Noel Tan, a People & Organisational Growth consultant at Roche has always had a passion for teaching. Not only because he began his career as a teacher, but also because of the positive impact helping others understand and learn can create. “It might have started, back in the day, with what I could teach my students, but I follow this same philosophy in my work as an organisational consultant. What binds people together is shared understanding and a common purpose.”
Hearts full of love. Noel, Brenda, and their children on a family holiday in Nagasaki, Japan.
This is perhaps why, he feels, it was only natural for him to consider writing a book about his wife’s experience as a gastric cancer patient so that he could educate others about the importance of diagnostics, the role of community care and the need for ongoing research. He wants to capture key elements of his own caregiver story, even as he processes the events of the last seven years.
Noel’s wife Brenda, a fellow teacher and business partner in their own independent consulting business before he joined Roche, had her first cancer diagnosis in 2016 and later suffered a relapse in 2018. “An experience like this is emotionally devastating for any family,” he says recalling the helplessness he and his three children felt, noting that it is not uncommon for caregivers of advanced cancer patients to experience such emotions.
Support from friends and family. Noel and Brenda spending time with their close friends.
A real turning point for Noel was visits to the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS) for Brenda’s treatment during the peak of Covid-19. “I heard of and saw many patients and caregivers struggling to cope as a result of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.”
“I couldn’t do much to ease my wife’s pain except offer her my unwavering support. This however, felt like a cause I could contribute to, and make a difference.” That thought spurred him to act in the best way he knew.
An avid cycling enthusiast, Noel decided to channel his passion for cycling into a fundraising effort in Dec 2020. “I covered 500 kilometers on my bicycle over 2 days to raise $51,000 for financially disadvantaged patients and families, in a campaign called “Cyclist vs Cancer 2020.”
Instead, the overwhelming support from various quarters meant Noel was able to raise over $72,000. He brushes this off as any kind of achievement, “I have always enjoyed cycling but in many ways during Brenda’s treatment, cycling became therapeutic for me. It was a release from the stress I felt as a caregiver while also juggling my responsibilities as a father and as a professional. The time on my bike gave me the space and capacity to be most grounded, off the bike.”
Caregivers often maintain a facade of strength even when they deal with extreme emotional upheavals when caring for loved ones, especially those who need end-of-life care.1 “You don’t want people to feel guilty for putting you through this, because it is no one’s fault. Allowing myself to work through my whirlwind of emotions and thoughts helped me to be fully present to support my children and my wife.”
After Brenda’s passing in January 2021, Noel pondered over how he would process his experience. At the same time, he was clear that there was a need to support caregivers who were on parallel paths as the one he had to walk as husband and father. For caregivers of terminally-ill patients, the caregiving continues even after the patients pass on. That duty of care then extends to those who live on such as his children and also for the caregiver himself.
Creating memories with family. Outside the Ashmolean in Oxford. The Tan’s last family trip together.
As Noel had an ongoing practice of journaling, he increasingly welcomed the idea of writing a book for all the purposes mentioned above. Kierkegaard, the existentialist philosopher once wrote, “’Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards’, it’s something I truly believe.” He hopes to complete the book by the end of the year and take it to publication as a gift to all caregivers who are doing their best daily for the patients close to their hearts.
Teamwork makes the dream work. Noel with his cycling crew at a stopover in Tioman, Malaysia.
That’s not all, he says. “This year, I am training to repeat the same distance of 500 km in Dec 2022. Due to my own nerve compression issues in my C5-C7 vertebrae, I have had to change my original plan of leveraging my ticket to ride the London-Edinburgh-London race in Aug 2022 ( which was going to be 1500 km over 5 days) to do a shorter effort locally. And I am once again doing this to raise funds for NCIS.”
- The cost of caring: How advanced cancer patients affect Caregiver’s employment in Singapore. (2022) Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1002/pon.5903