The number of cancer cases in the country is rising, but the even bigger cancer of corruption is also eating away the fabric of ethics and integrity in Malaysia.
TWO months ago, I was supposed to hand over a dozen copies of a book written by a colleague, who has been battling cancer for the past 16 years, to an old friend who is also a cancer survivor.
Somehow, we could not find the time to meet during my usual two-day monthly trip to Malacca.
Ironically, just as I was about to finally deliver the copies of Soo Ewe Jin’s Face to Face with Cancer book last week, my friend called to say that his rectal cancer was back.
The news came as a shock because Kerk Kim Hock had completed 13 years of remission after being diagnosed with stage 2 rectal cancer and undergoing surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy in 2002.
Kerk, 59, a mechanical engineer by training, retired from politics in 2004, when he was Kota Melaka Member of Parliament and the DAP’s fourth secretary-general.
After starting his political career as state assemblyman for Durian Daun, Malacca, in 1986, he went on to become MP for Pasir Pinji (now Ipoh Timor) before returning to contest in his hometown in 1999.
Since his surgery in 2002, he had been diligently sticking to the follow-up care with regular blood tests, chest x-rays and ultrasound checks.
Although he had resumed his chemotherapy treatment, Kerk looked healthy when I met him last week and he tried to be his usual jovial self.
But it was obvious that the relapse had hit him harder than in 2002, as he deals with the new questions and worries.
“Is there any chance of cure? Will the side effects be more severe? What will be the medical costs? How much time do I have?” he asked.
“I have been asking myself: was the follow-up sufficient? What additional procedures should be advised for patients?”
What he needs most now is the sharing of experiences of others who had cases similar to his, as in recurrence of rectal cancer after completing a minimum of five years remission.
In most cases of rectal cancer, recurrence is usually in the liver and chest but in Kerk’s case, it spread to the pelvis, which is rare.
Noting that surgery was not an option at all for recurrent cancers, he said the relapse only showed that life was unpredictable. He recalled the story of prominent oncologist and The Star columnist Dr Albert Lim Kok Hooi, who died of cancer two years ago.
Cancer is the biggest killer in Malaysia after heart attacks. Currently, one in four Malaysians suffer from cancer by the age of 75.
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) GlobalCan cancer research showed that some 37,000 Malaysians are diagnosed with cancer yearly and it is estimated that the number would rise by between 3% and 5% each year.
Last week, National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) president Dr Saunthari Somasundram urged the Government to formulate a comprehensive national cancer control plan to deal with detection and prevention.
She said there was no proper guideline or direction in the fight against cancer in the country, nor was there consistency and uniformity in cancer care.
“We don’t have equitable, affordable and comprehensive cancer care centres to provide support and give the right information to people,” she said, warning that cancer could kill one in three Malaysians by 2030 if steps were not taken to address the issue immediately.
Malaysia also has a shortage of cancer treatment experts. We only have 80 oncologists, for example, a shortfall of 220 people based on the needs of the existing population.
And of the 80, only 22 oncologists are in government hospitals while 34 are in universities and 24 in private hospitals.
There are now about 100,000 people in Malaysia living with cancer and the top five cancers affecting both males and females in Malaysia are breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and nasopharyngeal.
According to WHO, 14 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed around the world yearly.
In Asia, the surge of cancer is moving governments to address the growing challenge through national cancer control plans and emphasis on better healthcare systems.
Ageing populations, lifestyle choices, environmental pollution and infectious diseases are the main causes of increased cancer cases.
Experts say that about 40% of all cancers are preventable and that early detection and treatment leads to better survival rates.
With a national-level cancer prevention plan in place, perhaps Malaysia can help bring down the numbers of sufferers of this dreaded condition.
But what about the other even bigger cancer, which has been eating away the fabric of ethics and integrity in our society?
Corruption is often compared with cancer because, like the growth of malignant cells in the human body and their ability to spread, corruption can devour a nation in a similar manner.
Transparency International’s definition of corruption is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority”.
It is undeniable that corruption is now deeply entrenched in the country, both in the public and private sectors.
Last year Malaysia was ranked 50th out of 175 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), rising three notches from its position in 2013.
The CPI results will be out again this year and the perception is Malaysia would fare worse.
Incidentally, one of the world’s biggest anti-corruption conferences is scheduled to be held in Putrajaya between Sept 2 and Sept 4.
Based on the proposed papers to be presented at the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference, it promises to be an interesting event.
Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza: There is no hope unmingled with fear, no fear unmingled with hope. M.Veera Pandiyan The STAR Home News Opinion Columnist 12 August 2015