SSA swimming director loses saliva glands to tonsil cancer

SINGAPORE - He lost 27kg in body weight and now has to wet his mouth constantly because he has lost his saliva glands.

But Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) technical director Ian Turner is taking it all in his stride.

"I'm still here. I'm still alive and that's important," said the 62-year-old, who was diagnosed with stage two cancer of the tonsils last October.

He started radiation therapy earlier this year and completed the last of his 33 treatments in March at the National Cancer Centre.

The Briton said: "The staff at the Singapore General Hospital (where the National Cancer Centre is located) have been exceptional... Professor Soo (Khee Chee, founding director of the centre) runs a tight ship and I have to give them and the dentistry department credit.

"I could have gone back to the UK and received treatment for free but, instead, I stayed and paid for it because of the confidence I had in the system," he said, adding that the cancer had affected his teeth, thus the visits to the dentist.

And while he has successfully battled his disease, the shadow of cancer still hangs over him.

Turner said: "You'd never know for sure with cancer. I return to the hospital once a month for check-ups... cancer is so profound, it affects you and even after treatment you're still full of anticipation.

"When I go for my check-ups the next time, am I going to be all right? Does my throat hurt? Is my hearing or my eyesight affected? You become nervous about all the peripheral things as well.

Nervous

Nervous

"I don't think I'm well enough yet, I'm still nervous about staying well. It's about only three months since my last treatment. "I think it would perhaps be six months before you'd actually start to feel normal, although I'm not sure I would feel normal again."

While he had kept working till he started treatment earlier this year and even continued sending fortnightly e-mails to coaches on training ideas, the period around his last round of treatment in March was perhaps his darkest.

He said: "There was a month towards the end of my treatment and immediately afterwards that I could have been in Mars and no one would know.

"I was just out of it for about a month and in bed. During that time, I just focused really on nothing other than myself."

It's only with each follow-up visit to the doctor that he slowly gained confidence, while his work also distracted him from the disease. Turner returned to work on April 1, and conducted a stroke camp late last month.

He will conduct another stroke camp - for freestyle swimmers aged between 10 and 12 - on June 16.

He also flew off yesterday afternoon with 63 swimmers for the South-east Asian Age-Group Swimming Championships in Brunei - his first overseas trip since completing his treatment.

While he said he is still very "intense" while doing deck-side coaching, he now uses a headset and speakers as his once-booming voice is now shaky.

He said: "I've stopped shaving because (the cancer) stops my beard from growing. My hair fell out, then it started growing again and then falling again.

"You'd never consider all these things before but, to be honest, it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

"Just as long as (the cancer) does not spread to anywhere else."

sayheng@sph.com.sg


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