issue Vol. I No. 1 Saturday 26 October - 1 November 2002
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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Family Money

Personal Directions

The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Recipes from Rattana

Battling the Crab By Leslie Wright

A mother’s worst nightmare Part 1

Family Money: Interlinked Hedge Funds

By Leslie Wright,
Managing director of Westminster Portfolio Services (Thailand) Ltd.

Last week we compared single-manager hedge funds and multi-manager hedge funds. Should you invest in them? Some experts are predicting major problems in the hedge funds sector very soon.

Rubbish, you say. Hedge funds thrive on stock market uncertainty, because it gives them more scope for profitable arbitrage trades, which is what hedge funds do best - although it’s not the only thing they do.

Essentially, arbitrage consists of utilising huge amounts of money to make tiny profits when an item (be it a stock or currency or commodity) is listed at slightly different prices in different markets, by buying at the lower price and selling on again at the higher price.

Alternatively, they buy options at one price while short-selling the underlying securities. What could be safer and more respectable than that?

But hedge funds are only safe as long as their managers stick to their own rules and don’t misjudge the risks. They’re supposed to balance every trade with an equal and almost opposite play that ensures that, if anything goes wrong with their main move, the countermoves will kick in and save their funds. (That’s why they’re called hedge funds.)

But if a manager ever decides to go out on a limb in pursuit of an unsecured position, then you probably won’t hear about it until something goes wrong.

For instance, when the US hedge fund Long Term Capital Management crashed in the autumn of 1998 after betting wrong on Russia, the first we knew about it was when the papers gleefully reported that LTCM had surreptitiously geared its exposure by up to 30 times without properly counterbalancing its bets. This one hedge fund was calculated to have amassed a potential liability of over $200 billion - which was not only equivalent to $700 for every US citizen, but also the equivalent of six months’ US trade deficit. In the end, it cost the US Federal Reserve some $2.5 billion to forestall what otherwise would have developed into a nationwide banking crisis.

If that was what one rogue hedge fund could achieve, how much damage could a hundred wrong-guessing LTCMs do?

It is worth noting that there are now about 6,000 hedge funds trading internationally, compared with just 900 in 1995, and handling an estimated $6 trillion - or $1,000 for every person on the planet. Most of these funds are aimed at “sophisticated” high-net-worth investors, typically requiring a minimum investment in excess of $100,000 - and in some case much more.

Why are you unlikely to hear about the bad news before it breaks over your head? Well, a major reason why a hedge fund manager will so often beat the market is that he demands complete discretion over what he does with your money from day to day. One day he might invest in German blue chips, the next day in coffee futures, and the day after in Japanese small cap equities. This gadfly approach, combined with the inherent secrecy that prevails in any offshore financial centre, is enough to ensure that transparency hardly exists among hedge funds.

But before we get paranoid, certain safeguards do exist whereby those hedge funds that operate within main-market national centres (London, Dublin, Luxembourg, New York) have agreed to become more transparent, thereby enhancing their image and attractiveness, and are subject to the local investment authorities’ regulations, which have become much stricter in recent years.

The Disaster Scenario

So what would it take to precipitate a major hedge find crisis? Actually, not much at all.

First, we need to understand that a large proportion of the world’s hedge fund holdings are currently being bought by other hedge funds, which collectively repackage and unitise them into funds-of-funds that they can sell on to pension funds. These funds-of-funds are intended to spread their investors’ risks more widely than could be achieved by following just one hedge fund manager at a time - but alas, they also have the unfortunate side-effect of turning the hedge fund managers themselves into the arbiters of each other’s performance and reliability. This is not a healthy development.

Second, we need to acknowledge that a lot of hedge fund managers are worried about their performance bonuses. A typical hedge fund manager earns his income by taking a substantial cut from the money he makes for his investors - as much as 25% of the overall winnings in an average year. And the main reason you never hear about this is because it’s deducted as a running cost from the fund’s results. That arrangement’s fine while the manager’s making money, but when things start looking dicey for future profits, some unscrupulous managers may be tempted to implement what might be called ‘Plan B’.

