Wong was able to walk. Her Positron Emission Tomography and Computed Tomography (PET-CT) scan showed excellent response. The treatment continued for another eight cycles.

The fight isn't over
A biopsy in April showed that the cancer had spread into her lymph nodes. Madam Wong is not in full remission yet, but she continues to be hopeful despite the setback. She understands it will take a long time to get to remission, but she's willing to do what it takes to get there.

The illness has made her realise that people don't love themselves enough. She regretted putting too much priority at work and having an unhealthy diet. She has since learnt to take time to love herself and treasure her family and friends more.

According to Dr Ang, the prognosis for lung cancer is usually poor compared to colon or breast cancer. However, treatment that includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can help extend the lifespan of patients. The other key component against this deadly disease is willpower. Madam Wong's will to life and grow old with her family is an inspiring story for all of us. Let us wish her bravery and strength to persevere.

Publication of article by courtesy of Dr Ang Peng Tiam, medical director of Parkway Cancer Centre

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