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Breakfast with Prof Cynthia Goh – A voice for the dying
22 October 2015

Prof Cynthia Goh, Senior Consultant of Palliative Medicine at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), is one of the pioneers of hospice in Singapore. She started as a volunteer in 1986 and helped established several palliative care services in the community including HCA Hospice Care.

HCA Hospice Care invites Prof Goh to share the history and how she established HCA Hospice Care, known as Hospice Care Association back then.

“We are in the presence of greatness. A woman who deserves great admiration, someone who initiates to visit dying patients even after a busy day a work,” says Dr Tan Poh Kiang as he welcomes Prof Cynthia Goh.

Palliative care started its journey in 1985 at the St Joseph’s Home in Jurong with 16 beds. Groups of volunteers, comprising of doctors and nurse, visited dying patients with a common mission and goal – to ease and bring comfort to the dying.

“In the midst of busyness, remember why and what makes you want to do this. It makes a huge difference,” says Prof Cynthia Goh repeatedly before she continued with the milestones of home hospice care.

People believed that there was no need for hospice care in the past. But in reality, there were many patients referrals and manpower was an issue. There was a shortage of staff, no funds, no beds, only willing pairs of hands. There was so much to grasp given the the huge amount of incoming patients and their needs. People were concerned with the term hospice care service as it speaks of the “Death House”. Some were doubtful that the hospice care cause would not sustain as people might lose interest easily. As difficult and worrisome as it may seem, these obstacles did not deter Prof Cynthia and her group of dedicated volunteers from their vision.

“Every patient is a gift from God. Wouldn’t you want to treat a gift from God with the best of what you have,” says Prof Cynthia.

Through a series of volunteering experiences with patients, the group mastered and learnt life values which motivated them to do even more. They learnt to:

  • Assess symptoms
  • Communicate with suffering patients
  • Control pain
  • Deal with fear
  • Care for families
  • Expand the expertise of volunteers to match needs

Most of all, they learnt life lessons from the patients. The kick-started the ground work, it grew and that was when an opportunity came. Dr Tetsuo Kashiwagi came to Singapore to visit our patients, The Straits Times heard about it and covered the story entitled “In Singapore, A Place To Die Peacefully”. The article brought an overwhelming response of 144 letters from the public asking for advice and help.

“We heard of untold stories, problems and how they struggled to deal with death while their loved ones were still around. People wanted to die in dignity and fulfill last wishes,” says Prof Goh.

A group of like-minded medical workers and lay volunteers started to explore and deepen the work they do. They worked with the Singapore Cancer Society and formed a home hospice care group.

“There was so much to do. People were coming to us asking us for advice pertaining to their illness.  Definitely no way we could say no!”

Putting words into actions, the group stomped into homes, started looking after patients and easing their pain. The good works did not go in vain. A sum of $120,000 was donated to home hospice care for three years. The home hospice hired the first nurse and started training classes for other volunteer nurses.

“If you want to be a Nurse, start training and teaching. That’s when you will learn the fastest,” said Prof Goh as an encouragement to the nurses present.

From 1989, HCA Hospice Care has grown simply from a group of volunteers to almost 100 staff now. We thank Prof Goh and her group of dedicated volunteers for the pioneering work and time they have invested in this meaningful cause. Prof Goh continues to touch many lives, not just with her medical expertise but through her love and concern for every individual. To date, she will do whatever it takes to bring comfort and ease patients with life-limiting illnesses.

We would like to thank Dr Cynthia Goh for her time with us, bringing us through the past into the present and guiding us into the future with her words of wisdom and encouragement.

If you are interested in volunteering opportunities, feel free to drop us an email at volunteer@hcahospicecare.org.sg. You may also like to visit https://www.hca.org.sg/hospice/media-centre/hca-hospice-care-resources to find out more about HCA Hospice Care stories and our milestones.