85 year old Uncle Chang Fook Tin, a survivor of World War II and Sarcoma
No one who has heard 85 year old Uncle Chang Fook Tin’s life story can deny that he is a fighter. Born in a small village in Ipoh in 1931, Uncle Chang has lived through World War II and personally experienced life under the Japanese occupation, which he describes as fraught with hardships, and in his own words, were “hard times”. When the Japanese invaded Malaysia (which at that time was still referred to as Malaya) in 1941, Uncle Chang was only 10 years old. But he counts himself lucky to have been enrolled in a good school which provided him with free education and textbooks, as he was not financially well-to-do.
Uncle Chang in his younger days
It was in 1952 that Uncle Chang moved to Singapore to be a teacher, a profession that he stayed on for a good 33 years of his life, as it is where he found his calling in, seeking fulfillment in molding students of character which goes beyond what they can learn in books. In 1961, Uncle Chang married his girlfriend of eight years, and today, he is a father to three children, two sons and a daughter, as well as a grandfather to five grown-up grandchildren.
For Uncle Chang, it would seem like the hard times were over. Retirement life was going well, and he kept himself busy with an active social life, meeting up with friends daily to catch-up over meals and busying himself with church activities. However, life was about to deal Uncle Chang with a bad hand of cards, and this is his story of strength and willpower.
Uncle Chang with his wife and three children
It was in February 2011 when Uncle Chang discovered a small lump on his lower arm which caused him dull pains every now and then. Even though the pain was not unbearable, it caused him discomfort and so he decided to get it checked out at a polyclinic. There, he was prescribed painkillers but as the pain persisted after a month, he was referred to an orthopaedic surgeon.
Tests were performed and they turned out clear, but unfortunately, the pain continued to bug Uncle Chang. Finally, he was referred to an orthopaedic specialist who performed a biopsy on him. It was then that the biopsy showed he had Sarcoma. Initially, Uncle Chang did not think much about the diagnosis as he did not have a clue what Sarcoma was, except that it was a condition the specialist described as tumour on soft tissue.
Uncle Chang in his younger days as a trainee teacher
Back at home, Uncle Chang started researching online about the condition, which he was now aware was a form of cancer. Despite fully understanding his condition, Uncle Chang felt no fear or sadness as to him, cancer was a part of life, and he had witnessed many people, even friends, who have been struck by the disease in his lifetime. To him, it was consolation that this happened when he was 80 years old after he had led a fairly good life, and this was just a small bump in the road.
The next course for Uncle Chang was to undergo treatment, and after two surgeries and 33 sessions of radiation therapy, it was positive news for him as the cancer was cleared, and his hand function improved. The years went by, and just as Uncle Chang thought that life was back to normal, one Sunday morning in May 2015, he was awakened by an intense pain shooting up his right arm. Accompanied by his sister and helper, he was immediately rushed to the Accident & Emergency Ward and an X-ray found that his lower arm bone had broken into many pieces.
An attempt was made to salvage his arm. A metal plate and screws was used to fix the fracture, but unfortunately, it was also found that the cancer had recurred. He was advised that his best option was to amputate the arm since there was a chance the cancer may spread to other parts of his body if left alone. This time, the news hit Uncle Chang hard. He felt a surge of emotions overwhelm him as he simply could not imagine life with one arm, especially his right arm, as he was right-handed. The thought was too much for him to bear, and he decided not to go ahead with the amputation, but instead, opt for radiation therapy treatment to try and control the cancer.
Uncle Chang and the three generations of his family
However, halfway through the radiation therapy treatment course, the pain in his arm had become unbearable and was unable to function properly, and thus he decided to forgo treatment. By November, the arm had started to be infected with pus, and it had also started to rot and turn black. Despite all these, Uncle Chang did not wish to change his mind. However, as time went by, it was the intensity of the pain which he found too much to bear that gave him the final push to go ahead with the amputation.
The early stages post-surgery were tough on Uncle Chang. He felt handicapped and unable to perform simple daily chores by himself such as going to the toilet and changing his clothes. To adapt, he had to opt for pants with stretchable waistbands instead of buttons to facilitate the changing process. Everything he did, he did alone, albeit slowly, as his wife who had suffered a stroke and dementia two years ago, currently resides in a nursing home.
Uncle Chang sharing his experience during a Sarcoma Support Group event
Upon his doctor’s suggestion, Uncle Chang decided to join a Sarcoma Support Group and it has become a strong pillar of support in his cancer journey. The support group members render help, prayers and support readily and he finds common ground and empathy in their sharing sessions. Today, he is actively involved in the support group and is forthcoming about his personal experience with Sarcoma during the support group events and activities.
Although Uncle Chang knows that cancer is unpredictable, he believes the experience has strengthened his belief in life and to him, it will be a blessing if he is able to meet his great grandchildren in his lifetime.
Uncle Chang with the Sarcoma Support Group members celebrating the first anniversary of the group
To others in the same boat, this is Uncle Chang's advice:
"At the end of the day, we all die. It is whether we live a good life or not. For me, living with one arm may be an inconvenience, but that does not stop me from leading a good life and keeping active.
Live your life to the fullest. Don't think about the bad things as they will always be there whether you are happy or sad. It is more productive to be happy than sad as when you are happy, you tend to forget about the bad things. When you are happy, you do not think about the cancer or when it is coming back as in that moment, it is not important, so live your days happy!"
For more information about Sarcoma, click here.