You have been actively striving to better the welfare of paediatric cancer patients. Why?
Care and support are of vital importance to childhood cancer patients and survivors. Successful treatment of paediatric cancer is only the start of a patient’s road to restoring normalcy in life; childhood cancer survivors are still prone to health issues including drug side effects, complications, and even cancer recurrence. In addition, treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant etc., could lead to a decline in memory, learning skills and even fertility. Therefore despite their recovery, childhood cancer survivors still face enormous difficulties, ranging from academic, career, social and daily life, etc. My urge to offer assistance and support drive me to push forward the establishment of various childhood cancer support groups.
In what ways do these support groups assist childhood cancer patients?
Childhood cancer support groups offer a wide range of resources and support to patients. Take Little Life Warrior Society as an example. The Society holds various activities that connect paediatric cancer patients and parents, providing a social platform where they can support and share experiences with each other. The Society also recruits retired teachers to provide free tutoring lessons to patients. As childhood cancer survivors are prone to infection and require at least one year to recover, the Ronald McDonald House Charities provides them with a ‘home’ that is located near their hospitals. This ‘home away from home’ provides each patient a private bedroom to convalesce in a clean and pleasant environment. Families can also stay close to the patients, which is important to the sick children’s physical and psychological well-being.
What is the state of paediatric cancer in Hong Kong and what are the preventative measures that we could take?
Acute leukaemia, brain tumour, lymphoma, neuroblastoma and Wilms’ tumour are common types of cancer in children. Around 180 children are found to have developed cancer each year. While the number of paediatric cancer patients in Hong Kong remains steady throughout the years, the chance of cure has jumped from 20% to 30% in 1960 to around 80% nowadays. Apart from cases of inherited cancer, the causes of most pediatric cancers are still unknown. Therefore, it is vital for people with a strong family history of cancer to pay close attention to any signs of abnormality. The Prince of Wales Hospital has a specialized clinic, which provides regular body checks and follow-up for children with inherited cancer. For others, the most effective preventative measures would be to strengthen one’s immune system by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
How is your life after retirement?
I have been busy participating in charities since I retired in 2003. I continued teaching as it has always been my aspiration to pass on knowledge and experience to future generations. I still follow up my old cases. Since 1991, the Paediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Unit of the Prince of Wales Hospital has carried out over 400 bone marrow transplants and I have developed profound friendships with many childhood cancer patients. At my 80th birthday celebration event organized by the Faculty of Medicine, a lot of my patients arrived with their families. It was a delight to see my patients starting a new life despite all the hurdles along the way.
What is your advice to medical students interested in paediatrics?
I would greet them with warm welcome. I would be very glad if my teaching has aroused students’ interest in paediatrics. A paediatrician has to be both caring and detail-minded. Paediatric treatments, especially for premature babies, are extremely complex. But if you put your heart and soul into it, this role would bring you unparalleled delight and satisfaction.
This article was originally published in No. 493, Newsletter in Mar 2017.