• Cancer doctors and medical social workers to address practical and psychosocial issues at annual 3-day-2-night programme
  • Since its inception in 2001, participants increased more than 50% from 40 cancer survivors, patients and caregivers to close to 100 in 2016. 
Singapore, 5 March 2018

“It was so hard to even smile,” says Mdm Tan, stage 3 ovarian cancer patient, “I lost 10kg in a week and did not leave my house for four months; cancer was a death sentence to me.” 

Life was promising for the secretary who was prepared to take on a better career prospect, till a cancer diagnosis hit her shortly after her last day at work, and she found herself on an operating table all in the span of 3 days. “I lost my career and source of income overnight. I could not retrieve my resignation and had to inform the new company that I was unable to take on the position – all these with an impending treatment cost of more than $20,000 (in a private hospital),” the mother of one shared. 

However, with the advancement in new cancer treatments and drugs, the big C is no longer a death sentence to many. 

Ms Lam Lai Ore, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and estimated to have two years to live, is a testament to a fulfilling life after cancer. 

Having attended her first EnReach Retreat 14 years ago when she was first diagnosed, she now leads The Revival Connection (TRC), an idea birthed out of her second EnReach Retreat in 2005. “Some of us at the EnReach Retreat formed a ‘makan’ group and found that more can be done for patients with advanced and recurrent cancers. This was how TRC was formed. It is a support group for patients with advanced and recurrent cancers, as well as their loved ones,” says the 64-year-old retired teacher, whose cancer has spread to her ribs and backbone. 

The TRC meets every alternate month for workshops and sharing sessions, coordinated by an NCCS principal medical social worker. When asked on what draws Ms Lam back to sign up for EnReach Retreat year after year, she reveals, “I have lost count of the number of years I participated in the retreat but it never fails to give me the opportunities to make new friends and build up support for my cancer journey. Small group discussions are my favourite – my group formed a WhatsApp chat where we exchange treatment tips, sign up for workshops and go on food trails together.” 

Encouraged by the psychosocial oncology team, Mdm Tan picked herself up and signed up for the retreat with her husband, “Now, with assistance received in NCCS, I am much more cheerful and share my journey with other patients during my chemo appointments, which I can finally attend independently. I am excited to see what the retreat has in store for me.” 

The EnReach Retreat is a psychosocial oncology programme organised by the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) since 2001. Run by the Department of Psychosocial Oncology, it will address practical issues and psychosocial needs of participants through mindfulness trainings and dialogues with oncologists and medical social workers. 

Topics covered in the retreat vary from year to year and are tailored to suit the majority of the participants. It can range from diet and nutrition to physiological treatment, advance care planning and resilience in coping. 

Dr Gilbert Fan, Master Medical Social Worker, Department of Psychosocial Oncology, explains the objectives of the programme, “An emotional upheaval often accompanies the onset of cancer. The EnReach Retreat provides privacy, space and opportunities for patients and their families to have 'heart-to-heart' talks, to bond, form close ties with other patients with similar medical situations. The memories created go a long way.” 

He also echoes Ms Lam’s experience, “Many fruits have birthed forth from the retreats – It is especially heart-warming to hear of friendships forged during the retreat and ties that continued after; be it going on holidays together, or leaving their children behind with a fellow cancer patient's family when one had to go on a business trip. In turn, these children become the best of friends. Some of these children have grown up and return to be our volunteers to support other cancer patients and their families.”

The EnReach Retreat will run from 9 to 11 March 2018 at Republic of Singapore Yacht Club.