New support group for lymphoma patients

When Ms Erma Maulood, 31, was diagnosed with lymphoma in February, only the support of a friend battling the same disease made her decide to undergo chemotherapy.

Now, she is prepared to pay it forward by helping out with a new cancer support group for lymphoma patients which will be officially launched tomorrow.

"It was the most challenging episode of my life," recalled Ms Erma, a housewife, who also joined a Facebook group for lymphoma patients worldwide. "We were going through the same things emotionally and physically. People would update the group with things like: 'I'm in remission!' It gave us hope."

Her cancer is in remission now.

The local support group was formed by three public healthcare organisations - the National University Cancer Institute Singapore (NCIS), National Cancer Centre Singapore, and Singapore General Hospital - and two non-profit groups. These are the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation (LLF) and the Singapore Cancer Society.

New lymphoma patients will be referred to the group, in which they can get to know other patients and undergo counselling support.

"The difficulty is trying to get them to understand what a lymph node is, or to help them come to terms with the disease," said NCIS consultant Michelle Poon, who is with the haematology-oncology department. "Some of them run off before they can get treatment."

Lymphoma is a type of cancer involving the white blood cells. It is among the top 10 most common cancers for both men and women in Singapore, with more than 600 cases diagnosed each year.

The support group is not just for patients but also their caregivers, who may not know how to deal with family members diagnosed with the disease. "The caregivers feel that they need to be strong for the patients - that they cannot be seen crying or breaking down," said Dr Lee Yee Mei, who is an advanced practice nurse with NCIS.

Dr Lydia Seong of the LLF said: "They don't know who to go to, to express their emotions and fears, and they don't want to frighten the other party."

The support group's founders hope they can bring a sense of normalcy back to lymphoma patients' lives by organising excursions and other events for them. Dr Seong said: "We want to get them to do the things that families do, rather than just concentrate on the disease."

This article was first published on Sept 25, 2015.
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