Post-cancer ‘treatment’ does not just include products, but also managing the emotional wellbeing of the cancer patients
By AZALEA AZUAR
THE National Strategic Plan for Cancer Control Programme (NSPCCP) was initiated with the aim to reduce the negative impact of cancer, by improving the quality of life of the patients and their families, as well as decreasing the disease morbidity and mortality.
The programme’s priorities include strengthening the access to service and care and increasing the efforts in prevention and screening, as well as value-based medicine.
The NSPCCP (2016-2020) states that cancer has become one of the most devastating diseases.
According to a 2019 report by the National Cancer Registry, a total of 115,238 new cancer cases were reported between 2012 and 2016. Of the total, 55.3% were female patients, while 44.7% were male.
The report also showed that breast cancer was the most common cancer which made 19% of the cases, second was colorectal cancer which made 13.5% of the cases, while trachea, bronchus and lung cancer came in at 9.8%.
Breast cancer was the most common cancer among females with 21,684 cases (33.9%), while in males, colorectal cancer was the most common with 8,701 cases (16.9%).
A 2019 report by the Ministry of Health revealed that the most common cause of death in government hospitals in 2018 was diseases of the circulatory system (21.65%), while in private hospitals, it’s neoplasms which accounted for 30.11%.
Can-Care Health System (M) Sdn Bhd GM Joeanne Wong said the number of cancer cases is projected to increase over the next five years.
“The awareness among patients is increasing, and thus, we see more patients going for screening. However, we have seen many patients being diagnosed later, so you can see the incidence of late-stage cancer also increasing,” she told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview.
Wong said that while lifestyle might not be a direct link to cancer, it is still somehow associated with the development of the disease. Among the poor habits are smoking, sleeping late and eating unhealthily.
“There are also studies suggesting that the increasing rate of cancer is also due to our growing elderly population (people living longer), thus giving the chance for genetic mutation to happen, leading to the development of cancer,” she said.
Helping Patients Rediscover Their Inner Beauty
Can-Care began in Singapore by a group of passionate healthcare operators who were led by Serena Wee.
“She founded Can-Care when her close auntie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 and realised the support resources were so limited. She then created Can-Care as a one-stop shop for breast cancer patients to rediscover their inner beauty,” Wong explained.
This prompted Wee to do something for breast cancer patients.
When Can-Care expanded to Malaysia, they had a vision to make the same services available to Malaysian patients and survivors. However, the journey here wasn’t a smooth one as Can-Care constantly operates in an environment that offers a set of niche products and services to breast cancer patients.
“The surgery trend has also been evolving and we are noticing more and more patients being diagnosed at a younger age and at an earlier stage of the disease,” said Wong.
She said radical mastectomy is becoming a less popular choice and patients often choose breast conservative surgery.
Can-Care’s top priority is to continue the innovation of its products in order to add value to cancer patients.
Therefore, they are looking into producing their own brand of reconstruction compression bras to cater to the growing trend of breast reconstruction among cancer patients.
“Since entering the Malaysian market, we are proud to have been able to support Malaysians in their fight against cancer and we will continue to do so.”
The Importance of Post-care Treatment
According to Wong, one of the biggest misconceptions she faced from the public is the thinking that post-care treatment is not important.
“Many people focus on treating the disease when it happens, but fewer efforts are given to post-cancer care, which is equally important. Post-cancer ‘treatment’ does not just include products, but also managing the emotional wellbeing of the cancer patients,” she said.
Breast prosthesis is an example of post-care treatment where patients who have gone through mastectomy without a reconstruction are advised to wear them.
“The reason for this is beyond cosmetic — which is also important to boost the self- esteem and confidence of cancer patients since they have lost their natural breast. It is more about ensuring that patients have a balanced posture to minimise the risk of frozen shoulder and crooked spine in the long run,” Wong said.
To her, a good breast prosthesis can mimic 90% of the weight of a natural breast.
Can-Care also works with hospitals in providing scalp cooling treatment for cancer patients to decrease the amount of hair loss, as well as in promoting faster hair regrowth.
“As much as 8% of patients today refuse chemotherapy because of the fear of hair loss, especially young women. There are patients who cannot accept the fact that chemotherapy can harm their physical images and they decided to keep their hair and refuse treatment.
“Unfortunately, this is a problem. With this fear, patients may compromise their chances of survival if they refuse the chemotherapy,” she said.
Wong explains that scalp cooling is a type of treatment where a special cold cap is fitted onto the patient’s head when they are undergoing chemotherapy.
“Via vasoconstriction of the blood vessels around the scalp area, it is believed that less chemotherapeutic drugs will be delivered to the scalp area, reducing the side effect of chemotherapy to the patient’s scalp, thus lesser degree of hair loss.
“Because the hair follicles are protected, scalp cooling also promotes faster hair regrowth,” she said.
