The last stop on my trip to SE Asia was Hong Kong in December. Hong Kong is just as I had imagined it, incredibly modern and totally old world mixed together.
I worked with the Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society www.hkacs.org.hk (HKACS). I spent a day at their Jockey Club Cancer Rehabilitation Centre facility. Their general manager, Iris Leung, PR officer, Lillian Woo and her assistant Molly Lau, welcomed us and gave us the background on the Society and a tour of their impressive facilities. For the past 46 years the HKACS has been at the forefront of fighting cancer and serving the people of Hong Kong. The hospital provides holistic rehabilitation services to cancer patients including physical, psycho-social and spiritual support. They integrate Western and Chinese practices to improve the overall well being, recovery and quality of life of cancer patients. They work on public awareness and cancer prevention campaigns, including the benefits of diet, exercise, early detection through leaflets and booklets. They have a beautiful facility that also houses a hospital for rehabilitation, palliative care, a hotel for family, and a space for support groups to meet. Most importantly for me, they arranged a meeting with 6 people from their cancer support groups and it was my great honor to spend the better part of a day with these insightful and inspirational people.
Regina Pang was diagnosed at age 58 with colorectal cancer, stage 2B. She had invasive surgery to remove the cancer that required additional surgery 3 months later to put her intestines back in place. She had terrible problems with adhesion’s and twisting and had to have more surgery to correct this incredibly painful condition. For the next 4 years she was fine and diligently went for her scans, scopes and blood tests. Then her tumor marker rose and a cat scan revealed new tumors in her lungs, the cancer had spread. A targeted chemotherapy was her only option and it left her shattered. It was so unbearable that death seemed a better option to her. She decided to go for another opinion, this doctor used the same targeted drug, but a much different dose (apparently the initial dose that the first Dr. used was far too strong and almost killed her). At first it all looked promising, but then her tumor marker rose to the highest number yet. Four more rounds of chemo provided less than ideal results. Now, she was just using the chemo to buy time until the cancer cells reject responding, or her organs failed. She didn’t want to do this, so after a great deal of consideration she decided to end all chemotherapy treatments and use only traditional Chinese medicine. She knows it will not cure her, but it greatly improves the quality of her life for whatever time remains for her. For these last nine months she has been enjoying her life again, she tries to live each day to the fullest, even hiking up to 2 hours a day in the nature she loves so much. She accepts that she has tried and fought. She believes that ultimately it is up to the individual to choose how to live and how to die.
Regina was so clear and deep in her thoughts about her battle with cancer and her life. She had this incredible clarity about it all. She had most obviously come to terms with the fact that her days on earth were limited. All of us in the room were in tears listening to her speak. She has suffered through so much, and most of it alone as her husband hasn’t really spoken to her for the past year, and her daughter is also quite estranged from her since her cancer returned. She relied on her aunt and a cousin to take her to her chemo appointments, but suffered through all of the side effects alone. She told me that when she feels it is time, she will most likely come to the hospital at the HKACS to spend her last days cared for by their very kind and compassionate palliative staff.
I feel so privileged that Regina took time out of her life to share her story with me. The strength of her character, her deep courage and her tremendous grace are the first things that come to mind when I think of Regina. I am sure that her bravery in sharing her very personal story will find it’s way to help others in countless ways.