Cancer watch

Routine medical check-up turns into a 3-year cancer battle for Clearwater Bay couple

Bob and Catriona Rogers eventually overcome diagnosis through dogged determination, expert doctoring and the dedicated assistance of the Hong Kong Cancer Fund

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 10:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 October, 2016, 5:56pm

Three years ago, Bob and Catriona Rogers went for what they supposed would be a routine joint annual medical check-up. It turned out to be anything but.

The Clearwater Bay couple, who have lived in Hong Kong for 40 years, found themselves plunged into medical confusion – which they finally overcame through dogged determination, expert doctoring, and the dedicated assistance of the Hong Kong Cancer Fund (HKCF).

“Catriona has a family history of cancer so we’ve always been careful, but nothing appeared out of place until they did an ultrasound and told her, ‘You have a potentially cancerous tumour’,” Bob says.

“Being diagnosed with cancer is like getting on a 90mph roller coaster, things happen incredibly fast. We were thrown into a maelstrom of appointments, tests and, above all, choices – which oncologist to select, which surgeon, what was the best course of action, either chemotherapy then surgery or vice versa.

“Then there was the hard part of telling people. Of course everyone is supportive but it was still challenging.

“Fortunately, neither of us was engaged in a full-time day job, so it was not difficult to put things on hold, and we had good medical insurance, but I recall a horrible sensation of ‘our lives are being taken over’ by this event, and of not knowing where I stood or what I should do.

“At the same time there was a desire to know everything and anything about cancer and its treatment. But lengthy sessions with ‘Dr Google’ leave one knowing less about more, so our best move was contacting friends who had trod the same road, and we gained some excellent advice.”

After a couple of weeks, the Rogers had settled on a choice of surgeons, narrowed the choice of oncologists down to two, and also found a naturopathic oncologist in the United States who they could consult over the phone. The size and type of the tumour had been identified and a date for surgery set, so it was just a case of waiting.

Surgery went well, but revealed that cancer was present in the lymph nodes and so chemotherapy and radiation were inescapable.

“The prospect of chemo turns the screw a lot tighter, as it raises the question of why do something that is essentially incredibly harmful in order to be beneficial,” Bob says.

Being diagnosed with cancer is like getting on a 90mph roller coaster, things happen incredibly fast. We were thrown into a maelstrom of appointments, tests and, above all, choices
Bob Rogers

“Doubts creep in, and you hear about alternative ‘miracle’ cures like cottage cheese, flax oil and massive doses of vitamin C. There is plenty of material on the internet telling you not to trust the conventional medical industry which is just after profit, so how to make the right choice is a major challenge.”

By this time the strain was starting to take its toll on Bob as well, who was sleeping badly and assailed by thoughts of suicide.

“Catriona is a professional counsellor, so I knew enough to read the warning signs and started to see a counsellor who referred me to my doctor for some medication,” Bob says.

While Catriona started chemotherapy, Bob was still suffering from panic attacks, which he solved with a combination of breathing into a paper bag, exercise and medication.

“It was around this time that I contacted the HKCF’s Cancer Link, which helps people adjust to living with cancer, and arranged counselling with their in-house specialist, and joined a support group,” Bob says.

“Catriona didn’t feel up to it, so to start with I went on my own but after a while she joined in. No question that it made a big difference. The meetings are very informative, and you don’t sit around and moan, you share experiences. It’s highly cathartic.”

Eight chemotherapy sessions – “a knock-down, drag-out battle, including changing oncologist” – each involving two or three nights in hospital, were followed by radiation treatments five days a week for six weeks.

“The radiation did not go well,” Bob says. “After four weeks, the scarring was so bad they had to put it on hold for the maximum allowable delay of two weeks to allow for some recovery. Suffice to say the final session was most welcome.”

Catriona’s road to recovery has been a lengthy one.

“I don’t believe one ever gets fully over a brush with cancer, and although the memory slowly starts to fade there is the annual scan to check on progress which is a worry,” Bob says.

“To anyone facing a similar situation, I’d say that there is no shame involved, but it is very demanding – physically demanding, mentally demanding and financially demanding – and you are dealing with doctors who are trying to explain a whole new ball game.

“There is a huge amount of information to absorb, and you are in a race against time. But with expert help and support, we pulled through, but it was tough going.”

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