‘Plan B’ entails shorting one of their fellows’ hedge funds, deliberately driving it down, to make a profit from its temporary discomfort. This time though they wouldn’t be playing with just their investors’ money; instead, they’d be trading in their own right with their own money. Once the profits had been made, the victimised fund’s price could be allowed to rise again by transferring the negative rumours to the next fund down the line.

‘Plan B’ would be illegal as well as immoral. Most hedge fund managers are paid exorbitant fees by their employers on the clear understanding that they don’t invest on their own accounts - or at least are required to keep such dealings absolutely clear and open to scrutiny. But the part about managers ganging up on each other to drive down prices has been industry gossip for many months.

How bad would things have to get before the lure of easy money over-rode somebody’s scruples and induced them to run things on their own account instead of their company’s? Not much worse, probably. And how well would the financial world take it if half a trillion dollars’ worth of hedge fund holdings went AWOL without warning? Would there be a measured and centralised response, as with LTCM, or would we see panic-stricken investors dumping their hedge fund holdings in sheer terror at the extent to which these secretive funds are interlinked? The mere thought sends a shiver down the spine.


Personal Directions: Living to learn … learning to live!

By Christina Dodd,
founder and managing director of Incorp Trining Associates

Recently I was with some friends having a meal and various subjects of discussion came up including what’s on everyone’s mind today – the current state of the world! Whilst we all sat around giving our different views and airing our personal concerns, someone piped up and said, “After all we’ve been through, it seems like we haven’t learnt a thing!” It prompted me to think more about the emphasis we place in our society on learning, and that whilst we recognize the need to learn, by our own actions we seem to totally disregard its importance.

Learning is an integral part of our existence, and so too is learning from our mistakes.

“If the past cannot teach the present and the father cannot teach the son, then history need not have bothered to go on, and the world has wasted a great deal of time.” – Russell Hoban

In many societies there are people who still think that learning happens only at school or college or university. A certain amount of learning takes place there most certainly, but it doesn’t begin there nor does it stop there. And one of the most common mistakes we make as adults is that we think we have learnt it all! After all, we are adults. We have our education and our degree. We don’t need to learn anymore. We have a job and earn a salary. We don’t acknowledge the fact or perhaps we forget the fact that learning is a continuous process that goes on every minute of every day - for the rest of our lives.

For those who do recognize this fact - life holds no boundaries! Life is a celebration!

I remember about five years ago meeting a marvellous man who at the age of sixty three had just completed his doctorate in philosophy and was just about to take on other studies. He found the computer and the internet at a late stage in life and was completely blown away by it. He had retired when he was fifty-five but didn’t want to stop there – he felt he might drop down dead if he didn’t stay awake, alert and continuously seek to learn and to broaden his knowledge. He said that he had a new lease on life and indeed an exciting and fulfilling life purely because of his desire to learn.

Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

Learning broadens our minds and our lives. It is what gives us a positive outlook on life and in a way helps drive our ambitions forward. It is our food and our sustenance and is what keeps us alive. The minute we close our eyes to learning then we develop what is called tunnel vision and our views, ideas and perceptions become narrower and narrower.

In the work that I do I come across all sorts of people from all walks of life and it is interesting to note how they react to learning and to learning new techniques, new ways of doing things that they had been doing for years. Some jump at it with an open mind ready to grasp onto knowledge and information in an instant. Some sit back, with arms folded across their chests and frowns upon their faces, throwing up all sorts of excuses as to why they have to learn something they already know and for which they have a certificate or years of experience in doing. And there are those who are totally convinced that learning is the domain of the young and as twenty-five, thirty and forty year-olds, they are passed it – over the hill!

Learning is a part of life. We learn to live life. We learn to be able to take on new tasks, new skills, to improve our lives. We learn in order that we may do things in a better way and to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

In the workplace it is important to give people a greater understanding of the opportunities that can come with learning and to learning from past mistakes. When I held a program on customer relations for a client recently, it became clear to me that most of the participants in the program thought that once a customer complaint had been handled correctly and “fixed” - that the problem was solved and that it was over. I explained to them that it is all very well to be able to rectify a complaint, but in doing so and after the whole experience of the complaint they have to ask themselves the question - did they learn anything from this? What has this taught them so that they can prevent a similar situation arising? How has this helped them to do their job better?

