CANCER is a ‘journey’ that patients have to understand.
Cancer survivor Sukhveer Kaur, 55, said the six-letter word is so scary to many people.
“Some patients may feel that it is the end of the road, but they don’t realise that there are people who survived.
“It was frightening to me as well. But I was very strong when the doctor told me that I had cancer.
“However, I didn’t know what my future is. The moment you know that you have cancer, the doctor will prepare you for surgery. After surgery, it’s the treatment. And after treatment, where would you go?
“That’s where we come in. We provide counselling, we do laughter therapy, we empower patients and we become patient advocates,” Sukhveer, the founder of Himmat Support Group, said in an interview today.
Sukhveer was diagnosed with carcinoid tumour (a form of neuroendocrine tumour) in 2008 and had total gastrectomy (removal of stomach) in the same year.
“It was on July 21, 2008 – the day when the doctor performed the anastomosis (a surgical connection), joining my oesophagus and my small intestine.
“Initially, I started having bouts of diarrhoea for a few years. Now it’s vomiting, especially if I eat something that cannot be accepted by my body, because it goes into my small intestine. Or else, I’ll be burping until I don’t vomit.
“I think I’m used to it now. I still have to go through this, and it does not change my appreciation of life. I love food and food loves me.
“I have to watch my diet. Foods that are high in carbohydrate and sugary stuff, they always cause problems. I take more proteins when I go out, but when I’m at home I become ‘naughty’ occasionally.
“So, it has been about 12 years since I lost my entire stomach and I am very proud of myself.
“Every July 21, I celebrate the anniversary of my newfound light which I call ‘Kirandeep’. And I call it Singh and Kaur as it has no gender,” she laughed.
She said the word ‘kiran’ means a sustaining light.
“The anastomosis is something new for me and it is sustaining me. I have to take care of it.
“We must not forget our past. Hence, I called it ‘Kirandeep’s birthday’ on July 21,” she said.
Her husband Daljit Singh, 57, also shared his journey as a cancer survivor.
“I am a strict vegetarian. I love to jog; I love hiking and I’m a health addict.
“So, when I was diagnosed with left renal carcinoma (kidney cancer) in 2011 during a whole-body CT-scan, I could not accept it.
He was diagnosed with left kidney cancer eight months after Sukhveer’s mother passed away.
Daljit Singh had his left kidney and the adrenal glands removed. He also had to undergo 28 cycles of radiotherapy. The side effects of radiotherapy hit Daljit hard.
It took Daljit two years to recover his strength.
Sukhveer and Daljit walked the journey together and they have been reaching out to not only cancer patients but other patients who need counselling and empowerment.
She founded the Himmat Support Group six months after her total gastrectomy.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we used to visit the cancer patients, including the very young ones, at the hospitals.
“I am also known as ‘Smiley the Clown’ to the children because I dressed as a clown when I visited the children who have cancer. I feel accomplished to be the reason behind someone’s happiness.
“We have also helped those who need emotional support, not only the patients but also the family members.
“We may not be able to walk in their shoes, but we can walk beside them,” she said.
She said that Himmat Support Group has supported people from as far as the New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
“The survivors asked me how they could return our kindness. We just told them to support and do the same for others. Be there, lend an ear and be supportive,” she said.
Sukhveer said the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the group’s efforts.
“We can no longer do hospital visits because of the pandemic. So, we do phone calls and video calls instead. That’s the new normal,” she added.
Sukhveer and Daljit are also the exco members of the Penang Hospice Society and active volunteers with the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (Penang Branch).
Both Sukhveer and Daljit were also bestowed the Global Heroes of Hope Award by the American Cancer Society in 2011 and 2015 respectively, for their active involvement in reaching out to recovering cancer patients.
“Joyfulness is the essence of life. Be contented with what you have and remember to laugh,” Sukhveer said when asked about her message to others.
Sukhveer and Daljit said the World Cancer Day, which is celebrated on Feb 4 annually, is significant to commemorate cancer survivors, carers, and medical practitioners.
The Komtar tower will be glowing in blue from 8pm to 10pm tonight (Feb 4) to mark the special occasion.
Those who need emotional support can contact Sukhveer at 012-430 0497.
Story by Christopher Tan
Pix by Ahmad Adil Muhamad and Law Suun Ting