After being diagnosed with nose cancer (NPC) in 2003, Mr Teo Thiam Chye, or TC as he likes t​o be known, couldn’t find any survivor to guide him through his treatment and post-recovery care. Believing strongly that no one should w​​alk their cancer journey alone, he became the public face of the National Cancer Centre, Singapore (NCCS) NPC Support Group in 2007 and a beacon of hope for hundreds of patients.

With some 425 members currently in its database, the NCCS NPC Support Group is probably the largest cancer support group in Singapore. It is a voluntary programme for nose cancer patients, survivors and caregivers to support and learn from one another.

Most weeks, about two to five new people contact TC directly. Sometimes it’s NPC patients, sometimes it’s their family. TC and his wife, Margaret, go around tirelessly meeting these people face-to-face, sometimes even at the drop of a hat or at the expense of a prior engagement.

A first hand-holding visit may take an hour and a half. “There’s a lot to share and explain. Doctors don’t have that kind of time,” notes TC.

He adds, “This statement, ‘No one needs to walk their cancer journey alone’, is what drives me. I live by it.” He estimates that he and his wife have offered personal guidance to about 200 people in their cancer journey.​

But TC wants to be known simply as a Cancer Ambassador. “I don’t think of myself as a health and lifestyle hero. I don’t exercise and I don’t always eat healthy food. But I guess that as a cancer survivor, my goal is to enjoy whatever remaining life I have been given by God.”

Fact Sheet on Teo Thiam Chye (TC)
Personal data :Age 60, married to Margaret, 68. They have 2 grown sons, Adrian and Adam
Occupation :Retired last year. Held senior management posts in various statutory boards
Hobbies :Playing mahjong and socialising with fellow survivors, travelling, and keeping his 8-year-old car looking brand new
Pets :Tropical fish
Little-known fact :He’s always dreamed of living a simple, quiet life, by a lake in a forest. Margaret claims her gregarious husband wouldn’t last three days.

What are your best 3 tips for people who wish to emulate you as a Cancer Ambassador?

  1. Accept, adapt and adjust.

    I always encourage our survivors to leave their cancer behind them and move forward. Personally, I live with just about all the side effects of NPC radiotherapy, such as loss of hearing, taste and smell. But life goes on. With my failing taste buds, I can claim that I eat the best chicken rice every day. And I’m never bothered by the smell in public toilets anymore – isn’t that a blessing?

    Jokes aside, drop any embarrassment about treatment side effects. For instance, if your lack of saliva forces you to eat slow, just let your meal partners know. Trust me, people will be very accommodating and pace you.

  2. Paying it forward.

    Our cancer survivors are all ambassadors. Even the more withdrawn among us can help new patients and fellow survivors by sharing their personal experiences. New patients are always appreciative because the sharing encourages them and helps to alleviate their anxieties. Together, we demystify nose cancer. Paying it forward is simply about returning the favour. You help others because others have helped you before. The key is to be prepared to commit time and energy without expecting anything in return.

  3. Live life to the fullest.

    I often tell our survivors that life is for living, so live it to the fullest.

    In a way, cancer is a blessing in itself. Unlike stroke and heart attack which can be immediately fatal, cancer gives us a notice period – be it months or years. We should take this opportunity to live a life of fulfilment, to do the things we often wished to do but never found the time for.

    For example, Margaret and I travel frequently as we both desire to see the world. The best part of my cancer life is really spending quality time with my wife and family. When my time comes, I can truly say I’ve lived a life with no regrets. A life worth celebrating.

For more information, please visit the NCCS Nose Cancer Support Group (NPC)​

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