“Learning without thought is labour lost” – Confucius

The learning process here has to take into account a certain follow-up to it. It’s not just a matter of asking if everyone understands the problem and is satisfied as to how to handle it. Most people in a group situation will automatically say yes and that’s that, waiting for the next item on the program. They may well understand and be satisfied, but it pays to go a few steps further and to ask them to explain what it is that they learned from this episode. Get to the heart of the matter, get them thinking about it to ensure that each individual grasps the entirety of what is being discussed in order to gain true and lasting benefit.

I remember when I was growing up my father would ask me when I came home from school at the end of the day, “What did you learn today?” I could never get away with a quick and simple answer. Not that it was a trick question or that my Dad commanded lengthy explanations of the day’s activities. He was genuinely interested in what the day had given me in terms of knowledge and information and what experiences I had had and whether they had taught me anything. I was always happy to have these conversations and from them I suppose I gained a deeper insight into the value of learning and being open to it from a very young age. My father, having put himself through school in the 1920s, studying for hours every night over a kerosene lamp, has never lost - even in his eightieth year - his thirst for knowledge and desire to learn.

When I was growing up school was all about reading books, using slope-cards and ink-wells at school. Log tables were used as there were no calculators and indeed, a slide rule was all the fashion. When I first began work the computer was the machinery housed on the three upper floors of the building where people wearing special coloured jackets would only be allowed to enter. These days we seem to have every resource at our fingertips in order to learn and to improve our knowledge. The amount of information that is so readily available to us through the world wide web and through technology is phenomenal and there is literally no excuse for not reaching out and seizing this tremendous opportunity to learn.

In the words of Alvin Toffler,

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Have a great week!

Christina can be contacted by email at [email protected] incorptraining.com or directly at Incorp Training Associates in Bangkok at Tel (0) 2652 1867-8 Fax (0) 2652 1870. Programs and services can be found at www.incorptraining.com


The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness: Economy Class Syndrome

As ex-pats, we do tend to spend a greater number of hours cramped up in aeroplanes than the average person from our home countries. What with visa runs and trips to other SE Asian countries for business and trips back home to see the folks each year, we seem to be always listening to the hostess telling us what to do when the plane ditches in the water and we can pull the tag firmly, be inflated and float away to safety with our light blinking while blowing on our whistle. If it were only that simple!

However, even if the plane makes it safely to the destination, you may still suffer, especially if you are an avid reader of the popular pulp press from home. A new bogeyman awaits us, called the “Economy Class Syndrome”.

The scenario is simple - after hours of being cramped in-flight you succumb to a clot in the veins of your legs and suffer a Deep Vein Thrombosis, which we medico’s call a DVT. This condition can wind up producing all sorts of problems, including emboli (clots) in the lungs and other wondrous conditions.

In theory, sitting twisted in the minimal “economy class” seats can predispose to the formation of these blood clots, and tales of people having one after a plane flight are eagerly snapped up by the press. What the press doesn’t tell you is that many, many people get DVT’s who have never stepped into a plane in their lives.

In fact, the highly esteemed medical publication “The Lancet” published a study to show that they were unable to show an increased risk amongst plane travellers, and especially those in “el cheapo” seats. Actually, heavy smoking is a much greater prognosticator of the risk, but the newspapers are not so keen on calling it, “The packet of Ciggies Syndrome.” Funny that.

So what can you do to minimise any risk when flying? The secret to health in the air is purely to maintain good circulation and avoid dehydration. However, that is not quite as easy to do in practice as you would imagine.

To maintain circulation to the lower legs you should get up and walk around the plane once every hour. Simple - but it does mean you have to clamber over a couple of people to get to the aisle if you hadn’t requested the aisle seat. Rule 1 - always ask for an aisle seat, or the seat in front of the door where there is nobody in front of you.

Dehydration is easy to fix - drink more water, but it is another difficult thing to do on planes. The ambient cabin humidity is much less than you experience on the ground, so you are more likely to dry out, and then there is the alcohol part of the equation - the copious amounts of booze don’t rehydrate you - they dehydrate you! Believe me.

