It’s not far-fetched to say that most people either know of a family member or friend who has had cancer, or have experienced it first-hand.

Doing its part to raise funds and awareness about the prevalent disease recently was Accenture’s “I.Make A Difference” campaign in August. The campaign raised RM103,280 for the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) from various fundraising efforts that included 11 employees volunteering for the Jom Botak challenge.

“The campaign is inspiring in a couple of ways; it shows that you don’t have to have cancer to care, and that everyone can do something about it, whether to raise funds for cancer patients as well as survivors, or to spread the message,” said Viji Nair, senior project manager at NCSM.

“While this campaign is local, the effects are not. Cancer is a huge problem with large-scale challenges. If we are to overcome or minimise the threat of it, support needs to come from all sectors, including private industry. Partnerships like these have immense power to make a difference,” said Viji.

Since 2012, Accenture has supported NCSM through its Relay for Life event, which involves various activities including a walk to celebrate survivors, remember loved ones lost, and raise awareness as well as funds for cancer.

This year, it took another step by giving generously through activities and pledges towards the Jom Botak challenge. The amount raised this year is the highest to date.

Among those who made the “bald” move was managing director Cheah Wai Seng, whose mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer over three-and-a-half years ago.

How did his family take the news initially?

“Honestly, it was a shock, and devastating to the family because she was a non-smoker. She was just suffering from a cough, although it was for quite a prolonged period,” he said, adding that it was nearly a year before the cancer was finally detected.

“She is a cancer survivor because of the advanced cancer treatments. Going bald was my small way of raising awareness for the cause and cancer research,” said Cheah, 39.

The incident has since changed his family’s lifestyle.

“My mum is quite a social and outgoing person, and loves going out for meals and activities. When this happened, she had to make lifestyle changes by eating healthier, less oily food and eating at home more.

“My parents have also adopted a more active lifestyle. They exercise regularly, go for morning walks, qigong and hiking trips together too,” said Cheah.

Managing director of Accenture, Janet Yap (second row, second from left), with Studio 9 hair salon staff (in black, back row), and Accenture’s employees who went bald for the Jom Botak challenge in the ‘I.Make A Difference’ campaign in August, which raised RM103,280 for the National Cancer Society of Malaysia.

Last year, the family had another scare when the cancer recurred but, thankfully, after another round of treatment, the cancer is well controlled.

“My family is fortunate that my mother responded well to targeted therapy, which is a less invasive treatment than chemotherapy or radiation. For the most part, she was able to maintain her lifestyle and independence, and could still drive herself around,” he said.

Cheah also decided to move back in with his parents since the episode, to spend more time with them.

“Now, I make sure I set aside time to have meals with them, sit down and just have a chat, and basically, just to be there for them.”

Cheah also highlights the importance of maintaining a positive mindset.

“Surrounding the patient with positive people is important to encourage them to keep their spirits up throughout treatment and beyond,” said Cheah, adding that his mother is an avid traveller.

“I also see how my mum looks forward to her trips. It is important to always have something to look forward to.”

A deeper understanding

Senior manager Bonnie Arthur de Souza, 36, was another employee who took up the Jom Botak challenge.

“I took up the challenge specifically to champion the caregivers and their efforts, strength and persistence in providing care and support for those affected by cancer,” said de Souza.

“Cancer has taken away the lives of my immediate aunt and uncles from both my parents’ sides of the family, while there are also relatives currently undergoing treatment. The trials and tribulations of cancer have been harrowing (to us) as we are a close-knit family. I witnessed my uncle on his hospital bed taking his last deep breath and letting go,” he related.

These experiences have since changed his perspective on life.

“As we move on with our lives, I must say that there is a deeper understanding and awareness of these diseases and how we can do our part individually and collectively to try and live healthier lives.

“(This includes) discouraging the smokers – I’m proud to say, my dad has stopped smoking for a few years – to practising an active lifestyle with a balanced diet, going for regular health checks and where possible, advocating these preventive steps.”

De Souza is also choosing to intentionally remain bald for at least six more months.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be an agent of change, advocating cancer awareness. A simple conversation on ‘Why botak?’ is a good chance to start a decent conversation around the Big C, whenever the situation applies,” he said.

Having a strong support network is another important element, he added.

“If we have a colleague coping with cancer in the family, I try to get the team to ensure the caregiver is able to take their mind off their work responsibilities, whenever possible, to give care. It is, after all, the least we can do.”

Senior manager Kevin Leung was 13 when his aunt passed away from breast cancer in her early 50s.

“It was quite an aggressive cancer at the time and she passed within a year of diagnosis. More recently, two years ago, a close friend from university was diagnosed with breast cancer as well, but due to healthy eating, medical advances and her family’s support, she is currently in remission,” shared Leung, 36.

Due to these experiences, Leung and his family now strive to live life to the fullest.

“We are also very close-knit and strong advocates of eating healthier, and going for regular check-ups and breast cancer screenings,” he said.

Offering physical and spiritual support to cancer patients also goes a long way.

As caregivers, we can offer transportation, run errands, take care of the patient’s physical needs, as well as help to keep their spirits up so that they can continue on the journey of recovery,” he added.

Viji said, for decades, NCSM has been trying to minimise the stigma of cancer, showing people that cancer is not a death sentence.

“Our motto is ‘giving hope, celebrating life’, and the spirit of this campaign is a perfect representation of it.”

She added that, quite often, patients tell them that they just need someone to listen to them.

“While they’re aware that people around them mean well when providing suggestions on battling the disease, the patients can be overwhelmed by the (sometimes conflicting) advice.

“Also, practical support such as grocery shopping, providing transport to and from hospitals, cooking or cleaning the house helps more than people think,” said Viji.

To contact the National Cancer Society of Malaysia, call 03-2698 7300.