I once asked an Indonesian patient who came to see me. Do you know where Selat Panjang is? He shook his head — No.
Well, I don’t expect him to know — the Indonesian archipelago has 18,307 islands!
But I am glad to say that over the years taking care of cancer patients, my geography about Indonesia has improved a notch! I know where Selat Panjang is — because I have patients who come from that Riau islands.
Let’s watch this video first.
When patients come here for the first time, I normally ask a few general questions, such as Where are you from? Who ask you to come here?
Here are some lessons we can learn from my conversation with this lady (let us call her Alice) from Selat Panjang that morning.
Where are you from?
From her hometown, Selat Panjang, Alice had to take a three-hour plus ferry ride to Batam. From Batam, it was another two-hour plus ferry ride to Johor. From Johor she took a ten-hour bus ride to Penang. Unfortunately, Alice got off at the wrong place! This was her first time in Penang — a real daring adventure!
Over the years, I learned that some other patients need to travel for one or two days just to reach Penang. They had to take a train or bus for hours to the airport and then fly to Penang. Some patients had to change planes one or two times to get to Penang.
I really feel sorry for people like Alice who has to travel so far and so long just to come and seek our help.
So, those of you who live nearby, consider yourself lucky or blessed. You need not have to suffer such “ordeal” to come and consult us. I used to joke with some patients. Some patients just have to drive across the Penang Bridge to come and see us and that they consider “very far away”! To others, taking one- or two-hour plane ride is considered “far”? Think about Alice and others like her!
Who ask you to come and see us?
Alice came because someone in Selat Panjang told her about us.
About three years ago, a lady came to seek our help on behalf of her father who had lung cancer. The father was bed-ridden and was unable to move his bowels and urinate. This lady brought back some herbs for her father. He was also told to take care of his diet. Within two weeks he got better. It has been three years now and he is still alive and healthy.
Can you believe this story? To be honest, I don’t. More often than not, people tend to exaggerate their “success”!
So I took some time trying to get more details from Alice. Did you really meet this patient? Yes. Alice met and talked to the patient himself. This patient made a photocopy of our name card and gave it to Alice. Up to this day, Alice said the man still takes care of his diet. I asked Alice if he is he really alive and healthy? Yes, he puts on weight and is not a skinny, half dead person! Really still alive? Yes.
If you ask me if a bed-ridden, lung cancer patient would survive that long my answer would probably be no way. The condition of Alice’s father is almost the same as this man, both of them have lung cancer and are bed-ridden.
One important lesson I learned about helping patients is the need to share.
When we started our cancer centre in Penang, the first thing I did was to knock down the wall of our consultation room to make it an open space. I see patients in this open hall. Why? From the very beginning I believe that we are all in here together — you and me, and many other patients who come to CA Care for help. There is nothing to “hide” from each other — let us learn to share and help each other.
When I first started CA Care in 1995, I knew nothing about cancer. I did not even know the difference between radiotherapy and chemotherapy let alone know what herbs to prescribe for various cancers. With time I read a lot and learned from the experiences of patients who came and shared their experiences. My patients taught me how to heal them! I in turn shared those experiences to help others. As I said, we all are in here TOGETHER. And this how CA Care grows.
I am glad to learn that this lung cancer patient in Selat Panjang decided to share his healing experience with others who need help. It is noble of him to help his fellow islanders!
Over the years, I must say that 99.9 percent of the patients are very co-operative. They are willing to share their success stories. It is because of this willingness to share that makes CA Care what it is today. However, over the years, I have also come across some “rotten apples” who don’t want to share. They even ask me to delete their stories posted in the website. So be it, I respect their wishes. Luckily, such rotten apples are rare, otherwise I would have closed CA Care years ago!
Why are you here?
Alice came with a strong feeling that we could help her father. Her father has lung cancer that has spread to his bones. Because of that he is bed ridden. According to the oncologist, without chemo her father would die within six months.
I was upfront with Alice and I did not want to play god in this game. I told Alice I would not be able to cure her father. I would not be able to repeat the success that happened to the patient who introduced her to us. Remember what happen to others, need not happen to you. What happen to you need not necessarily happen to others. In cancer, your healing or failure is uniquely yours.
I also ask Alice to ignore the oncologist’s prognosis. To me, telling patients that they have six or a few months to live if unethical. When patient asks me how long he/she has, my answer is, Don’t worry we shall do our best to help you. Read what Professor Jerome Groopman, a well known oncologist at Harvard Medical School wrote:
I am also aware that one of the sales tactics, to push more treatment to patients, is to instill fear into them. Make patients helpless and you can pull them by their noses — tell them to jump into a pit, they would willingly do it. I would not want to do that.
Alice has come all the way to seek help. She deserved to receive the best from us as honestly as we can provide. After spending some hours with Alice, I asked her to relax, go back to her hotel first and call her family in Selat Panjang to explain what it takes to embark on this healing journey. It is not easy. If her father is not willing to follow our advice, it is better not to take our herbs. No, we do not wish to putting any fear into the family by rattling out meaningless statistics or create a do-or-die situation. Be calm and think properly.
Healing needs a strong sense of commitment. Nobody can help you except you yourself. I am glad that Alice understood this. She took time to talk to her father and family. The next day she came back and said she wanted to try our therapy. For the rest that follows, I pray that God will guide and bless the patient.