He counted his blessings

Cancer did not lead him to dire thoughts about the end but to a deep reflection on his blessings.

Mr Iain Ewing, 64, said: 'I didn't know if I was going to live or die but I felt happy.

'The number one thing I was happy about was my relationship with my son Tejas, 29, a director of my company, Ewing Communications, and a consultant in sustainable development. I was also happy thinking about my friends, my work and my staff.'

The chief executive officer of training consultancy firm Ewing Communications was diagnosed with a type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma last July during a routine medical check-up.

The Singapore permanent resident, who has lived here since 1985, said: 'I went for my annual medical screening six months late. I thought I was in perfect health.

'I was eating and sleeping well and I'd even gained weight.'

He had planned on skipping his chest X-ray. Luckily his family doctor, Dr Lim Lean Huat, insisted on it.

The X-ray revealed a shadow in his right lung.

Dr Lim then sent him for a CT scan, an X-ray technique which combines X-rays with computer technology to create cross-sectional images for diagnosis, as well as a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a tissue sample for cancer diagnosis.

Mr Ewing, who was born in England and raised in Canada, also underwent a PET scan, or positron emission tomography, which is a specialised imaging technique using radioactive substances to produce three-dimensional coloured images of those substances within the body.

The divorcee revealed that the four days he waited for his test results were the most interesting of his life.

He said: 'I thought about my son a lot in those four days. I was there for his first word, his first step and every performance he gave at school. I was the coach of his basketball team and I was there for his graduation.

'I was glad that at least I saw my son grow up and I'd shared so many experiences with him.'

When Mr Ewing received official word that he had Stage 1 lung cancer, he was astonished.

He recalled: 'The first thing I said to my doctor was 'That's weird. I don't even smoke'.'

He added: 'I eat my broccoli and berries and I exercise regularly. I take very good care of myself and I've been doing that all my life.'

However, he did not let his shock turn into self-pity and angst.

He checked himself into hospital the very day he got his results and underwent keyhole surgery to remove the tumour.

'Regained my life'

He only told Tejas, who is based in London, about his condition just before his surgery.

He said with a laugh: 'I didn't want to tell him earlier than that because I didn't want to worry him. He was shocked and wanted to fly over but I said no.'

During the $10,000 operation, surgeons cut away the upper third of Mr Ewing's right lung to get rid of the tumour.

Mr Ewing said of his oncologist, DrThirugnanam Agasthian, and his team at The National Cancer Centre: 'They were so fast, efficient, friendly and affordable. They're everything you want in a medical service.'

He did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery as his cancer was localised.

Four days after the operation, he was discharged. He was back at work within two weeks.

A month after his surgery, he flew to London to see Tejas and for work.

He said: 'Getting on the plane was a big thing for me because it was a signal that I had regained my life.'

While his fitness level helped him to recover quickly, the journey back to health was not always smooth-sailing.

He had to do breathing exercises with a special apparatus several times a day for two months to expand his remaining lung's capacity. Also, for the first three months, his body was racked with pain every time he coughed.

Besides returning to his daily routine early and exercising every day, he believes his positive attitude helped speed up his recovery.

He said: 'It's a habit of mind you have to develop over the years to remember your blessings.

'As you become more mature, your feeling of happiness stays at a higher level more often. But you don't feel like this every day. It comes and goes.'

In February, he was given the all-clear by his doctors.

Last December, he went mountain hiking with Tejas in The Andes in South America for two weeks.

He said: 'From now on, I'm going to be careful about getting to my medical check-ups on time. I shall be doing them every six months for the next few years.'

Asked what lessons he has drawn from his brush with cancer, he said: 'Don't neglect the routine stuff. There's a reason why you go for an annual medical check-up. If your last X-ray didn't show anything, it's not a waste of money. Count yourself lucky instead.

'Take care of yourself before you fall ill so that when you do, you will recover faster.

'Start living the life you want and being the good person you want to be now.'

This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.