Health and wellness

Cancer sufferers offered yoga, wigs, qigong and more at Hong Kong Cancer Fund centres

  • Patients battling cancer benefit from charity’s support and wellness programmes
  • Hong Kong Cancer Fund will open women’s cancer support centre in Central next year
PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 6:03pm

Ms Kin, not her real name, sits in front of a mirror admiring her new short dark hairstyle. “She likes it,” says an interpreter who is also a volunteer hairstylist with the Hong Kong Cancer Fund.

We’re in the “wig room” at one of the fund’s branches (there are five citywide), this one in the industrial district of Kwai Chung in Hong Kong’s New Territories. A box of colourful scarves sits on the table; a top shelf is lined with a variety of shiny wigs.

Meet the Hong Kong prizewinner who mapped the first breast cancer gene

Free hairstyling, wig loans and haircare advice is available here, one of the many programmes offered by the fund; it also provides home visits and integrative therapies including yoga, qigong, tai chi, gong therapy, chanting, drumming, meditation, and art workshops. Annual attendance for its wellness programmes citywide for 2017-18 was almost 52,000.

“My helper has three wigs and she looks 20 years younger – she looks like a teenager,” says Sally Lo, chief executive of the fund, which she founded in 1987.

Lo is all too familiar with cancer. She lost her best friend to stomach cancer in 1986 and two years ago her husband of 50 years and her helper of 45 years were diagnosed with cancer in the same week.

The fund is marking Pink Revolution, one of its most important campaigns, which pushes the importance of regular breast checks and empowering women to take charge of their own breast health, with the message that early detection and treatment saves lives. And for good reason. Breast cancer is the number one cancer among women in Hong Kong.

According to the Hong Kong Cancer Data Statistics Centre’s most recent figures, 3,900 women were newly diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.

Walking around the centre, a peaceful sanctuary in the busy district, Lo talks passionately about the support the fund provides. There’s a room with women practising yoga, one with women making art and another with people taking phone calls for the fund’s hotline. “We get between 60 and 100 calls a day,” says Lo.

In another room 10 women are seated around a table, pamphlets laid out in front of them. Here the mood is more sombre. One woman holds up her right arm, the upper part severely swollen.

“She has lymphoedema,” says Lo, referring to abnormal swelling that can develop in the arm, hand, breast or torso as a side effect of breast cancer surgery and/or radiation therapy. The condition can appear months or even years after treatment ends.

New lung cancer drug can prolong lives of late-stage patients, study finds

“When I started the cancer fund 30 years ago, cancer patients were never told about the condition. Women were operated on but received no post-operative service.”

Lo says of the 10 most common cancers in Hong Kong, four are women’s cancers – breast, ovarian, uterine and cervical.

“Not only are these forms of cancer unique to women, they come with their own individual challenges. Female cancers can have a dramatic impact on women’s femininity, sexuality and fertility, which, in turn, can impact their relationships, family life and future goals,” says Lo.

This year’s campaign theme, “Care for the Women in Your Life”, is not to just highlight breast cancer, but all women’s cancers.

Hong Kong celebrities including singers Sammi Cheng, Andy Hui and actor Raymond Lam have supported the organisation.

Support, says Lo, is vital. The charity relies solely on public generosity.

My helper has three wigs and she looks 20 years younger – she looks like a teenager
Sally Lo, chief executive of the Hong Kong Cancer Fund

“This building is a luxury – we have 7,000 square feet. Finding space in Hong Kong is tough. Funds are difficult to secure, but they come. [Finding] venues are not so easy,” she says. The Fu Tak Iam Foundation donated this space, which took almost a year to convert.

Next year the fund opens women’s cancer support centre The Pink Centre at The Center office building in Queen’s Road Central.

Early screening on cards once first cancer centre opens in 2025

It will provide one-on-one sessions with clinical psychologists and social workers, healthy eating workshops, rehabilitation support, family counselling and wellness programmes.