Dying doesn't have to be sad: Local short film about boy with terminal cancer sheds light on end-of-life care

PHOTO: Screenshot/Singapore Hospice Council

What happens when a young boy is diagnosed with terminal cancer and his days are numbered?

This is the main plot explored in the Singapore Hospice Council's (SHC) new short film titled The Sketchbook.

The short film was part of SHC's Hearts in Action virtual community event that commemorated the charity's 25th anniversary and the World Hospice and Palliative Care Day. The event was streamed live on Oct 9 and 10 on the SISTIC and SHC Facebook pages.

As for The Sketchbook, it premiered on Oct 10, followed by a live discussion with palliative care professionals and featured actor Nick Shen sharing their experiences working and volunteering in the palliative care centres.

Inspired by a true story, the film follows the journey of a young boy named Johari who is afflicted by terminal cancer and struggles with the fact that he'll never be healthy again.

Although at first apprehensive to the idea of palliative care, he gradually finds comfort in the palliative care nurse who supports him in achieving his final dream of having an art exhibition before his life comes to a close. This 14-minute film takes the viewer through the lens of a struggling patient and his family, as well as the experiences of palliative care workers.

It ends with a reminder of the importance of Advance Care Planning, a process where one plans for their future health and personal care.

This will determine the kind of healthcare experience they get if they're terminally ill or unconscious, or if they lose their mental capacity to a point where they can't express their preferences or make decisions.

Breaking taboos, debunking myths

In a press release by SHC, they explained that the heartwarming film was created to break the taboo on death and debunk myths such as:

  • Palliative care is all about death
  • Palliative care is only for patients at their terminal stage
  • Palliative care is about administering medicines
  • Hospice is a place for patients to die
  • Hospice is only for cancer patients

SHC hopes to educate people on starting early conversations about death as terminal illness doesn't only happen to seniors.

The organisation said: "It is important to correct the mindset and reiterate that palliative care is about a holistic care approach that includes mental, social, spiritual and physical pain management. It is also about increasing the quality of life, despite having a life-limiting illness that might not be a cancer."

As part of the event, SHC has also organised a webinar that will provide an introduction on palliative care, advance care planning, and lasting power of attorney. The webinar is available in both English (Oct 24, 2pm to 3.30pm) and Mandarin (Oct 25, 2pm to 3.30pm).

PHOTO: Singapore Hospice Council

Dr Chong Poh Heng, vice-chairman of SHC, pointed out that results from a Singapore Management University study in 2019 showed that 62 per cent of Singaporeans wish to live a full and complete life without regrets.

"Therefore, it is important to talk, plan and act on our preferred end-of-life care plans and make our decisions known to loved ones. This is so that they can help fulfil our wishes to live a life with dignity if we become critically ill, until it is time for us to go in peace."

annatan@asiaone.com