Hope in a hobby: ‘Dreams Come True’ programme for Hong Kong breast cancer patients inspires

The Brightening Association, a cancer support group, grants requests to patients who are seeking meaningful purposes and pursuits

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 8:21pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 10:16pm

When hospital chaplain Winny – who prefers to go by her pen name “Ko Fei” – found out her breast cancer had recurred in less than a year, fear, anger and frustration hit her like a tonne of bricks.

“I couldn’t accept it. I didn’t want to receive any treatment. I quit my job and just spent every day walking around in the park,” she said. The recurrence also dashed her dream of having a baby with her husband before the age of 40.

Another breast cancer survivor, Helen Fong, recalled days at home after her diagnosis looking out of her window in misery, not knowing when the fateful day would come when she would have to leave behind her husband and two children.

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In the end, it was not medicine or counselling that saved them from doom and gloom but hobbies – writing and painting respectively.

The pair are two of six successful applicants to a “Dreams Come True” programme set up by cancer support group, the Brightening Association, which grants up to HK$13,000 to patients to carry out meaningful or educational support work.

Both women wanted to document their experiences and instil hope and encouragement to other sufferers.

Ko Fei decided to publish a book about her struggle with cancer, life tips and successful cases of cancer survivors.

I couldn’t accept it. I didn’t want to receive any treatment. I quit my job and just spent every day walking around in the park
Breast cancer survivor Winny “Ko Fei” on learning about her recurrence

“One tip to newly diagnosed patients is to listen to people with professional medical knowledge and not myths or pseudoscience,” she said.

Meanwhile Fong achieved her lifelong dream of publishing a compilation of art works.

Fong’s watercolour and oil paintings, for example, illustrate patients’ emotional struggles. One of her works, titled “Closed up”, depicts a woman against a plain, white background, naked and faceless in a fetal position. Fong said it reflected her own and many women’s battle with the loss of dignity, having to constantly strip naked for tests and treatment.

Another piece, called “Strength”, depicts a naked woman raising her muscular arms. “This is the exact same position adopted during radiation therapy. It shows a very fit, strong woman, overcoming a challenge,” Fong said.

About 3,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed, with about 500 deaths from the disease annually, making it the most common cancer for women in Hong Kong.

“A patient’s first feeling [after receiving diagnosis] is the mind going blank. Then comes disappointment, apprehension and worry,” Dr Leung Siu-lan, a general surgery specialist and association consultant, said.

“Their worries come from knowing very little about this illness or about treatment. They may be thinking too much and scaring themselves. Maintaining a positive outlook is important in combating any illness.”