That’s it in a nutshell. Water and exercise fixes the Economy Class Syndrome. Of course, you could always fly first class instead I suppose!

However, if you do notice a pain in the calf of your leg, worse when you pull your foot up, then do go to the Emergency Centre. Some timely medications could actually save you much pain - and even your life!


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,

Can you help our 22-year-old son? He is planning on coming over to Thailand at the end of the year to visit his father and me and I am worried that it will not be good for him to be at a loose end too long. He is a quiet boy and keeps to himself a lot, and that is why I was so pleased when he said he would come over after Thanksgiving. My worry comes from the fact that a friend of his stayed over with us a couple of months ago, and while he used to be a reserved Baptist boy too, when he came here he changed. Some nights he did not even come home and other days we could smell alcohol in his room the next morning. He would not tell my husband or myself where he had been, but I have my suspicions, as I am sure you would too, Hillary. Our son will have spoken to this other boy. What should I do about all this?

Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom,

The first thing you have to change is not your baby boy’s nappy, but your attitude. How old is this lad? Since he is old enough to travel on his own, he is old enough to go out at night on his own. It is time to untie the apron strings and let him run free, or you will never be a grandmother. On second thoughts, you are making such a performance out of this one that I shudder to think what you would do with a grandson! Keep the boy at home to watch TV with you. You could also teach him knitting while he is here. It is a very good way of keeping idle hands busy, as you know what mischief idle hands can get up to!

Dear Hillary,

Last year my firm in New York challenged another firm who were all from Thailand to a boat race. The Thai team beat us by a mile. We where very discouraged by the loss. Morale sagged. So management decided that there was a reason for this defeat and hired a consultant firm to investigate the problem and recommend corrective action. The consultant found that the Thai team had eight people rowing and one person steering. We had one person rowing and eight people steering. The analysis cost a lot of money and the conclusion was that too many people steering and not enough where rowing. This year we completely changed our management structure. The “new” structure: four steering managers, three area steering managers and a new performance review system for the person rowing the boat to provide work incentive. This year we lost to Thailand by 2 miles. So, we have laid-off the rower for poor performance and have given all the managers a bonus for discovering the problem.

Ron Fleitman, New York City

Dear Ron,

Are you asking me what to do about this? If it weren’t so true it could be funny (even though I’ve read it before), Ron. Perhaps you should paddle your own canoe?

Dear Hillary,

My new boyfriend has a moustache and every time he kisses me it leaves a rash on my face. I like the look of the mo, but I don’t like the look of the mo rash on me. This is the first time I’ve had this problem. Any suggestions, Hillary?

Noi

Dear Noi,

No problems at all, my Petal. There’s always a first time for everything, but is this the first time a moustache has given you a problem, or the first time you’ve had a boyfriend with grass on the upper lip? Never mind, this is a simple problem for Hillary. All you have to do is to wear a ski mask or balaclava to bed. The other option is to shake hands.

Dear Hillary,

Do you find this continental social habit of kissing everyone three times on the cheeks a turn-off? I think that social kissing is really disgusting. People are just making an excuse to slobber all over you. It is not needed and is unhygienic! How can I avoid it?

Kissin’ cuzzin

Dear Kissin’ cuzzin,

I think you should immediately ring Noi and see if the two of you can get a good deal on a bulk order of balaclavas. Are you kidding me? All you have to do with this social custom is to grab the other person first and make kissy-kissy noises beside their ear, while muttering, “Don’t get too close to me, I’ve got a social disease.” They will leave you alone after that.

Dear Hillary,

I bought some cheap Polo shirts size XL (I am a Farang) at the sidewalk market. When I tried them on at home, three fitted and one was too small. The labels all said XL, can I take the small one back and complain?

Ralph Lauren.

Dear Ralph,

“Copy” shirts have “copy” labels. That’s the price you pay for getting a cheap shirt with a man on a horse on the pocket. Give the small one away at Xmas, and stop moaning. They’re still cheaper than you would pay in your own country.


Camera Class: Photography School is in!

by Snapshot

Everyone has a camera, good ones, old ones, professional ones or plastic point and shooters. Surprisingly, they can all produce photographs, and very often there is little difference between the final results.

