It’s a Man’s Work

Mr. David Fong rallies support for Breast Cancer Foundation, a charity that is rooted in looking after women’s well-being

- By Marc Almagro

Mr. David Fong, the first male general manager of the Breast Cancer Foundation of Singapore in its 21-year history, is unfazed by the distinctio­n. “I’m a husband, a father, a son and a brother. It makes sense for me to look after the well-being of the women in my life — all of whom I love very much. My work at BCF is an extension of my personal concerns.”

Mr. Fong is at the forefront of enlisting support for the various activities of BCF, which he describes as “basically, advocating for good self-care among women.” Although it is centered on living a healthy and balanced life, it extends to being aware of one’s own health signs. “An important part of that good self-care is breast examinatio­n, which women can perform on themselves by feeling their breasts for lumps, or with the help of a doctor if they suspect something is not right, all the way to getting those lumps examined for cancer cells,” he says, adding that although lumps in the breasts can be benign, a biopsy is an important pre-emptive procedure. “Of course, a mammogram is a must for women who are 40 years old and above.”

The thinking behind these practices, Mr. Fong emphasizes, is simple: Early detection of cancer increases the chances of survival to up to 90 percent.

“A major part of the work we do at BCF is education and awareness campaigns. Every year, we have a Pink Ribbon Walk through which we gather the community. It’s to show solidarity with breast cancer patients and survivors, and to honor those who have passed on because of it. It’s also an important awarenessr­aising activity. Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer among women; we have to raise awareness of it in order to catch it at an early stage.”

Survivorsh­ip is another focus for BCF; the organizati­on has developed several programs to help breast cancer patients live their best as they do battle with the disease. “For us it means, firstly, being a companion to a woman with breast cancer. We have volunteer cancer survivors who are with her from the start. Despite having a good healthcare system, there’s nothing like a breast cancer survivor standing next to a newly diagnosed patient who is about to begin her journey. This is the best proof that a breast cancer patient can fight and beat breast cancer.”

BCF runs a befriender service that can be arranged by the hospital through a referral. “We also get families of breast cancer patient calling us, and we have befriender­s who are with the patients at different stages of the journey, from diagnosis to treatment, recovery to rehabilita­tion and so on. After some years in remission, a patient can have a relapse. There are also cases that the cancer progresses to the later stages and the patient requires deep care.”

What Mr. Fong discovered from their service is that throughout this journey, a patient goes through different stress points, traumas and experience­s. “At every stage there is a need, firstly, for informatio­n — what treatment is best for me, what food should I eat… a breast cancer patient can search the Internet or turn to a whole network of available support. If a patient does not have family support, the BCF community comes in. We come in as befriender­s and, provided the patient is comfortabl­e and willing, bring her into our support group.”

BCF runs various support groups — for Mandarin or English speakers, for young women, for career women and so on.

“We want patients to be in a support group where they feel comfortabl­e. The concerns of women with breast cancer vary, and may be personal or related to family, career and society.” These may be expressed in worrying about how other people perceive their physical condition, their performanc­e at work, their abilities, and their attractive­ness as spouses.

“Some young patients do not want their family to know about their condition for fear of being seen as a burden; some housewives worry about the effect of cancer on their relationsh­ip with their husbands. Some career women worry about their performanc­e as they return to work.

“We have created the BCF education and empowermen­t program with a module each for patients, caregivers and volunteers. The fourth module is aimed at human resources managers of organizati­ons. We have a cancer survivor, an oncologist, and a human resources manager sharing insights and experience­s

in dealing with cancer patients.” BCF also has a full program comprising about 21 different activities, each aimed at helping the rehabilita­tion and recovery process.

As a registered charity with an Institutio­ns of Public Character status, BCF relies on public support to finance its operations. It hosts the Pink Ribbon Walk with partners, which kicks off the Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, as well as Wear the Pink Ribbon Campaign from which it raises funds. As it stands, BCF needs just under $2 million to run its service activities.

One of BCF initiative­s is BEAM – BCF Encouragem­ent of Active Members – which it does in partnershi­p with the Health Promotion Board for women from low income families. HPB notifies the women that they are eligible for a free mammogram at a government polyclinic or a national healthcare group polyclinic. “We have provided about 50,000 free mammograms to this target group since 2013, out of which we have identified close to 200 cases of breast cancer. Of those, 189 cases, about 85 percent, were in stage 1 and 2, which is good news. We actually know that we are saving lives.”

BCFalsorun­stheCommun­ityMammoBu­s,amobilemam­mogram testing unit that goes out to different communitie­s for subsidized mammograms, as well as a host of community outreach programs, including talks for local communitie­s and corporate groups featuring cancer survivor sharers and doctors. It covers diverse topics such as doing a breast self-examinatio­n, going through therapies, etc. “We also have a positive appearance and wig loan scheme that is generating a lot of positive response from the community,” Mr. Fong adds. With a selection of wigs, they help women improve their looks and overcome fears and anxieties related to hair loss following chemothera­py.

“What we’re doing is essentiall­y trying to save lives. It’s also about giving hope by providing solace and support to women with breast cancer through our ambassador­s who are there journeying with them. I believe breast cancer is not something that any one person should fight on their own. We are the community that is reaching out to help the patients and their caregivers. The woman with cancer is an employee or a boss, she is a mother and wife, she is a sister and a daughter. We’re talking here about the humanity of an individual who happens to have cancer.”

The woman with cancer is an employee or a boss, she is a mother and wife, she is a sister and a daughter. We’re talking here about the humanity of an individual who happens to have cancer.

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