Empowering Cancer Patients
Some 20 years ago, the society might not care much about the emotional and mental distress that cancer patients had to go through.
“Back then, even medical treatments for cancer were not as advanced as they are now. Post-cancer care was something unfamiliar to us as a society. That is why Can-Care began in the first place,” said Wong.
She said the current healthcare system is still relatively fragmented where oncologists and nurses are too busy treating the disease, but may not have enough time to heal the patient’s hearts.
“Majority of the patients today have questions on how they can live life after cancer. They have questions on what to believe from the Internet over opinions from their relatives and friends. There are moments of helplessness when they do not know where to seek help from,” she said.
Therefore, Can-Care has been supporting the emotional wellbeing of the patients through their wellness programmes over the years, in which one of them is the “Look Good, Feel Better” campaign.
“This programme was created to give cancer patients and survivors a level of confidence in living their lives to the fullest. Evaluating the needs of patients, we continue to innovate and develop relevant programmes that can further support the emotional wellbeing of cancer patients,” Wong said.
Through this wellness programme, Can-Care collaborates with skin and hair-care artists to provide cancer patients and survivors with beauty tips and how they can continue to look and feel good despite the disease.
Other than the “Look Good, Feel Better” campaign, Can-Care has also introduced “A New Me” wellness programme to provide cancer patients, survivors and caregivers with comprehensive support beyond cancer treatments.
It covers the need of patients, especially in the area of “living well with cancer”.
“By collaborating with healthcare professionals, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and hospitals, we wish to provide patients a platform where there will be educational sessions on “cancer myths”, opportunity to engage healthcare professionals and other patient survivors, as well as interactive sessions to empower patients to regain their confidence and sense of control over the disease,” Wong said.
Managing Emotions During MCO
With the Movement Control Order (MCO) extended several times, people are required to stay home most of the time and only go out when necessary.
Since most cancer patients have a weaker immune system, they would have to reduce the risk of being infected with Covid-19 by practising social distancing and staying at home.
“For cancer patients especially, taking good care of themselves during this period is very important. It is also advisable for patients to do some basic exercises at home such as the lymphedema hand exercise to keep themselves active and healthy. Having a balanced diet is also crucial,” Wong said.
In order to maintain the wellbeing of their emotional health, it is advisable for cancer patients to maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are staying at home, such as a balanced diet, regular exercise and with plenty of rest.
She also said it will be extra stressful for cancer patients who are still undergoing treatment to travel to the hospital as they have a higher risk of being infected with the Covid-19.
In turn, the fear of infection and delay of treatment can cause significant mental stress to patients.
“It is, therefore, advisable for patients to consult with their doctors about their treatment options — if it is possible to postpone treatment or to perform virtual consultation.
“There is an increasing need for telemedicine where oncologists are advocating patients to stay at home and receive remote counselling,” Wong said.
Moreover, caregivers also play an important part as they need to be more vigilant in observing the signs and symptoms of patients, especially those who are too stressful and who show signs of depression.
Utilising Virtual Technology in Post-care Treatment
With the Covid-19 pandemic and the MCO around, Can-Care has launched a “virtual breast fitting service” where their professional fitters will have a one-to-one personalised fitting session via Zoom, WeChat or Whatsapp with the patients using online communication tools.
Can-Care would guide the patients step-by-step to identify what products fit them best.
“As our range of products require fitting, this process becomes extremely important as we want our patients to experience the same or (higher) level of satisfaction when they are being served at our outlets,” said Wong.
Response for the service since the launch has been positive and reassuring so far.
“While initially we thought that may be a challenge, especially for older patients who are not technology savvy, it turned out to be quite positive as many patients are well- versed with telecommunication tools,” Wong said.
In fact, more patients are feeling empowered and they are now fully involved in choosing the products that fit them best.
The virtual breast fitting service not only assists patients remotely, but also benefits those who live in the rural areas.
For instance, there’s a patient located in Sibu, Sarawak, who is happy with Can-Care virtual breast fitting service.
“We work very closely with patient support groups, NGOs and hospitals where we will organise trips to visit the patients from the rural area by educating them on the importance of post-care treatment, as well as providing them breast prosthesis fitting.
“The rural patients are able to access the post-care products and services despite staying far away from the city,” Wong said.
Furthermore, Can-Care is also holding weekly online webinars to share common topics on cancer management as part of their efforts to continue staying engaged with patients and healthcare professionals during this MCO period.
“We hope to see post-care treatment be institutionalised as an important part of cancer management. As we know, the survival rate for cancer has increased significantly over the years.”
Wong said this would lead to more cancer survivors who wish to lead a renewed life after cancer.
“Giving enough attention, post-care treatment will help patients thrive after cancer. This includes having a proper framework to support the emotional wellbeing of cancer patients as well,” she added.
For more information, you can visit Can-Care’s official website at https://cancare.asia/.