This photography column in the Chiangmai Mail is designed to assist amateurs, or anyone with an interest in photography, to improve their skills and take photographs that they will be proud to show to friends or to display in their homes. Modern films and cameras have made life a little easier, but the final print does require you, the photographer, to “see” what it is you want to produce on film. This is where this column can help you.

Written by Harry Flashman, a professional commercial photographer, the columns are written in plain English and will cover all aspects of photography. Since Harry here believes that is important that we should all know “where we came from” the first column deals with a little history. I do hope you enjoy these features.

France wins the World’s First

Now, for all of you who think that somehow a soccer story got onto the wrong page, this is no football yarn at all. Did you know that the French were the first to bring photography to the world? And no, it wasn’t Monsieur Fred Kodak either (but more about that later)!

Photography is not a recent invention; in fact the first known “photographic” image was recorded in 1826 by a French gentleman called Nicephore Niepce. He managed to capture the view from his window, producing the image on a bitumen covered pewter plate. The exposure time for this epic making picture (or should that be “epoch” making?) was a record breaking 8 hours! What poor old Nicephore took 8 hours to produce, you can do in 1/125th of a second. (My how time flies!)

Nic then teamed up with another of his French mates, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (1759 - 1851) and the pair of them worked on trying to make “photography” a little bit easier. Nicephore expired in 1833, turning up at the pearly gates with his pewter plates under his arm, but Daguerre continued.

By 1839 he had managed to produce images on highly polished silvered copper plates and released the details in August of that year, after obtaining a lifetime pension for himself from the French government. Daguerre was no dunce!

Now while these images were much better than Nic’s originals, they still took forever and a day in the camera. Exposure times were far too long to make portraiture a reality. “Just hold zat pose for six hours, Madame!”

However, while the French were exposing themselves and their plates to the sun, an Englishman by the name of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 - 1877) was experimenting exposing silver impregnated paper and produced a “negative”. By then exposing his sensitized paper to the negative he had made previously, he managed to produce positive copies.

Fox Talbot did nothing about his new process until he heard the kerfuffle from France about Louis Daguerre’s “invention”. Quickly he rushed into print in 1839 with details of his process. This was the start of modern photography.

Exposure times were still an hour or so, but in 1840 the simple photographic lens was improved by Josef Petzval allowing 16 times more light into the camera and exposure times dropped to around 4 to 5 minutes. Portraiture had arrived!

For the next four decades photographers spent their time refining the “negative” process; however, it took an American to bring photography within the reach of the masses. His name was George Eastman (1854 - 1932) and he was an inventor and an industrialist.

George had the vision, and the financial clout. By 1888 he introduced the small box camera with 100 exposure roll film inside. And what did he call it? After many months of deliberation the marketing gurus told George Eastman that a good catchy name should have K’s in it. And so “Kodak” was born. We all owe George a debt of gratitude.


Recipes from Rattana: Tomato soup with pasta

It is coming on for winter, though you need to be in Chiang Mai to really feel the cold! This is a hearty vegetarian soup, which is also a very healthy item to serve up for the family. You can make it the day before and keep in the fridge, but it is not suitable for freezing. You can also use a chicken stock cube if strictly vegetarian is not important.

Ingredients Serves 4

Pasta (wholemeal) 100 gm

Tomatoes, chopped 500 gm

Garlic, crushed 2 cloves

Butter 20 gm

Vegetable stock cube 1 large

Tomato paste 2 tbspns

Basil chopped fresh 1 tbspn

Onion chopped 1 medium

Water 2 cups

Cooking Method

Put pasta into a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 10 minutes, drain and set aside.

In a large pan melt the butter and add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes until the onion is transparent. Now add the water, stock cube, tomatoes, tomato paste and basil. Bring to the boil then reduce heat to simmer, covered for about 20 minutes.

Put tomato mixture through a blender until it is smooth, then add the pasta and serve.


Battling the Crab By Leslie Wright: Part 1 of a 6-part series about fighting cancer

A Death Sentence

“You have less than two years to live.” Imagine for a moment how you might react upon hearing those words. Quite literally a death sentence. But that was the pronouncement of the professor of thoracic medicine sitting across from me last November, telling me I had terminal and inoperable lung cancer.

