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Operation Santa Claus

A kind word goes a long way at drop-in centre for Hong Kong cancer patients

After the gruelling chemotherapy and radiology sessions, the helpers at Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre Treatment are always there to bring comfort

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 4:52pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 10:17pm

It’s only a two-minute walk from the back door of Tuen Mun Hospital to the white house sitting on a lake inside the Chinese garden-inspired landscape, but for Wu Tak-ming it’s an expedition.

Just taking a few steps was enough to make his heart “drop out”.

The 55-year-old nose cancer patient, who used to practise tai chi and swim daily, was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal (nose) cancer, last March.

“I never thought I would not be able to run and catch a bus, not to say not walk properly. I could not read the ingredients on the label of my food, and there was one time I could not calculate how much I should be getting back as change after paying 20 dollars for something that cost me six dollars,” Wu recalled.

But his frequent visits to the public hospital went beyond chemotherapy and radiology sessions after he discovered Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre sitting quietly in the oncology department .

“I come here every time when I need to go to the hospital. I borrow books [about cancer] and talk to nurses. Sometimes I just drop by and sit around.”

The centre was recommended to Wu by other cancer patients during the hours-long waits for check-ups.

“I knew my case was quite serious, but I did not dare to ask how long I have left to live. I was too scared to ask,” Wu said. “And when I did have questions to ask, I understood that doctors and nurses in the hospital were always busy and would not always have that extra time for me.”

Hong Kong cancer carers spread belief in the joy of living

Cherie Lo Wen-chee, an oncology nurse at the centre said: “We do not dress in our so-called professional clothes, so patients can think of us as friends who are willing to listen to what bothers them, instead of people who they do not want to face.”

Lo, who quit her job at a public hospital to work at the centre, said their function was to fill a gap in the medical system. Free emotional and consultation support for cancer patients is available on a daily basis without patients needing to register beforehand. The centre also provides classes ranging from yoga to choir.

It is a beneficiary of Operation Santa Claus, the annual charity drive organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK. Funds will support the drop-in service, which recorded 21,000 visits last year.

“I often bring my food here for nurses to check whether it is suitable for me to eat,” Wu said, “and I was immediately able to sleep the night after I attended their relaxation class.”

Wu had been suffering from insomnia since he began his radiology sessions.

The centre’s head, Helen Lui, said: “The drop-in service makes patients feel they are always welcomed. Patients always have a lot of questions and doubts in their minds, which will accumulate and bother them if they don’t get timely answers.

“There are a lot of cancer survivors who are helping out in this centre. Patients can easily find people who will understand their situation here.”