Cancer survivor tells people afraid to go near him it's not contagious: 'Cancer cells stay in my body'

When Mr Leonard Cheok learnt that he had stage 2 colorectal cancer at 65, he thought it was a death sentence.

The former foreman at an oil rig company is now 73 and recently spoke at an outreach event to raise awareness on ways to prevent, treat and live with cancer.

Called “Fighting Cancer, Living Stronger”, the event was held at Kampung Admiralty Community Plaza on Jan 27 ahead of World Cancer Day on Feb 4.

Mr Cheok's younger brother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer two years before Mr Cheok. His brother halted his chemotherapy at another public hospital after just two sessions because he could not tolerate the side effects.

This put Mr Cheok off cancer treatment.

What changed his mind was hearing how patients with advanced colorectal cancer were still alive 20 years after their diagnosis, which gave him the confidence that he could beat his cancer too.

Mr Cheok underwent surgery to remove the cancerous part of his colon, then had a stoma created on the outside of his body for waste to pass through. Two years later, he had another surgery to join the ends of his colon back together, in what is known as a stoma reversal.

Episode 9 of our Incredible Stories: Mr Leonard Cheok Leonard suffered from stage 2 colorectal cancer in 2016, and it took him a few weeks to accept his diagnosis due to the stigma that cancer can carry. He shares more about what led him to accepting his diagnosis. Stay tuned for more Incredible Stories by our resilient survivors. Let’s spread some joy this season of giving and show support to cancer survivors by donating to the NCIS Cancer Fund Link: #NCIS #NCISCelebratesLife #NCISFightsCancer

Posted by National University Cancer Institute, Singapore - NCIS on Tuesday, 26 December 2023


But he opted not to undergo chemotherapy.

His doctor, adjunct associate professor Chee Cheng Ean, said that at least one-third of patients express concerns about undergoing chemotherapy.

"We ensure that they are provided the necessary information to make an informed decision including the alternatives of no treatment and the associated risks," said Dr Chee, who is also the executive director and senior consultant at the Department of Haematology-Oncology in National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS).

"Importantly, they have a choice in their treatment decision. Regardless, we support their decision and continue to provide care to them such as close follow-up even if they decide not to have treatment."

Mr Cheok recalled a nurse at National University Hospital (NUH) found him jovial and suggested that he share his experience with newly diagnosed patients to encourage them. He is now in the NCIS colorectal support group to teach others how to optimise their stoma bags.

“Some people didn’t dare to come near me when they knew I had cancer, so I had to tell them that cancer is not contagious – the cancer cells stay in my body," said the cancer survivor.

"I want other patients to know that they have autonomy over their minds. If you generate negative thoughts, does it help your illness? No, it won’t.”

Dr Chee said: "It’s heartening to see Mr Cheok’s positive outlook and pay-it-forward nature to help others with a similar condition."

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