If you are battling cancer yourself, or have a close friend or relative with cancer, I hope that these insights of my own experience with The Crab will help you have a greater understanding of what we go through, and how those around us can be supportive, helpful, and understanding.

People still shrink from the terrible word cancer, even if they themselves have not been diagnosed with this dread disease. But I have, so I know something of what one goes through. The overwhelming initial shock of being told you have cancer. That you have only a limited time left to live. That you have to get your affairs in order. That you won’t have the time or the chance to do so many of the things you had hoped and dreamed of doing...

Some people faint at the news; some burst into tears; some try stoically to hide their shock. Some simply refuse to believe it. But it is always, nonetheless, a terrible shock.

Doctors now have a much better understanding of what cancer is and what causes it. As a result of the development of new drugs and better early diagnostic methods, many forms of cancer can now be cured which just twenty or thirty years ago were almost certainly a sentence of death. There is even a radical new treatment for leukaemia, which just a few years ago was regarded as one of the worst cancers and a sure killer.

Mammograms have become routine in the early diagnosis of breast cancer, and new treatments have been developed for this common and much-feared disease which in many cases no longer require the radical and disfiguring surgery that was common practice 20 years ago.

Hysterectomies - although radical surgery - have for many years been effective standard procedure to prevent the metastasis of uterine cancers to other vital organs, if detected early enough, resulting in patients being able to live a long and normal life (other than being unable to have more children).

About 50% of men over the age of 45 develop prostate cancer. Yes, 50%! But what used almost always to require horrible and disfiguring surgery once detected can now be diagnosed much earlier by a simple blood test; and various non-invasive treatments are available which have a high success rate. I wonder how many Pattaya-resident men over the age of 45 bother to have the simple annual blood test? It could save your life!

What is Cancer?

Cancer is simply the Latin word for crab. If your birthday falls between June 22nd and July 23rd you are born under the sign of Cancer, the Crab. But that does not give you a predisposition to develop the disease of the same name!

Cancers are not infectious nor contagious, so you needn’t worry that you will catch the disease by coming into contact with someone afflicted by it.

Although there are many different types of cancer, they are all basically cells which have started multiplying out of control. All cells in our bodies are regularly replaced, and the old cells normally die and are absorbed back into the body. Cancer cells behave abnormally: they multiply rapidly and go on multiplying, as if the ‘off’ switch were stuck.

But this out-of-control growth doesn’t just happen: something has to trigger it. Cancer, we now know, is not a single disease with a single cause or cure, but a flock of diseases that are somehow triggered either by our own bad habits - smoking and diet to name but two - or by carcinogens in the atmosphere or our buildings (e.g., asbestos in older buildings or less strictly-regulated countries), or in some instances, are linked to our genes.

For instance, one cancer which is rare outside Asia - nasopharyngeal cancer - has an inordinately high occurrence amongst people of Cantonese origin; and the trigger is strongly suspected to be an ingredient in dried fish, which is a popular item in their diet. In this case, it seems that the trigger is a combination of diet and genetic predisposition. If detected early, this type of cancer can be successfully removed surgically, but if left to develop, it is generally fatal.

Certain types of brain tumours have also been linked to heredity; and those cancers that afflict women (but not men) also have a hereditary link.

So if there’s a family history of cancer, you stand a statistically greater chance of developing it. Of course you can play ostrich and say it will never happen to you, or say you prefer not to know, and never have the diagnostic tests.

But nowadays these tests are much simpler than they used to be, and are so important to early detection - which is vital to catching the tumour in the early stages, before it has had a chance to spread to other organs and gain an unbreakable hold on your body.

As medical science conquers diseases that used to cull the population, so more people are succumbing to one or another form of cancer. The good news is that new drugs are being developed all the time, and scientists are achieving a better fundamental understanding of how the various types of cancer function, and thus how they can potentially be defeated.

A personal view

But what about my particular case - what did I go through? What options did I explore? What were the effects of the prescribed treatments? How was my life affected?

