Jack, a 52-year-old male, was diagnosed with Stage 2 nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) in December 2002. He underwent thirty-five radiation treatments, but these did not cure him. He suffered a recurrence eight months later.
Q: When were you diagnosed with NPC?
A: December 2002. I was diagnosed as being at the beginning of Stage 2. There was no surgery or chemotherapy. I only had radiotherapy. I had thirty-five radiation sessions in a private hospital. My treatment started around Christmas and finished by March 2003. After the treatment, I suffered from the side-effects of radiation – ulcers and all that.
Q: Tell us how you felt about your radiation treatment?
A: Actually going back to that same place – terrible. I went there everyday – the radiation room – hoping everything would be over after thirty-five days. The last seven or eight treatments – you go in – urrrh, I already had a phobia. By that time, I had already suffered the side-effects. I could not eat or drink. I remember, even to take a sip of water, my tears dropped. It was so painful. Actually the first five shots were easy. The seventh and eighth were still okay. During the eighth dose, I was still working in the office, negotiating with the bosses. Actually, I was then beginning to think that radiotherapy was nothing, really. The people in my office didn’t even know what I was going through.
Q: You said that the first eight doses of radiation were like nothing. What happened after that?
A: After that, I lost my taste and appetite. I started to have ulcers in my mouth. Even if I wanted to eat, I couldn’t. Even sipping water was so painful. When I sipped water, tears would roll down my cheeks. My whole mouth was broken with ulcers. The oncologist described it this way to me: Of course, it is so painful. Every time you come for radiation, one layer of skin is removed. Even before this can heal, you come for the second dose. So the next layer is gone. And you continuously remove layer after layer. It is like cutting off layer after layer of your skin. So, of course it is painful. The doctor gave me painkillers. They didn’t work.
Q: Eleven, twelve … fifteen, sixteen times radiation, already hell?
A: By the fifteenth or sixteenth time, I was already alone. Nobody could help me anymore. It was so painful that I wanted to be alone. It was only God with me. I didn’t want to see anybody. Even during the Chinese New Year, I didn’t want to see anybody. Some people would come to my bedside, but I’d rather be with God and myself. The pain was there. I’d rather doze off. Pray to God. Doze off. Pray to God. That’s all.
Q: You had no desire to meet people at that time?
A: No point. I couldn’t talk. If I talked I had pain. Nothing could comfort me – except praying to God. Only God was with me. With God you didn’t have to talk.
Q: You couldn’t eat too?
A: At one stage, I had to go for a drip because I couldn’t eat. In fact, it was during the Chinese New Year that I did so. I also drank the liquid food meant for sick people.
Q: When did you start eating again?
A: After the thirty-five radiations, the healing started. I was still on liquid food for a few weeks after the treatment. I took blended food but there was still pain. It became more bearable with time. The taste slowly came back. But the dry mouth effect is still there, even up to this day.
Q: Beside the dry mouth, what other side-effects have you got?
A: The ear – the hearing is reduced. It affected the left ear more than the right ear. This reduced hearing came only after the radiation treatment. I think some of the pitches may be lost. In a room of 20 people, some people would talk and I cannot hear them.
One person from Singapore told me this: My doctor told me that radiotherapy does not have any side effects. Well, this story took place in Singapore too. I too pray that radiotherapy has no short-term or long term side effects and that you shall receive a perfect cure by the treatment.