It is already emotionally straining when we are told that we have contracted nose cancer. After treatment, which usually comprises Radiotherapy (RT) and/or Chemotherapy (CT), we go on with our lives and do our best to forget what’s behind us.
The emotional climb
But for some of us, quite sadly and disappointingly, the cancer relapses at the same local area or spreads to other parts of the body. Another setback! We are confronted with having to take a tough decision on the impact of this new relapse on:
- Our life
- Choice of treatment options
- Emotional strain on ourselves and our family members
I had to face these same issues when I suffered a relapse of my nose cancer in March 2008. So did some relapsing survivors from the NPC Support Group, some of whom I had reached out to, and shared my thoughts and experiences with. Since a relapse can cause a distraught emotional and often confused state of mind, which makes it difficult to think clearly, I am documenting my thoughts which are based on my own experiences, to aid others who may have to deal with the same issues.
A practical plan of action
Let me state upfront that I am not able to offer a solution. The decision still has to be taken by the individual as each case of relapse is very different from the other. So there is no one size fits all answer. First and foremost, it is important to establish your prognosis from your doctors, meaning how bad is your relapse and its impact on your life. That I believe should be the topmost concern. Are you in any danger of losing your life even with treatment, and also how much time do you have left? Some doctors may not commit to an answer for fear of giving the wrong information. But it would be good to still press for an answer even it is based on statistical research of cases of this nature.
It is very important for you to know your chances of survival as this will help you decide whether you should proceed with treatment, or opt to do something else, or do nothing at all. Also, even if the answer is not good, at least you can use your remaining time to put things in place to ensure that your family and loved ones will be well taken care of after you. That is one small blessing I count from cancer – it gives you a notice period.
Secondly, you need to consider the treatment options open to you and how the selected treatment will help to improve your situation. Doctors will often offer RT, CT and Surgery, either singly or in combination as treatment. In the worst case scenario, it could also be palliative care alone as none of the three treatment options may be suitable. Once the doctors have made a recommendation, it would be good to consider and reflect if the proposed treatment options would:
- Be successful in overcoming the relapse
- Improve your chances of survival
- Have an adverse impact and damage your body
The three points, and especially the third point of “impact and damage your body”, are very important considerations in helping you arrive at a decision. Often, we are caught in a no win situation as each option poses great risks to our life, or can damage our body, sometime without any significant result in improving our chances of survival. This will be the toughest decision that you will ever have to take because whatever you decide, it will affect your life.
Fourthly, following the medical options available to you, and also depending on the severity of your relapse, you may wish to consider some other alternative treatments. There are the Gerson Programme and probably many others out there. I am aware that some nose cancer survivors have undergone these alternative treatments as the medical options did not hold out any hope for them. But I must caution that what works for one may not necessarily work for another. At this stage, I guess some are prepared to try anything in the hope that something will work.
There is also the option of “doing nothing at all”. No medical treatment and no alternative treatment, but to live with the cancer. Some survivors are known to have lived out their remaining time in peace and quiet on mountain/hill resorts in the hope that Mother Nature will heal them. Finally, whatever options you have considered, you should also balance it with your quality of life. For example, if the treatment is severe and may have adverse effects on your body, and the end result is still the same, sometimes it is better to do without the treatment. I would rather enjoy the quality of my remaining life versus having to suffer in pain and see my family going through more emotional pain.
How emotional pain affects survivor and family members
Emotional pain affects survivors and family members differently. From my experience, often survivors are resigned to the fact that they will eventually lose their life to cancer. Each day of life is a bonus to them. They have already come to terms with their cancer after their first treatment. They are being very practical, which is usually the case for most male survivors. The brave ones tell me it is no big deal as they are going to eternity and their physical bodies will no longer be subject to more pain.
Many have put their faith in God. However, the case is vastly different for their family and loved ones, especially the female spouse. Her considerations are centred on her emotional state. Already emotionally drained from the first treatment, she may find it even more devastating having to deal with a relapse and the possibility of losing her spouse. The wonderful caregiver wife is likely to continue to hold on to whatever little hope there is from any sort of treatment for her husband.
For these spouses, the normal viewpoint is, “I want my husband to try. He cannot leave before me”. Therefore, given the vastly different views of the survivor and caregiver, it is paramount that the husband and wife talk to each other and arrive at the final decision jointly. Very often in my sharing, I find that the male survivor has already made up his mind. And I have the wife appealing to me to talk her husband out of his decision and ask him to consider her views.
As someone who is detached from the outside, I am often able to get the two to see their different points of view. This is an important breakthrough as it allows the spouses to open their hearts to each other. And usually, whatever the final decision that is taken thereafter, I find that the two are more at peace and supportive of each other. I hope this sharing will help in some way to facilitate any decision that you have to take.
Calling himself a Nose Cancer Ambassador, Thiam Chye aims to de-mystify nose cancer by encouraging all survivors to share their personal experiences in their fight against cancer, to enable new patients to undergo their treatment with courage and minimal pain, and to lead a better quality of life on recovery. Should you wish to join the support group in its activities, or need guidance on this article, please email him at
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