Cheerful, passionate, sociable – these words best describe Angel before her cancer diagnosis four years ago. Her family was always full of laughter and fun too, before the world turned upside down for them as cancer brought along pain and countless side effects for Angel. From then on, her limbs became less flexible and voice less clear, and these changes caused Angel to isolate herself completely – she wanted to avoid strangers’ stares and teary eyes from her loved ones. Today, Angel is seating herself comfortably in the sofa telling us about her cancer journey, perhaps not with the best voice and articulation, but with the heartiest laughs that she used to have before cancer.
Angel was first diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer back in 2010, but did not encounter much side effects and the experience was not as traumatic as she thought it would be. In 2013, cancer recurred and just as she thought the journey would be as manageable, pain developed quickly in her neck which affected her mobility. Her family had to immediately sign the consent forms for her surgery. It then took the surgical team 14 hours to clear up all the pus from her neck and by the time she woke up, it was four days after the surgery. She left the hospital in a wheelchair after countless sessions of physiotherapy.
Back home, Angel began to isolate herself and refused to leave the house. Not wanting to upset her family, she would cry in her wardrobe or in the shower so that nobody could hear her. Day by day, her condition improved and she was finally able to take care of herself, but she was struggling with much anxiety still that wouldn’t go away.
And I will have to live with this for the rest of my life, Angel thought to herself. Yet it all changed when one of her relatives was diagnosed with cancer – being as considerate and helpful as she always had been, Angel decided to visit Maggie’s Centre at Tuen Mun Hospital (where she had her surgery) for the first time, hoping to take away with her some cancer information for her relative. During the drop-in consultation session, Maggie’s Oncology Nurse found out about the challenges Angel herself was facing as a cancer survivor, and encouraged her to enroll in the individual music therapy session. Angel was hesitant at first having no prior musical background or knowledge, but was convinced by her husband to give it a try – and she was blown away the very first session where she was introduced to many instruments she had never even seen before. The experience reminded her much of her childhood and time spent with her parents, and her anxiety was gone instantly. Angel’s husband cannot be gladder that she went on the sessions, as he could “finally get a good night’s sleep” now that Angel does not wake up in the middle of the night crying from nightmares.
Maggie’s Clinical Psychologist too has had some practical tips and advice to offer to Angel which helps her release her stress and negative emotions. On sleepless nights, Angel would now gather her thoughts by writing letters or diary, which helps her get back to sleep after.
Despite an improved physical and psychological condition, Angel still saw herself as a burden to her family as she wasn’t as capable as she used to be. Last year, Maggie’s oncology nurse introduced her to a lady who was battling a similar type of cancer, hoping Angel could share her cancer experience as an encouragement. Lacking the professional medical knowledge Angel refused at first, but little by little she began to open up. She regularly visited the lady in the hospital, and offered different advices based on her firsthand experience, which were found to be very helpful. From this she regained her lost self-esteem.
Four years later, Angel has yet to resume all her social activities but has come a long way: she is meeting her girlfriends again after years, and can now go to local market alone and talk to people from the shops. When asked about the role Maggie’s Centre has played on her cancer journey, “Lifesaver,” said Angel without a moment of hesitation. “Had I not visited Maggie’s, I would probably still be crying in my wardrobe right now.” Having been through peaks and valleys along her journey and road to recovery, Angel wishes to share her testimony with those in the same boat to encourage them to take an active role and find their way through cancer.