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Cancer Information

Issue 23 - Expect the Unexpected

Issue 23 - Expect the Unexpected

65-year-old Charles Wu, Nasopharyngeal Cancer (NPC) warrior and sports enthusiast

Like most people, 65 years old (or as he would prefer, 65 years young) Charles Wu grew up expecting to lead a regular life – graduate from school, get a decent job, get married to the girl of his dreams and live happily ever after with his family. Well turns out, reality did not deviate too far from Charles' expectations as he achieved these milestones in life. However, life often does surprise us with unexpected curveballs, which Charles experienced personally, and this is his story.

Charles with his wife Susan, and his two daughters, Michelle and Melissa

Born in Indonesia in 1951, Charles has left his footprint in several countries. When he was 14 years old, he studied in Hong Kong for two years before leaving to complete his studies in the United States, where he obtained American citizenship and started working there. In 2000, Charles moved to Singapore, where he met a lovely Singaporean woman, Susan, whom he fell in love with, and they married in 1981. The couple has two daughters, Michelle and Melissa, now 33 and 30 years old respectively.

Charles with his theatre troupe, the Experimental Arts Theatre

Friends and family of Charles would know of his vibrant personality – apart from his day job as a laboratory technologist and care coordinator at the National University Hospital, Charles also freelances as an actor, and is a member of the Experimental Arts Theatre. Acting has been his passion since young, and Charles finds immense satisfaction being able to immerse fully into the role of a character. He draws inspiration from his favourite Hollywood actress, Meryl Streep, and hopes to refine his acting skills to be on par as hers one day.

Charles proudest achievement as a sportsman is having participated in the 1992 Boston Marathon

While he is not busy with his jobs and theatre, Charles, who is a sports aficionado, spends his time actively running and cycling. His proudest achievement was having participated in the 1992 Boston Marathon, a dream of many avid runners. It seemed like Charles’ life was going as expected – he had a great family, participated in epic runs, and was finally able to actively pursue his acting career. However, in October 2016, Charles was about to deal with an unexpected turn of events.

Charles had enrolled himself in a clinical study for diabetes in hopes of playing a part to advance medicine and during the screening process, they detected a lump in his neck caused by an enlargement of his lymph nodes. He was then recommended to undergo a biopsy. Initially, Charles did not think much of it as he assumed it was due to heatiness or fever. However, the test results were unexpected; and Charles was diagnosed with Stage 4A Nasopharyngeal Cancer (NPC). 

When he heard the diagnosis, Charles was surprised as he did not experience any symptoms previously, except for the occasional nosebleeds which he experienced growing up. Furthermore, he had no family history and had always led an active and healthy lifestyle. However, there was no denial or sadness as he accepted his diagnosis calmly and made the decision to seek treatment immediately. He remained calm when he broke the news to his family, and although they were surprised, they took the news calmly as well, which Charles believes is a collected reaction following his nonchalance.

Some treatment side-effects Charles experienced included peeling of skin, dry mouth and temporary hearing loss in his right ear, which Charles found slightly uncomfortable, but manageable

Soon, Charles began his chemotherapy treatment comprising treatment once a week, for nine weeks. This was followed by a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment. The side-effects of chemotherapy were minimal. However, he experienced some side-effects from the radiation therapy which included peeling of skin, dry mouth and temporary hearing loss in his right ear. As his taste buds were affected, he lost a total of 10kg, a shadow of his former muscular and toned self. However, those were manageable, and through the help of food supplements, Charles slowly gained back some weight and was able to finish a whole serving of rice and noodles.

During his treatment journey, his daughters were his main pillars of support. Michelle, his eldest, would help peel off the flaking skin on his neck and apply lotion to soothe the discomfort. Melissa on the other hand, would accompany him for his doctors' appointments. For their unwavering care and concern, Charles is grateful.

Charles and his daughters with his treatment team at the NCIS

Charles’ treatment ended in April this year and after an MRI scan in July, the cancer cells have successfully been eradicated. Charles feels blessed knowing that his journey has been pretty manageable, coupled with support and care from his loved ones and in his heart, he believes that his God is good, all the time. He views his journey as part of God’s purpose, and now, wants to use his experience and journey to help others. He continues to be active in sports and looks forward to an upcoming race with his running mates in September.

As he continues to get better, Charles looks forward to returning to work full-time and joining the NPC oneHeart Support Group for their monthly walks at the Botanic Gardens.

Charles with his running group

To others who may be undertaking the same journey, Charles has this to say: 

"Accept the facts and realities and be brave and stay positive. Connect with your family and friends and deal with doctors and treatments. It may get difficult at times, but exercise discipline and maintenance so as to leave a legacy of hope. 

Always remember to be thankful and grateful. Live every moment and leave no regrets. Stay positive and connected, and always remember to finish strong." 

For more information about Nasopharygeal Cancer (NPC), click here.