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'The chemo is quite hard': Richmond-Queensborough MLA undergoing cancer treatment

Singh continuing to work but cutting back on in-person events
Richmond-Queensborough MLA Aman Singh is opening up about his journey with cancer and urging people aged 50 and up to get screened for colon cancer

Richmond-Queensborough MLA Aman Singh is optimistic he will prevail in his battle against colon cancer.

In an exclusive interview with the Record, Singh said he was diagnosed with colon cancer after undergoing the routine screening recommended by the BC Cancer Agency for people aged 50 and up.

“No symptoms,” he said. “Completely healthy. All my blood work has been fine for the last little while, and this time as well. Then, there was just an anomaly, some blood in the stool. That was in May of this year.”

Subsequent testing confirmed the mass on Singh’s colon was cancerous. It’s suspected cancer may also be in the lymph nodes as well, as they’re enlarged.

“I really want to stress that it’s really important to stay healthy, and that (people) go out and they get tested. We have that opportunity; let’s use this because you never know,” he said. “If I hadn’t have gone, I would never have known and it would have advanced so much farther.”

Singh’s treatment plan includes radiation and chemotherapy, followed by surgery. His five radiation sessions in a “Star Trekkie” machine took place at the end of October.

During a Nov. 26 interview with the Record via Zoom, Singh said he was feeling “pretty tired,” after having had his second chemotherapy treatment a week earlier. From the end of October until March 25, 2022, he will be getting chemotherapy every three weeks.

“The chemo is quite hard. It leaves you with a general sense of malaise all the time. The nausea is pretty intense with the medication,” he said. “I missed a few days in the legislature but I wanted to be there as much as I could, which I was able to.”

Once his chemotherapy is finished at the end of March, Singh and his doctors will discuss what type of surgery is needed.

Still working

Singh was elected as the Richmond-Queensborough MLA in the Oct. 24, 2020 provincial election.

“I thought that it was important that I tell my constituents,” he said. “Someone told me one day that my brand was transparency. I think seeing how being transparent about my addiction and how it may have helped some other people.”

While undergoing treatment for colon cancer, Singh said he plans to keep working. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of MLA work has shifted to virtual meetings – and that’s something he’ll stick with in the coming months.

“My immune system is going to be more compromised at this point,” he explained. “Not only COVID, but even a flu could really put me down. For the next six months or so, I won’t really be doing any personal meetings. But I have phenomenal staff; I have two staff that go above and beyond. I meet with people on Zoom as much as I can.”

Singh sings the praises of the medical professionals who are supporting him through his cancer journey, including the doctors, nurses and technicians.

“Were it not for them, I think it would a lot harder for a lot of people,” he said.  "I think that’s the common thread with everybody that goes there. The staff and the people that take care of you; we are so privileged to live here.”

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, survival varies with each stage of colorectal cancer. Generally, the earlier colorectal cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome.

“Right away, I was paired with a surgical oncologist, who was phenomenal, who did his best to give me as much information as he could and put my mind at ease,” Singh said. “It’s a really fairly common form of cancer and it’s treatable. That really helped. Information really helps.”

Singh is the third person in his immediate family to be diagnosed with cancer.

“My mom passed away from cancer in 2018. She had breast cancer way back in the 90s and then it came back and metastasized into her bones. My father has had prostate cancer. He had a successful surgery at VGH and he is fine. That was many years ago,” he said. “In our nuclear family there is my parents, my brother and me, so three out of four have had cancer, and I think there are a lot of families like that out there.”

Fighting stigma

The colon and the rectum are parts of the large intestine, which is part of the digestive system, states the Canadian Cancer Society.

Colon screening and colon cancer are topics people may be reluctant to talk about, and Singh hopes that speaking about his personal situation may help others.

“It is one of those things where you are dealing with a bodily part that people are taboo to talk about,” he said. “Also, with the surgery, one of the things that will happen is I will have a stoma bag for a little while. They will cut the colon off and then they will reattach it and redirect where the stool goes for the time being, because you want it to heal. It’s most likely a temporary measure. That’s a caution they give you – they don’t know.”

Singh is no stranger to talking about sensitive topics, having been open about his alcoholism and recovery. After years of drinking and three solid years of actively trying to get sober, he took his last drink in August 2010.

“What helped me was hearing other people’s stories,” he said. “If I can talk about this and it helps someone overcome that, then I have done some good.”

Singh said his alcoholism journey, which includes attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, is helping him through his cancer journey.

“This is hard. Cancer is hard. Chemotherapy is hard, but nothing like fighting alcoholism. That is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life; the hardest thing I will ever do in my life,” Singh said. “You drink against your own will. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they use the terms baffling, cunning – it’s a very baffling and cunning enemy in many ways. It’s a disease of deception. It slowly breaks away at you.”

Where cancer is recognized as a disease and garners support from others, Singh said that’s often not the case with addiction.

“It’s a much worse disease than cancer in many ways, and it’s deadly as well,” he said. “And it really is a disease. You have no control over it. It is not an ethical failing or a moral failing which is one of the hard parts because society tells you it is, and that stops you from recovering.”

Singh said he still encounters the “internal dialogues” related to his alcoholism, which is why he still attends AA meetings.

“With cancer, with diabetes or anything else you don’t have that internal dialogue,” he said. “It is not a moral or ethical failing.”

Singh said a key component of his recovery journey was to show others there was hope for recovery – and he’s looking to do the same with his latest battle.

“Hope is probably the biggest gift we have,” he said. “When I first started going to recovery meetings, AA meetings, that’s the first thing I glommed on to was hope because I could see that. I could see someone with a week of sobriety or a year, and I was like, ‘OK, there is hope here. People survive. That’s the same thing with cancer: people survive.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus