Of Colours, Comic and Cancer: Dr Heng Siew Ping, Chief Medical Physicist
05 March 2020
Cold, emotionless rooms. The astringent smell of disinfectant mixed with fear, anxiety and sadness. These are some of the common negative perceptions that most people have when they think about hospitals.
Behind the doors of Sunway Cancer Centre, a medical physicist is using her paintbrushes to gently brush away the fear of cancer, one stroke at a time, injecting a sense of calmness into the hearts of cancer patients.
In comparison with doctors, nurses and pharmacists, the medical physicist is not a widely known occupation. Essentially, medical physicists design treatment plans for cancer patients based on oncologists’ delineated tumour. Although these unsung heroes are generally not required to interact with patients, the door to Sunway Medical Centre’s chief medical physicist Dr Heng Siew Ping’s office suite is always opened, warmly welcoming patients to walk in for consultations.
An image of Dr Heng Siew Ping, taken from her Facebook account.
“I love to talk to patients and through our interaction, I found out that most patients do not have a good understanding of their diagnosis and the radiation therapy treatment planning,” Dr Heng Siew Ping explains. “It is not easy to understand medical terminology, which is why I decide to draw comic to help my patients better understand their cancer treatment.”
Dr Heng began her journey as a medical artist in the year of 2015. “Back then, a woman had expressed her concerns over the side effects of radiotherapy,” she recalls. “So I drew a comic about side effects for her. Her appreciation for my artwork inspired me to draw and upload more cancer-related comics onto my own social media accounts.”
Dr Heng’s comic on chemotherapy, taken from her blog.
Dr Heng finds the lack of public cancer awareness worrying. Many people are not aware of the effect that small details can play in the battle against cancer. “For instance, do you know that a patient is required to either get their tooth extracted or to get their cavities filled before undergoing radiation therapy?” she asks. Her dedication towards raising cancer awareness drives her to produce various cancer-related comic, and she gets an immense sense of accomplishment when she imparts her medical knowledge with the public.
Apart from helping cancer patients understand more about cancer, Dr Heng also draws to ease the patients’ fear and anxiety. “It is normal to be afraid of the unknown. Without a good understanding of cancer, it is only natural for people to associate radiation therapy with nothing but the negative side effects. However, it breaks my heart to see people give up on treatment because of baseless, irrational fear. I want people to understand that the advancement of technology has increased the survival rate, and I strive to bring hope through my artwork.” Patients who are equipped with the necessary medical knowledge are more willing to undergo treatment in a timely manner, thus increasing their survival rate.
Dr Heng’s drawing blocks are filled with colourful illustrations. She personalises human organs and cells, turning frightening cancer cells into adorable cartoon characters. “Most information about cancer that we can find online are written in English,” she explains. “That has prompted me to create my cancer comic in the Chinese language. I want to help people who are not proficient in English to grasp complex medical concepts. I create an easy-to-understand comic so senior citizens, children and people who are not well educated can learn more about cancer.”
Dr Heng has created a comic on symptoms of brain metastases in Chinese. Image is taken from her blog.
“These days, most people prefer not to read long articles,” Dr Heng adds. “With educational comic, people can gain medical knowledge quickly.”
As a medical physicist, Dr Heng is always busy working. She usually draws cancer comic during weekends. Due to the educational nature of her art, she is very meticulous in her creation. “Whenever I get an idea for a comic, I will start to research relevant information. After that, I will start to draft, sketch, and colour it. I will reserve some blank space for my art so I can add on the relevant caption with photo editing software upon completion. To ensure the accuracy of the content, I always get an oncologist to check my work before I either share my comic online or with the patients.” Usually, it takes at least two days to complete a comic.
Dr Heng’s comic on radiation therapy treatment process, taken from her blog.
During Dr Heng’s teenage days, there was a period of time when her mother was hospitalised. Her frequent contact with the medical staff back then had created a strong yearning for a career in the medical industry. After completing her STPM, she started to apply for medical radiation courses and was successfully admitted to the School of Medical Sciences, Health Campus, Universiti Sains Malaysia. To date, she had been working in radiotherapy for 15 years.
Dr Heng has drawn over 55 comics through the years and she has garnered much positive feedback for them. However, she admits that she has stumbled across a few obstacles on her artistic pursuit. “As a medical practitioner, I understand cancer so well that I sometimes struggle to see things from the patients’ point of view - I don’t know what are the concepts that they are unable to grasp, or what are the information that they need. I would like to hereby appeal to the public to share their medical concerns with me by reaching out to me via my social media platforms. Request from the public motivates and inspires me to keep drawing.“ She adds that she hopes to draw more educational comic and collaborate with various medical specialists to publish her own comic collection in future to enable more people to understand cancer.
Dr Heng’s comic on the side effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer, taken from her blog: http://medicalphysicist.blogspot.com/
As English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking once said, work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. It is apparent that Dr Heng is immensely passionate about her career and she is tremendously grateful for the opportunity to combine her career with her hobby. With comic, Dr Heng is showing the public that cancer does not have to mean the end of the world and encouraging the patients to be brave in fighting cancer at the same time.
Although cancer patients may view their world as black and white, this does not have to be the case. With paintbrushes, Dr Heng is building a bridge of rainbow, guiding the cancer patients into a warm and colourful world as they embark on a courageous journey to fight cancer.
Dr Heng’s Instagram: medicalphysicist7620
Dr Heng’s blog: http://medicalphysicist.blogspot.com/