Cancer warrior

by | June 30, 2023

The grandmother of seven was found at risk of nutritional decline after assessment in the NCIS Geri-Onco GOLDEN programme.


Tan Yong Huat with her son Wee Kay Kee and the team from NCIS Geri-Onco GOLDEN programme.

For over two decades, housewife Tan Yong Yuat has been going for regular health screenings. On December 11 2021, her faecal occult blood test came back positive for occult blood in her stools. The mother of four repeated the test at her family physician’s clinic a week later and had a negative result.

Unsure of what to make of the conflicting results, her eldest son Wee Kay Kee got her to do the test a third time on February 12, 2022, which turned out positive again. A series of tests at a public hospital later, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer, which had spread to her liver.

Yong Yuat’s children were not keen for the 97-year-old to undergo open surgery to remove the cancerous parts of her colon and liver in one sitting, hence they took her to seek a second opinion at the National University Hospital (NUH). The doctors at NUH planned for her to have separate procedures to tackle the diseased organs through the keyhole method.

Before each surgery, the grandmother of seven was put through a comprehensive geriatric assessment as a participant in the NCIS Geri-Onco GOLDEN programme. She was found to be at risk of nutritional decline, hence referred to allied health professionals to optimise her health status.

Senior dietitian Cassandra Lim advised her to take small, frequent meals and snacks and taught her caregivers strategies to optimise her calorie intake, such as food fortification using high-calorie cooking methods with healthy oils, nutrient-dense snacks and nourishing fluids.

The physiotherapist prescribed her strengthening exercises such as repetitions of sit-to-stand movements and shoulder flexion, walking exercises and limb stretches. She successfully underwent liver surgery on August 16, 2022 with Associate Professor Alfred Kow, head and senior consultant at NUH’s Division of Hepatobiliary & Pancreatic Surgery, who said he removed about half of her cancerous liver. She was able to sit out of bed a day after surgery and walk for 8m with assistance in the intensive care unit on day two post-surgery.

About three months later on November 21, 2022, Yong Yuat had colorectal surgery with Associate Professor Tan Ker Kan, head and senior consultant at NUH’s Division of Colorectal Surgery, Department of Surgery. She was advised to follow a low-fibre diet after this surgery.

Lim said she was about to maintain her weight of 52kg to 53kg and her nutrition status while preparing and recovering from both these operations.

Yong Yuat, who has eight great-grandchildren, is a cancer warrior. She has just started her fourth cycle of oral chemotherapy, which she takes twice a day at home. Her son Kay Kee said she is coping very well with this treatment and has no side effects. She diligently goes for 15-minute morning walks, accompanied by her domestic helper, daily. For leisure, she used to make patchwork blankets and watch movies – hobbies which are now difficult for her after her eyesight began to deteriorate with age.


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