While some people choose to tell cancer patients words of encouragement to lift their spirits, three young men opted for a more creative approach to support their mother in her fight against cancer: shaving their heads.
Fang Yueh-hsiang (方月香), 57, appeared vibrant and confident when she shared her story at a forum on cancer held by the Greater Taichung Government’s Health Bureau on Friday.
Were it not for a family photograph of Fang and her three sons — all bald — that she presented proudly to participants at the forum, few would believe that Fang, now sporting dark, thick hair, was once a cancer patient.
As a health-conscious woman, Fang had been in the habit of getting physical checkups at least once a year.
However, seven years ago she became preoccupied with the expansion of her family’s garment factory and stopped paying so much attention to her health.
After neglecting to get a checkup for two consecutive years, Fang noticed there was “something off about her left armpit,” a minor discomfort she originally thought was caused by “underarm fatty tissue.”
When Fang finally went to a doctor a few months later, she was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer.
Since the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes, Fang had to undergo a partial mastectomy of her left breast, take three different types of chemotherapy drugs and undergo several sessions of radiation therapy to bring the disease under control.
The series of treatments caused Fang to lose her hair.
Seeing how the cancer was sapping his mother’s spirits, Fang’s youngest son, who was a senior-high school student at the time, decided to shave his head in a show of solidarity to encourage his mother as she continued the painful treatments.
Fang’s two other sons promptly followed suit and also shaved their heads.
Although Fang’s husband was not bold enough to go bald, he was constantly by his wife’s side and bought her several expensive wigs to help her regain her confidence.
Thanks to her family’s strong support, Fang’s cancer went into remission and has not returned in the past five years, she said.
Yao Chung-chin (姚忠瑾), a breast surgeon at the Chung Shan Medical University Hospital, said screening mammography allowed women with breast cancer to be diagnosed at an early stage, which means they can have a 10-year survival rate of about 80 percent.
“However, patients who wait until a lump has formed to seek medical treatment are most likely in the final stages of breast cancer and so have a much lower chance of survival,” Yao said.
Yao added that women undergoing a mastectomy should not worry about their appearance because the procedure can be carried out in conjunction with reconstructive surgery to aesthetically restore the breast.
Under the government’s free cancer-screening program, smokers and betel nut chewers aged 30 years and above are eligible for a free oral cancer screening every two years, while people aged between 50 and 74 can receive a free colorectal cancer screening test biennially.
The program entitles women between 45 and 69 years old to a free biennial breast cancer test and those aged 30 and older can undergo free cervical cancer screening once a year.