When my ENT doctor mentioned to his young doctors that my eardrums were retracted, I was very concerned. I then asked him about this retraction of my eardrums. He then told me not to worry about it and it was the side effect of radiation. I could feel that after radiation treatment, there were noticeable changes in the functions pertaining to hearing, breathing, tasting, smelling, seeing and even thinking. True enough, my head, neck, face shrank. As I am very sensitive to the areas around the head region: especially the nose, the sinus, the ears, the jaw, the jaw bone, cheek bone, mouth, neck, throat, eyes, the teeth, salivary glands, I cannot just let it be but needed to do some damage control and recovery.

While waiting to see a doctor on my appointment day, I met a fellow NPC patient, Mr Tan who is more than 60 years old. My wife and I chatted with him and his caregiver and learned that he is very proactive in ensuring that he does a certain exercise everyday for 45 minutes to help the area above the neck to recover. He also eats nutritional food and he is not stressed as he is retired. He rested well and ensured that he lives healthily. He looks brilliant as if he does not have NPC.

Now into his 2nd year of recovery, he says that he does not have problems with his ears, sinus and dry mouth and his doctors are very happy about his progress. I was most lucky to meet this fellow NPC patient as I get to know more about how to do damage control and recover from the devastating effects of the radiation treatment.

I often wonder what kind of things I should proactively act on to eliminate, recover and strengthen the senses and the functions lost during treatment. I decided to work on REEL (Rest, Exercise, Eat and Live) well. This is the acronym that is useful for me to remind me that I must get back to normal asap. I was told by my audiologist that my ears degenerated and there is a certain amount of hearing lost – just certain sound and syllables could not be heard clearly and the crowding out effect of airplane engine noise in a crowded place. This would drown out my hearing ability. I often have to ask my family members, colleagues and friends to repeat what they are saying as I am hard of hearing.

My doctor asked if I needed hearing aids and I said no and I wanted to try to fix it myself. I do not even want to do the flushing of my nose. I told myself that there should be a way to regenerate and recover my senses, nerves and functions surrounding my head region. I always bother my doctors with this question if I can go swimming and diving. Of course, if I were to have a burst eardrum, infection of the ear would set in easily if I were to swim. My eardrums are alright and are able to withstand the water pressure entering my ears.

One of my doctors was worried that if I swim I will burst my eardrum as it is quite tender and weak after my radiation treatment. He suggested that I put on earplugs to prevent water from entering the ears and of course, no earplugs for scuba diving. Similarly, another doctor asked me not to dive as the pressure can be too much for my ears. I heeded their advice, swam less and completely no diving. It has since been one year from my radiation treatment and the doctors have allowed me to dive but do it gradually with shallower depths first. During that period of time, one doctor jokingly asked me to go to the Underwater World and stand by the side to watch the divers feed the fish.

On hearing that I can dive again, I did my first ever dive in the lagoon at Pulau Ubin Celestial Resort. I am determined to get back to my diving passion as I am very much a water-based person always wanting to be with the watery environment – the sea, the beach, the islands and down under. I always feel that I need to exercise and strengthen my body especially my neck and head area. I hope to share with you my way of doing it after being inspired by Mr Tan, a 60 plus retiree, who so confidently mentioned to me that “he is fine and has no side effects at all”.

Firstly, why do you think the therapists and the doctors asked us to exercise our jaw?

By doing so it not only stopped the mouth from retracting but also to help exercise the facial area, the sinus, the mouth, the salivary glands, the nose, the eyes and the ears, the neck and the throat. The focus is on the ears (including the eustachian tubes – air passages), the nose (including the sinus areas), the throat (including the jaw and neck area). Always move the jaw to sensitize and motivate the other parts of the head.

  • Gently apply pressure by covering the ears with the palms of your hands to activate your eardrums. This helps to clear the ears of water retention. It also sensitize your balancers (ossicle) in your ear drums.
  • Do “valsalva maneuvers” (pinch the nose and gently blow your nose). This helps to activate and regenerate your sinus area and your ears.
  • Massage your sinus areas, facial bone, jaw bone, mouth, neck, head and shoulders by gently tabbing all your fingers tips to those areas. Also, do likewise to your head area. This helps to clear the tingling effect on the tip of your fingers too.

The above actions help to drain out the fluid from my sinus and nose areas and help in clearing my ears through such activations. This is the sort of recovery exercises that I do.

Secondly, why do I work on my pushups?

This is because it helps to strengthen my neck muscles, my spinal muscles and my arm and chest muscles. I do sit-ups to strengthen my stomach muscles. How many pushups? – total about 50, 20 first, 10 subsequently. The ladies can do it with the knees rested on the ground. The gentlemen can start off that way too if you are not able to do it knees above ground. How many sit-ups? About 30. As I am not so keen in going to the gym this are what I usually do as part of the strengthening exercises.

I also jog on the spot – count to 50 times, hop on the spot – also about 50 times. This is good to strengthen your leg muscles and improve circulation to your legs. I also do my running in the parks – about 30 minutes. Running fast at a high speed for 100m and resting to recover your breath and do it repeatedly. This form of interval training will strengthen your heart and lungs, your endurance and your stamina (aerobic and anaerobic exercises). Look at Kunalan, already a senior citizen, he is still running. I asked him whether he has problems with his knees and he replied he has none. I am really motivated by him.

Thirdly, why do I have a reflexologist once a week for a good rubdown?

This is to help massage the muscles and nerves of the feet, hands, the spine area and most importantly the neck and head regions. This helps to clear toxins, amino acids and improve circulation through activating the acu-points in the various parts of the body. This is a form of maintenance and wellness exercises that I do to improve my blood circulation and recover from the muscular strain to the various parts of my body.

By having an exercise regime, it helps to motivate the regeneration of our body functions our senses and our movements, hopefully. This is what I have been doing and it has helped me to breath better with my nose, hear better and become fitter. I believe that “a positive outlook of life makes each moment of life a celebration” Dennis W Felty. I certainly hope that my sharing will help you in some ways.

Contribute​d by Yip Kwan Guan/ NPC survivor
Dated 18 December 2010
Survivor since 2009

We hope you benefit from the sharing by the authors. As each of us may respond differently to the experience shared by our survivors, do exercise your discretion. The articles are strictly the personal views of the author. It does not represent the views of the NPC Support Group and its members, nor that of the National Cancer Centre of Singapore​ (NCCS) and SingHealth​. They therefore take no liability or responsibility for the content of​ the articles.

The information and co​ntent contained within this website belongs to the NPC Support Group and its individual contributors. No whole or part of the information and content may be copied or re-produced without the written permission of the NPC Support Group. All requests for its use should be addressed to teothiamchye@yahoo.com.sg​.​​​

Read on to find out more about the ​ Nose Cancer (NPC) Support group​.

Ref: V10​