Operation Santa Claus

The charity teaching Hong Kong patients why eating well can help them beat cancer

  • Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre offers guidance on going meat-free and how to maintain a well-balanced diet
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 10:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 1:48pm

In a healthy eating workshop session held at a patient support centre in Tuen Mun, a group of around 20 people are listening attentively as a dietitian explains the benefits of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Aside from an introduction to vegetarian diets, the course participants, many of whom have recovered from cancer, are also given tips on how to get all the nutrients they need if they adopt a meat-free approach.

The gathering is one of the highlights of a wellness programme set up by Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre.

Helen Lui Wong Yun-fong, who runs the charity, said it was important to make sure patients got enough nutrients during and after cancer treatments.

“While we can give a talk to a large audience on nutrition information, as body conditions among patients vary, we also carry out diet assessment for individuals and make specific recommendations to them,” she said.

Under the theme “Eating Well”, a vast array of activities aimed at helping cancer patients better equip themselves for the challenges of the illness, including one-on-one nutrition recommendation sessions and talks on healthy eating, have been staged at the organisation’s specially designed centre at Tuen Mun Hospital.

The project was expanded early this year with funds from Operation Santa Claus, the annual fundraising campaign jointly organised by the Post and government broadcaster RTHK.

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Dietitian Sally Poon Shi-po, who hosts the popular healthy eating workshop at the centre, said demand for one-on-one diet assessment was huge.

Priority cases, such as those at high risk of malnutrition, are dealt with first, she said.

When designing personal diet plans for patients, Poon sometimes has to address clients’ concern about some widely believed food risks, which prompted many to stay away from certain food ingredients.

As an example, Poon said some Hongkongers did not eat certain types of seafood, typically fish without scales, because they believed it to be toxic.

“I explain to them whether these common food myths are substantiated by scientific evidence,” she said.

“It’s important to tell cancer patients that they need to eat enough calories during the recovery process. We don’t normally encourage them to quit any particular type of food.”

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Mok Chun-keung, 66, sought advice from the diet expert to deal with his digestive problems.

The retiree stopped eating meat after being diagnosed with cancer about two years ago.

“I just ate vegetables,” Mok said.

He is thankful that Poon has helped him to balance his diet.

Lau Shuk-ying, 63, broke her unhealthy eating habits after learning about the importance of balanced meals.

“I eat well. I get better sleep at night now,” she said.

Lui said the organisation could hold more one-on-one follow-up sessions to help individual patients if they had more resources.

The cancer centre was founded by Maggie Jencks, who lived with advanced cancer for two years, during which time she used her knowledge and experience to create a blueprint for a new type of care.

The philanthropist saw the need for a welcoming place away from the setting of a hospital, where cancer patients, their families and friends could go for support.

The first Maggie’s Centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996, a year after her death. In 2008, the charity opened a temporary centre at Tuen Mun Hospital.

The Hong Kong centre was relocated five years later to its present address, in a building designed by architect Frank Gehry.

How you can give

Donate online by credit card at

Donate at an ATM or at any HSBC branch (account no: 502-676299-001 for SCMP Charities Ltd- Operation Santa Claus)

You can donate with a cheque payable to “SCMP Charities Ltd – Operation Santa

Claus” and mail it to: Operation Santa Claus, South China Morning Post, 19/F, Tower One, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay.

Donations of HK$100 or more are tax-deductible. If you would like a tax receipt,

please send the completed donation form and original bank receipt, with your

name, address and phone number, to the above address. Please call 2680 8159 or

email [email protected] with any inquiries, or visit us online at