Living with a terminal diagnosis of cancer is no easy feat, but Raymond Chan has a few key things he does to ensure he’s feeling as good as he can.
“I’m feeling physically okay at the moment, I cycle a short distance each day and do cardiovascular stuff. Biking is really good for me,” Raymond says.
The 60-year-old has cancer in the lymph nodes in and around his lung and doctors have told him there is no cure.
“Suddenly your mortality is in front of you and you don’t know what your quality of life will be,” Raymond says.
Raymond’s battle with cancer started at the end of 2008. He noticed a lump on the side of his face and after much prodding, went to the doctor. A rare cancerous growth was found in his saliva gland and he had an operation to remove it, as well as a few lymph nodes around his neck. He then underwent radiation and chemotherapy concurrently.
“It took a while to get back into life but we did. We built our businesses up and everything was looking good.”
However, in the summer of 2014, he developed a cough and knew something wasn’t right. He went back to the doctor and was diagnosed with the original rare cancer, but this time the cancer was in and around his lungs and windpipe. He had another operation, however, the surgeon was unable to remove all of it. Raymond underwent various chemotherapy treatments over the next two years.
Diagnosis mentally challenging
The mental strain of his diagnosis has been difficult so Raymond takes a low dose of anti-depressants for anxiety, which has helped. He also sees a psychiatrist.
“The mental thing is tough. I’ve learnt practical things like relaxation and distraction techniques. The advice is to live for now and we’re trying to do that but it’s easier said than done.”
He also sees a masseuse fortnightly which helps with the physical side. Raymond and his partner Sue Davies are both self-employed and work from their home in Wellington – Raymond is a well-known wine reviewer and Sue a wine distributor.
Raymond says being able to continue to work has made a huge difference. And the flexibility of their jobs has meant it’s been easier to attend medical appointments and take time off for chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Eating a healthy diet and certain types of food ensures Raymond stays in optimal health.
“The radiation has dried out my saliva glands so Sue makes sure we eat moist food. Luckily my taste buds haven’t been affected though otherwise I couldn’t do my job,” Raymond says.
Sue says she uses a lot of eggs, stock, cream or cheese in her cooking.
“He needs to keep weight on so whatever I cook, I throw in something like cheese or cream. I do a lot of soups and use meats such as chicken thighs, which are moister than chicken breasts. I have to consider how dense the meat is and the makeup of the food. We eat a lot of fish and salmon, which are high in omega 3 and are moist. We don’t eat sugar, just a lot of vegetables and healthy stuff,” she says.
Wine community rallies round
The support the pair have received from the wine industry has been phenomenal.
“It’s a small industry and very social and supportive,” Raymond says.
So supportive, in fact, a Give-a little page was set up and more than $60,000 was raised to fund eight cycles of the immunotherapy drug Keytruda.
Sue says they closed the page down because they wanted to make sure Keytruda was working before they accepted any more money.
“The generosity was enormous but we felt we couldn’t keep taking the money just because we could.”
She says it was initially thought the Keytruda hadn’t been effective.
“However, we’ve since seen a reduction of the cancer in the lymph nodes and it’s thought to be a delayed result of the drug.”
Raymond says Keytruda’s lack of side effects, compared to radiation and chemotherapy, has been amazing.
“Rather than cutting, burning or poisoning the cancer, you’re using your own immune system to fight it so there are a lot less terrible side effects. It should be funded for everyone,” Raymond says.
“No matter what the outcome is, the amount raised really showed us how much Raymond is loved,” Sue says.
While Raymond’s future is uncertain, he says it’s really important to focus on the present.
“You do what you can and try to live for the moment. Don’t let what could happen worry you or take precedence.”
Update: Sadly, after a long journey with cancer which lasted the best part of a decade, Raymond passed away on Sunday 10 February 2019. He is remembered for his great courage, as well as his humour and passion for wine.