Treating cancer patients can be an emotional roller coaster
She has to deal with rejections daily. She has been shouted at, been given the silent treatment and even been shoved away.
Despite that, she still has to put on a smile, be nice and be professional.
Ms Tong Shuk In, 27, a senior physiotherapist with National University Hospital, works with cancer patients to help them get back on their feet so that they can be as independent as possible.
She says the hardest part can be getting the patient on board with the treatment.
When patients refuse to cooperate, she has to find creative ways to engage them. Once, she made a patient walk to the 7-Eleven to satisfy his cravings for ice cream.
Says Ms Tong: "When people think of cancer, they think of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. They may think that it is logical for patients to just stay in bed to rest. But that's not true.
"They are supposed to get out of bed and walk around so they can become stronger."
Patients suffer from a lot of side effects during cancer treatment such as nausea, hair loss and severe fatigue, which may result in prolonged bed rest and a high chance of infection.
"They get weaker and weaker to the point where they don't even have the strength to stand up, eat or change clothes," says Ms Tong.
When patients are referred to her by the doctors, she will assess them to find out their problems and decide on the type of rehabilitation needed.
She says: "It is like training patients for a marathon. Because they are so tired, I have to train their stamina, ease their discomfort and teach them how to overcome that.
"The initial part is the hardest. When the patient is willing to engage, that's only half the battle won. They still have to do the exercises themselves."
Working with cancer patients can be an emotional roller coaster.
Ms Tong, who has been at the job for five years, remembers when she was only several months into her job as a fresh graduate.
She confesses she was traumatised when her first patient died.
"I felt so sad because I had spent hours with him and had seen his family members every day. I started crying and had to get out of the ward," she says.
"I called my colleague. She dropped everything she was doing and listened to me. After a while, I regained my composure and got back to work."
She also struggles sometimes when she works with patients with very little time left - six months to a year - to live.
It breaks her heart when some patients are very motivated, yet their cancer prognosis takes a turn for the worse.
But the job is not all doom and gloom.
She recalls an inspirational story of a leukaemia patient in his early 30s, who went from being bedridden to being able to play basketball in a matter of months.
She says: "He was physically debilitated and had stayed for months in the hospital due to many complications. He was so weak that he couldn't get out of bed. He couldn't even change his pants by himself. He was confined to his bed and was always angry."
The patient was so bitter, he was ready to give up, she says.
But in about two to three months, he was able to walk on his own.
She says: "When he first walked out of his room, his dad was there and they became emotional.
"I was touched. I was able to witness how he literally got back on his feet despite all the setbacks. When I face challenges in life, I look back on this story and tell it to my patients to encourage them."
As she deals with patients from all walks of life, she gets lots of tips from them - something she sees as a perk of the job.
One patient, who is a tour guide, shared travel tips; another shared cooking tips and secret recipes; while an elderly patient told her stories about life during the Japanese Occupation.
She says: "I enjoy it. All these make my job interesting."
She feels a sense of satisfaction knowing she can help patients.
"When patients get better, they will say thank you to us but I think the (ones) who worked the hardest are the patients themselves," she says.
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
1 Make deals with less motivated patients. For example, buy them their favourite food if they agree to exercise or schedule a therapy session such that it can end in time for the patient to catch his favourite television programme.
2 Stay fit and get in shape, as you are on your feet most of the time and you have to lend your strength to your patients during rehabilitation.
3 Pick up mother tongue languages. It will help you build a better rapport with your patients and work more effectively.