As I said at the start, in November 2001 I was diagnosed with mixed small-cell and large-cell carcinoma - inoperable lung cancer - and given less than two years to live. But I am one of the very fortunate 5% who go into clinical remission, so I have been given more time than was originally estimated.

Statistically, though, my chances are still not good: 50% of carcinoma patients die within the first 12 months, and 85% within 5 years of diagnosis. Small-cell carcinoma is a particularly insidious disease: it lurks and hides and comes back when least expected, sometimes after years of being in remission.

So being “in remission” does not mean “cured”. Many types of cancer metastasise (i.e., travel to other organs and flare up there), and some - like mine - hide away for a while and then come back again. And usually with a vengeance: the secondary tumours often develop faster than the first time round, and are resistant to first-line therapies - radiation and chemotherapy.

On the bright side, however, I have a client who was diagnosed with the same disease and given 6 months to live - but that was 10 years ago, and he is a hale & hearty US college professor who has as much drive and energy as many men half his age. The insights he has shared with me of his own experiences battling The Crab have been of inestimable help in getting through my own dark days, and his frequent messages of support have boosted my morale tremendously and fortified my will to win the fight over this insidious tumour. Indeed, his inspiration together with the many messages of support and encouragement I received from friends, clients, and even complete strangers, are the main reasons for my writing this series of articles, which I hope will be of some small help in understanding, or coming to terms with, or boosting your spirits, if you or a loved one, relative, or friend has cancer.

(To be continued next week)


A mother’s worst nightmare Part 1

Do we ever appreciate what we have in life? I spent this August moaning and complaining because I felt my life was not as fulfilling as I would like it to be, but why? I have a lovely family, good job nice home and live in a sunny tropical climate what more could you wish for? I even said to a friend, “Oh I don’t know what I want, I’ll let destiny decide for me.”

September arrived and destiny taught me a lesson I shall never forget. It started with a phone call at 3 a.m. on the first Sunday of the month. It was my mother, I believe her words were “I’m sorry darling I have to tell you that Emma (the oldest of my four daughters) has been in a car accident, she’s on a life support machine in ICU”. I found myself breathless, I could hear my mother rambling on giving words of comfort but I felt suspended in time. I just said, “I can’t talk now,” and put the phone down. As I sat there trying to absorb this news from 6000 miles away, I thought it can’t be true - this happens to other people, it doesn’t happen to me.

From left: Amy, Katie, Emma and Lucy.

I sat in this strange dazed state until 8 a.m. when I was able to contact my brother, who was fortunately in Bangkok and able to arrange a flight ticket with Thai airways. It was not easy at such short notice and I ended up on stand by. They were fully informed of the life and death situation and my urgent need to get on a plane that day. I threw an assortment of items in a bag (I was later to wish I had taken more care with what I put in the bag) and left for Bangkok, where I sat with my brother until 9 p.m. when I could go to the airport. We paced the airport trying to get a seat on the plane for 5 hours explaining to the Thai airways staff how critical it was for me to get to my daughter’s bedside, but all to no avail. The usual indifferent Thai smile was all that we received.

I waited in the queue of people on standby until 12.30 a.m. I can’t even begin to explain what it’s like to hold your breath for so long, waiting to here your name called. They left me until last after giving 7 people seats in front of me. It was a journey I never want to repeat; the miles seemed endless as I desperately yearned to be by my daughter’s bedside, not knowing if she was dead or alive.

When I arrived at London Heathrow a friend was there to meet me. She told me that Emma had not regained consciousness and was on a life support machine. I still had another endless 4-hour journey before I reached the hospital.

Emma, my oldest daughter, has always been beautiful, attracting attention wherever she goes. She is an unflappable young lady who efficiently manages her business and family almost as an afterthought. As we sat in ICU someone laughed and said, “Emma could be reading her magazine and a bomb would go off next to her and she’d calmly look up and say, “Did you hear a noise?”

When I arrived at the hospital I went straight to ICU, I could tell by looking everyone’s face that it was not good. I braced myself and said that I wanted to go and see her by myself. As I walked what seemed miles towards the bed I found myself mesmerized by all the wires and tubes attaching my child to an assortment of high technology equipment as she lay in the bed like a beautiful broken doll.

(Continued next week...)



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