53 year old Arun Rosiah, Physical Education teacher and Physical Trainer, diagnosed with Stage 3 Colorectal Cancer
One look at 53 year old Arun Rosiah, and most would stereotype him as a fitness buff. Muscular and toned, it comes as little surprise when he confirmed our assumption that he is indeed a Physical Education teacher and an accredited Physical Trainer. With a built like his, one would imagine that Arun's growing up years centred on him being the popular sports jock. But contrary to popular belief, Arun's physique today is a result of his hard work and dedication, and this is his story.
16 year old Arun
Growing up, Arun always had a skinny frame; however, this did not dampen his love of sports. He particularly enjoyed playing soccer and cycling with his friends. Shortly after he completed his ‘O’ levels when he was 16 at the Queenstown Secondary Technical School (now Queenstown Secondary School), Arun was diagnosed with a bad bout of tuberculosis. This weakened his immune system and he became scrawnier than before. At that time, it was considered taboo to suffer from tuberculosis as healthcare was far less advanced, so most would consider the illness to be a death sentence.
Arun working towards his dream of achieving Sylvester Stallone's buff physique in Rambo
Thus, Arun kept mum about his condition and became the brunt of jokes at school as his schoolmates often teased him about his “stick figure”. This severely affected Arun’s confidence and he started working towards a healthier and toner physique. He adopted a nutritional diet comprising mainly wholemeal grains and greens, jogged regularly, and abstained from smoking. He also drew inspiration from his favourite movie star, Sylvester Stallone, who starred in the hit action movie of the 1980s, Rambo, and was determined to boast of a figure similar to Stallone’s one day, so his body could no longer be the joke, but envy of others.
After years of hard work, Arun’s efforts finally paid-off and with every workout, he was one step closer to achieving his dream of attaining his dream body. In 1998, Arun became a full-fledged Physical Education teacher and while he pursued his passion of sports on the job, he also found his new passion, Rosiah, a teacher working in the same school, who caught his eye at first sight.
Arun and Rosiah during their courting days back in the 1990s
They were a match made in heaven. Both of them were parallel in nature, outgoing and extroverted, the couple enjoyed the arts, particularly watching plays. While Arun’s passion revolved around sports, Rosiah’s passion was dancing. In 2000, the pair finally tied the knot and are currently proud parents of two sons, aged 14 and 18, and a 21 year old daughter, the older children from Arun’s first marriage.
Over the next few years, Arun’s life smoothly ran its course; he was focused on developing his personal fitness regime and enrolled in many marathons. He was also scheduled to start on his Masters course in Exercise and Sports Science at NIE/NTU in January 2016. Arun felt like a shadow of his former self; no longer was he the skinny scrawny boy that others poked fun of, but now, he was an empowered confident man powered up to achieve his dreams.
In March 2015, Arun's life hit a turning point which would change his life forever. It started with blood in his stools but Arun did not think much of it as he brushed it off thinking it was discolouration from eating too much fruits. Then came the weight loss. But Arun assumed it was just his exercise regime bearing fruit. Then in July, he started experiencing vertigo once a month all the way till October, when the frequency and intensity of his vertigo spells increased. There was also a change in stool pattern – his stools had become pencil-thin and he found himself having to go to the toilet more frequently than usual or often, at times facing constipation. Arun's real troubles began when he started experiencing incontinence, often triggered by consuming spicy food.
Arun's friend, whom he confided his symptoms in, urged him to get them checked out, and Arun finally made a trip to the polyclinic in November. An ECG and probe test was performed, but both showed up clear. When Arun was told of the possibility of piles or Colorectal Cancer, he was scared stiff. Not wanting to cause undue fear, he kept his worries to himself.
Arun was referred to the hospital and that was when his worst fears materialised. The doctor had found a growth and after a colonoscopy, it was confirmed to be cancer. The moment he heard the news, his immediate thought was that he would definitely die and go to hell for all the sins he had committed. But after the shock set in, Arun set his mind to calmly accept the diagnosis, and conditioned his mind to proceed with treatment as soon as possible.
Arun with his wife and primary caregiver, Rosiah
After Arun's wife picked him up at the hospital, they decided to head to a shopping mall for lunch. Upon their arrival, she asked him about the results of his colonoscopy and he broke the news to her. It was too much for her to bear and she broke down on the spot. Not wanting to hide his diagnosis from his three children, Arun called for a family meeting and broke the news to them as well. While his oldest and youngest accepted the news calmly, his second son turned on the waterworks. Arun asked his children to pray for him, and encouraged them to confide in their friends and school counsellors if they needed a listening ear.
In January 2016, Arun embarked on treatment comprising oral chemotherapy tablets and radiation therapy. First came the excruciating pain, then the side-effects set in. Arun started experiencing loss of taste and appetite to the extent that even plain water made him nauseous and weakened bladder control. He also started becoming more moody and irritable, which his wife bore the brunt of. It was not an easy time for Arun, but it was an even harder time for his wife, who took on the role of his primary caregiver. She had switched to a part-time teaching position to focus on caring for him, and during this period, accompanied him for all his medical appointments, cooked for him and cared for all his daily needs.
