Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cancer and Community : By Raymond Anthony Fernando

Check out my moving article, folks, here on Happy TV

Many people become understandably demoralised and dejected when they get sombre news from the doctor that they have cancer. Their families too find it hard to accept this condition. Treatment for cancer is expensive and many patients have had to sell their property and dip into life savings to pay for this life-threatening illness; and there is no guarantee that one can survive.

Dr. Joe Kahl, the Chief of Psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente (USA) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  After going through a set of treatments, he thought that he was cured of the deadly disease.  But he was so wrong.  The cancer returned and Dr Kahl was given only a few months to live.  With kids to support in college, the doctor who was under 50 years could not face his friends.  Devastated, he questioned why he had to suffer such a fate when he had maintained a healthy lifestyle.

"I often wonder why I got cancer.  I had been good.  I never smoked.  I watched my diet. I exercised.  I do not drink excessively.  Never took drugs.  I go to church regularly.  From all signs, I had been living a model life.  So, why me?" the despondent doctor asked.

About 10 years ago, I used to hear loud groans and moaning coming from opposite my block. The man lived on the upper floors. Neighbours said he was suffering from cancer. A few weeks later, there was a loud thud on the pavement; the neighbor who was in severe pain for weeks had fallen from his flat.

There were reports in our local newspaper of two gusto citizens who managed to beat the odds in fighting cancer.  Some find that if there’s community support, chances are that patients who have cancer can find renewed hope with medication and emotional aide – as with the case of Tony Leo, a digital marketer who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. He managed to secure free medicine for his condition from the pharmaceutical firm, Novartis, in exchange for his medical records to aid research.

Then there is Ms Calin Tan who was diagnosed with breast cancer 7 years ago, was able to mitigate her ordeal by joining a support group under the Singapore Cancer Society. To pay it forward as a cancer survivor, she hopes to share her experience and coping skills with fellow patients.

Community counts, and we should work towards an inclusive, understanding and empathetic society


Friday, March 10, 2017

Fostering Hope: Raymond Anthony Fernando’s article on Happy TV

I have nothing but praise for the Ministry of Social and Family Development which, in partnership with the Social Service Institute, has recently revamped training programmes to support foster parents who are magnanimous in taking care of other peoples’ children.

Foster care offers children the opportunity to grow up in a safe and loving family environment. Families that get involved provide food, shelter, clothing and love to children in need. For children from disadvantaged backgrounds, foster care gives them a positive experience of family life which they may not have had in their natural family setting. 

Foster parents have a decidedly tough job, needing to understand the specific needs and backgrounds of kids they take under their wing, and these include their dietary habits, their emotional needs, cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs and much more.

For parents who already have hands-on experience in taking care of their own kids, their willingness to care and support children outside their own family is truly a kind gesture that can transform the lives of children who lack a stable home for the time being.

In many countries, children who are abandoned become street kids, sleeping on the roadside outside restaurants and supermarkets in the hope that tourists who visit the country will give them money or buy them a meal and a drink.

In Singapore, it is heartening to know that there were reported to be 420 foster families in 2016, an increase of 73 per cent from 243 families in 2013.

The increase in numbers was the result of greater efforts to raise awareness on fostering, said MSF, citing how it organised roadshows, worked with community organisations, religious groups and private organisations, as well as reached out to the community through radio and television programmes.

Being without children, I would very much have liked to foster children who lack a safe and loving home, so who knows, one day when I can afford it, I might consider opening my home to a kid or two.





Thursday, March 9, 2017

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to The New Paper: Educate teachers to recognise their stress levels

My letter to The New Paper on the above subject is published today, Thursday

I was saddened to read the report “Relief teacher used Hokkien vulgarity twice on student” (The New Paper, March 7)

Teaching can be stressful, but it is a noble profession as educators with the right attitude can shape our future leaders.

Teaching is all about managing relationships in an intense and public arena all day.

Some emotions will be overwhelming and difficult to manage. They will not be helpful for teaching and learning, and given that our education system is very competitive, it is vital that our educators are taught how to recognise their stress levels.

Teachers, like anyone of us, have feelings and they could have personal problems. We can and must help those who are struggling to find a coping mechanism. This is where training on mental health issues by experts can prove useful.

We now have programmes for students to learn about mental health issues, so why are the very people who help to educate our children not being trained on this subject?

If teachers learn about mental health issues, they will be better positioned to seek help, first, through school counsellors; and if need be, through mental health providers.  The Ministry of Education should give them full support in this.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Thought-provoking article by Raymond Anthony Fernando “Suicides – Saved by Text” here on Happy TV

The delicate subject of suicide has been in the news quite often these past few months.
 It is a worrying concern that our youth are increasingly finding life meaningless.

Youths who are in a crisis often share their struggles and anxieties with peers who may not be well equipped to counsel and advice them.

Some of those who read worrying threads posted on social media can be insensitive or may lack education on mental health issues and therefore pass unkind or ignorant comments that can push troubled youths to end their lives.

As a staunch mental health advocate and a volunteer at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), I always intervene on insensitive postings and strive to raise awareness of the distressed one’s state instead. 

The negative threads usually cease after that, and I find that this is just one way we can change perceptions and save lives. 

I follow closely the reports and stories published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which has its head quarters in America.  They produce excellent programmes and services that have helped thousands of Americans.

Recently, they came up with a brilliant idea on how texting through mobile phones can help those who are suicidal.

NAMI reported that in the U.S.A., teenagers send an average of 100 texts per day—3,100 per month. It’s a concise, direct form of communication that helps contain emotional situations. It doesn’t put anyone on the spot or demand immediate answers.

The success of the programme can be seen in how hundreds of thousands of teenagers have used Crisis Text Line for 24/7 crisis interventions in the last 3 years. The average exchange lasts about an hour, or if there’s a risk of suicide, as long as necessary.

Such a unique service can be most helpful to our own youths here in Singapore, who are constantly on their phones.

Let us learn from success stories and provide better structural support for the mentally ill or distressed.



Friday, March 3, 2017

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press: Real life struggles with mental illness can eventually remove prejudice

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Friday 3rd March 2017
It is not every day when a patient struggling with serious mental health issues comes out openly to share her journey, and to this end, I have nothing but admiration for Miss Julia Abdullah (Fear of ridicule stops people with OCD from seeking help; Feb, 28).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is not at all easy to cope with. The bizarre behaviour that patients display during the onslaught of the illness is bound to pose relationship problems.
And when people fail to understand what the sufferer is going through, they become judgmental and prejudice sets in.
People like Miss Julia can take heart in the recent Budget announcement during which Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced more support for people with disabilities and those with mental health issues (Increased aid to tackle dementia, mental health issues; Feb 21).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is not at all easy to cope with. The bizarre behaviour that patients display during the onslaught of the illness is bound to pose relationship problems.
In addition, stronger support for people with disabilities will come in the form of the third Enabling Masterplan, a road map for disability services, which will cover the period 2017 to 2021.
Raymond Anthony Fernando