Thursday 26 February 2015

New support group for colorectal patients

Volunteers visit CGH weekly, share stories on living with ostomy bags
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2015

WHEN accountant Shiv Kapur was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2006, it hit him like a bus.

"I just went blank," said the 62-year-old. "I saw the doctor's lips moving, he was saying something, but nothing went in."

For weeks, he withdrew into a shell until his wife convinced him to attend a cancer support group session.

There, he met cancer survivors who encouraged him to stop fearing cancer and start living life.

It turned his life around.

Last year, Mr Kapur and several colorectal cancer survivors started a support group, the Ostomy Association of Singapore (OAS). It has over 40 members.

Figures from the Singapore Cancer Registry show that between 2009 and 2013, about 8,900 patients were found to have colorectal cancer - the most commonly diagnosed cancer here.

Patients undergo chemotherapy and surgery.

Some have to wear external pouches called ostomy bags connected to their colorectal system to collect waste.

About one in five colorectal cancer patients may need such bags, estimated National University Hospital surgeon Cheong Wai Kit.

While the bags can be hidden under clothes, some patients are self-conscious and avoid going out.

"They are afraid these bags may leak and they get embarrassed," said retiree Thomas Lee, 64, a volunteer at OAS.

"But cooping themselves up at home is not a solution."

Some OAS members still wear the bags, while others no longer need to. Mr Loh Wan Heng, 60, an OAS member who still wears an ostomy bag, said: "We are living examples that you can live a dignified life with it."

He has friends who play sports and even run marathons with the bags, he added.

Besides OAS, there are colorectal cancer support groups at the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) and the Singapore General Hospital. The National University Cancer Institute Singapore is also starting one with help from SCS.

OAS volunteers visit Changi General Hospital (CGH) weekly to share their stories and reassure patients.

The group also organises karaoke and sports sessions to encourage patients to live an active life.

It has a WhatsApp chat group and a Facebook page where people can ask questions. Home visits can also be arranged.

As ostomy bags, which must be changed every few days, cost about $100 a month, OAS has struck a deal with medical supply firm Convatec for members to get a 20 per cent discount.

OAS also supports people born with colorectal defects and those who need to wear ostomy bags after accidents.

It also hopes to serve patients not just from CGH, but also from other hospitals and nursing homes. It has reached out to more than 20 CGH patients so far.

Previously, CGH would refer colorectal cancer patients to SCS' support group, said CGH senior staff nurse Madalinah Tan.

But having OAS volunteers visit the hospital provides patients with help on the spot, as some may not want to go to support groups elsewhere, she said.

CGH colorectal cancer patient Ai Yee, 59, is encouraged by Mr Lee from OAS.

"He has really given me a positive mindset," she said.

"I'm still getting used to the ostomy bag, but I want to come out of this stronger than before."

If you or a friend need help with ostomy bags, you can e-mail the Ostomy Association of Singapore at

An active life is a happy life for man born with colorectal defect
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2015

AT FIRST glance, Mr Philip Yeo, 63, looks like any other man on the street.

But the retired carpark attendant is actually wearing an ostomy bag, well-concealed beneath a pair of baggy pants.

"Most people just can't tell," said Mr Yeo, cheerful despite having to cope with a defect in his colorectal system from birth.

Doctors had to surgically create an opening in his abdomen, connecting to his colorectal system in order to let waste pass out.

Back then, there were no ostomy bags.

"I just had to wrap my tummy area with cloth, or lots and lots of toilet paper," he said. "The kids in the kampung nicknamed me da du jiang jun (big-bellied general)."

Every time the waste came, he would have to run to the toilet, clean up and replace the toilet paper around his tummy.

"I remember watching movies and having to run out of the cinema to do this," he said.

Despite his difficulties, he had a typical kampung childhood, catching fish and spiders with his friends.

"We were all kids having a good time back then - I never let it get to me," he said.

"My mother treated me like any normal kid, telling me to do the chores, fetch my sister," he said in Mandarin.

He remembers wearing his first ostomy bag in the 1980s. "Suddenly, life was so much more convenient."

Now, the active retiree cycles a few times a week and the ostomy bag hardly gives him problems.

The bachelor also likes exploring new places in Singapore.

"It's important to stay active and stay happy," he said.

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