Retiree Mr Clarence Heng, opens up to us about how he battled and overcame prostate cancer at age 60.

What is your life like before being diagnosed with prostate cancer?

Before I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I worked for a government-linked company for nearly a decade. In that time, I was considered a workaholic, sometimes punching in 10 to 12- hour workdays, which meant I did not lead a particularly healthy lifestyle, barely exercised and did not pay any particular attention to my diet.

However,  I wouldn’t say I was inactive. While I did not have intensive gym workouts, I often walked an average of 3km a day on the days I took public transport such as the MRT or the bus to work instead of driving.  I also only ate basic Chinese food and was never a fan of rich, exotic cuisine or drinks at the pub, so my eating habits would be classified as mostly healthy.

What symptoms did you experience and why did they prompt a visit to the doctor?

I did not experience any symptoms associated with prostate cancer. However, the company I worked for offered annual health screenings, involving a PSA test which measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) protein in the blood that produces cancerous and non-cancerous tissue in the prostate.

For over 15 years before 2014, my PSA count had always been zero, which was good as normal PSA levels range between 0 to 4 ng/ml. In 2014, my PSA reading increased to three. This didn’t worry me much as it fell within normal levels. However, in 2015, my PSA count shot up to 10, which not only sent me into a panic as it could mean I had cancer, but also prompted a visit to a general practitioner who referred me to the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

How was your condition confirmed?

At SGH, I consulted Associate Professor Henry Ho, Head and Senior Consultant of the Department of Urology, who recommended a biopsy, a procedure where a tumour tissue sample is extracted from my prostate for examination.

Three weeks after my biopsy, the pathology report confirmed I had Stage II prostate cancer. Although I was extremely worried, Assoc Prof Ho assuaged my fears, assuring that Stage II disease offered a good prognosis with high survival rates. He also referred me to the National Cancer Centre (NCCS) for a second opinion to learn more about my condition and the possible treatment options.

What treatments did your doctors offer?

Assoc Prof Ho recommended the Da Vinci robotic (DVR) procedure, a minimally invasive surgery that would remove my prostate and offer a 95% success rate in treating my condition. Since I had also visited the NCCS, the oncologist there suggested radiation treatment but was warned there was a 5% chance this option could lead to a relapse. After weighing the pros and cons of both procedures, I went with the DVR surgery as it offered a better success rate, with a minimal chance of the cancer recurring.

How did you feel throughout your treatment process? Walk us through the progress of your treatment.

I underwent the DVR surgery in January 2016, and a colostomy bag was attached my abdomen to collect my waste. Although this made washing myself challenging for a week before it was removed, I was quite pleased with the procedure because I did not experience much discomfort and side effects post-surgery, besides temporary urinary incontinence. I was also grateful that my condition was caught early as this avoided the need for chemotherapy and other treatments, which could have resulted in nasty side effects, including vomiting, hair loss, nausea, loss of appetite and fever.

I was declared cancer-free after my prostate was removed. Nevertheless, I still undergo an annual PSA test, and I’m happy to report that my PSA levels up to date have been normal.

At which point did you start resuming normal life again?

My life resumed almost immediately after the procedure. In fact, although my female partner supported me by cooking my meals during the first month of recovery, I was well enough to travel to the hospital on my own for check-ups. Since I also retired following my cancer diagnosis, I have made it my life’s mission to be an advocate for cancer patients. By sharing my own experience with new patients, I can help guide them through their journey with cancer so that they don’t feel alone on their road to recovery.

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