In April, Arun underwent surgery to remove the tumour as well as 20cm of his colon. It left him with a non-functioning anus with an ileostomy or stoma bag attached to his abdominal area, which was created to collect the liquid waste through his small intestine by bypassing his colon, rectal and anal pathways. The surgery marked a major turning point in Arun's life. Although the tumour was successfully removed, Arun felt like a different man altogether. Before this, his physique and confidence were at their peak. But now, he looked shrunken and haggard and void of strength. He faced issues performing even the simplest daily tasks such as showering, shaving and combing his hair.
Arun and his family during the 2016 Hari Raya celebrations
This affected his confidence deeply. It was as though his former self that he had worked so hard to be rid of had now returned to haunt him. Once a positive person, Arun no longer could will himself to think happy thoughts. He experienced low self-esteem which caused him to vent his frustrations on his wife. Despite this, his wife put up with his mood swings without complaint, on top of the extra responsibilities of cleaning the leakages of his stoma bag. It was only when Arun saw his wife weeping in secret that he decided to get his act together and change his attitude. He contacted his sister-in-law to spend more time with his wife, and pep talked his children into helping their mother with the daily chores so as to ease her load.
Arun's Certificate of Achievement for completing 11,000 push-ups in a 14-day online worldwide challenge, while coping with the side-effects of radiation therapy
To distract himself from the pain of treatment, Arun committed to a 14-day online worldwide push-up challenge, completing a total of 11,000 push-ups and coming in third place. To him, exercise was his ultimate pain reliever and a good diversion from the cancer. Putting all that he had learnt as a personal trainer into good use, Arun also performed light rehabilitative exercises during his recuperation period.
In December, Arun had his reverse stoma surgery and today, is trying to readjust to regular bowel habits. Despite all that he's been through, Arun has a newfound perspective of life and feels reborn. His cancer journey may have been a trying one, but he considers it a beautiful and life-changing experience that brought out a better person in him.
Once a very quick-tempered and impatient person, he has now mellowed and adopted his wife's collected and calm nature in handling situations. Prior to his diagnosis, Arun was only focused on achieving his personal goals, and drifted apart from his wife and children, but his brush with cancer has rekindled the family's bond and understanding of each other.
Arun and family in 2015
Through this experience, Arun also found renewal in his religious faith. To him, it is God giving him a second chance in life at redemption and to take a step back to reflect and readjust his priorities. It also gave him eye-opening experiences such as learning to appreciate his true friends. One encounter that particularly touched his heart was having his secondary school classmates rally behind him and extending their support after they knew of his diagnosis, despite them not being in touch for 30 years.
Today, Arun is cancer-free and has no regrets about his cancer journey. He continues with his fitness regimes and healthy diet, not being complacent that the cancer will not return. He has also started to see and appreciate the lighter side of life, with a new motto to make more friends, spend more quality time with his family and contribute back to society. He has also started volunteering his services to fellow Colorectal Cancer patients, survivors and caregivers by joining various support groups and hopes to author a book on his cancer journey.
Arun working out at the gym, with his stoma bag
To other cancer patients, Arun has this to say:
"Be positive, always. It is never easy, but always focus on the positive aspect no matter how insignificant it can be, despite the worst thing that can happen to you. I told myself that if I have only few years to live, then I am going to focus on enjoying my life to the fullest with my loved ones. Treat every day as the last day. Make peace with everyone and enjoy the moments. I think that my immediate acceptance of my diagnosis made me stronger, because I know what is expected of me and it gave me time to condition my mind to deal with my affairs.
Do come up with your own coping mechanisms, what works for others may not work for you. For example, I found religion and talking to myself a rather useful self-coping mechanism. It helped to build up my positivity and find inner peace. If you do not have a religion, try meditation or yoga.
Take an active role in rehabilitating your body physically, mentally and emotionally. Nobody can help you if you do not want to help yourself. A positive mind is key, as no amount of medication will help if you lack a strong mind. Take up a hobby, pick up a craft or start a simple exercise routine on daily basis. Don't attempt to achieve too many things at one go; instead listen to your body and pace yourself.
The doctors say that my healthy lifestyle probably aided my quick recovery. It also helps to have strong family support, and good, understanding caregivers. At the end of the day, just take things in your stride, focus on getting through each day rather than looking too far ahead.
Go get your FIT screening kit and have the test done at least once a year for the peace of mind, not only for yourself but your loved ones as well. I did not get the free FIT kit even though I was aware of it years ago. Do not be complacent and procrastinate on this life saving kit. I did and was really lucky to survive Stage 3 Colorectal Cancer. There are many who did not. Do not think your current lifestyle, diet, habits will provide immunity from this cancer. I was a perfect example of someone who was very fit, followed an exemplary healthy lifestyle, knew a lot about fitness and nutrition and yet succumbed to cancer. Remember, you do not choose cancer, cancer choose you. But you can "unfriend" it permanently by doing the FIT test. Never fear fear, make fear fear you."
*Editor's Note: Arun has also been featured in the local news for sharing his journey with Colorectal Cancer and life with a stoma. Read it here:
For more information about Colorectal Cancer, click here.