Peer support goes a long way for cancer survivors

  • Seniors
  • Thursday, 21 Nov 2019

Tulasi climbed Mount Kinabalu a year after she was diagnosed with cancer, and she said keeping active has helped her beat cancer. Photo: Tulasi Govindasamy

Most elderly patients with cancer are unwilling to open up about their struggles with the disease. But they are more receptive to the idea of talking to counsellors who are cancer survivors, says National Cancer Society Malaysia counsellor and breast cancer survivor Tulasi Govindasamy, 69.

“It isn’t easy to deal with cancer, especially at an old age. Most elderly patients feel lost and don’t know who to turn to for support. These individuals feel comforted talking to others who have endured cancer. A sympathetic ear helps for those who want to pour out problems of their illness, ” says Tulasi, who has been an NCSM counsellor for eight years.

She noticed that younger patients are more positive in dealing with the illness. They are more open-minded, from diagnosis through treatment.

“Younger people are willing to listen and receptive to information. They are not worried about death but more concerned about the cost of treatment, chemotherapy and the pain they’d have to undergo.”

Tulasi’s secret to living with cancer is to keep fit by exercising. — AZLINA ABDULLAH/The StarTulasi’s secret to living with cancer is to keep fit by exercising. — AZLINA ABDULLAH/The Star

Tulasi is well aware of the importance of seeking counselling for it gave her hope when she herself was battling cancer.

When she was 49, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and underwent bilateral mastectomy the following year.

For the single woman, the recovery process was tough mainly because she was living alone. She grew more and more depressed, which made her feel even more helpless.

“It was tough because I didn’t have anyone to take care of me. I did not want to trouble my 80-year-old mother who was living in Kuantan. Although my siblings and friends came to visit me, it was still hard to go through chemotherapy and the recovery process on my own, ” she says.Keeping positive and active

But everything changed after Tulasi met with a counsellor from Breast Cancer Welfare Association Malaysia in 2000.

“During one of my chemotherapy sessions, a counsellor shared her journey as a breast cancer survivor for 19 years. It made me realise that cancer is not a death sentence. Hearing that truly gave me hope that I too can survive cancer.”

Cancer isn't a death sentence. Stay positive and keep active, "Cancer isn't a death sentence. Stay positive and keep active, " says Tulasi. Photo: Tulasi Govindasamy

Tulasi now volunteers at the helpdesk at NCSM regularly. She thinks it is important to support others stricken with the disease.

“I counsel other cancer patients there, by sharing with them my journey in cancer. Just as how someone gave me hope to survive cancer in the past, I believe it is now my turn to give others hope as well to fight against the disease, ” says Tulasi, who has managed to live life cancer-free for 20 years.

Her advice to elderly patients is to maintain a positive mindset and to not give up hope.

“Never give up throughout your fight against cancer. There are many support groups that are willing to help, ” says Tulasi.

For Tulasi, her secret to living with cancer is to keep fit by exercising and climbing mountains.

“It is also important to lead an active lifestyle. For me, I didn’t want to sit idle at home because it made me more depressed during my recovery. It also gave me the chance to meet and mix with others, and that helped.

“I also turned to mountain-climbing. In the span of 17 years, I have scaled 15 mountains in Malaysia, including Gunung Irau in Pahang, Gunung Datuk in Negri Sembilan and Gunung Kinabalu in Sabah.”

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