I felt a lump in my left breast during one of the casual self-check moments. Although I did not think too much about it, I decided to be prudent and have it checked at a hospital.
Post-biopsy, I was utterly shocked when the doctor told me, “I am sorry, it’s not good news. The breast lump is malignant and confirmed to be cancer.” I was immediately referred to an oncologist for further consultation.
When I walked to the reception area filled with so many frail-looking patients, some of whom were bald, I couldn’t help but feel that I didn’t belong there. Feeling fit and healthy overall, I thought to myself, “I can’t be having cancer, right? They must have made a mistake!” It was an initial response of denial and disbelief.
The oncologist confirmed the diagnosis and advised me to consult a breast specialist. She recommended a lumpectomy and we agreed that the sooner it was done, the better. Without any hesitation, I checked into the hospital for the surgery to take place the very next day.
I was finally discharged in time for me to celebrate my birthday. It certainly was one of the most memorable birthday parties ever, as I was surrounded by loved ones and I felt “reborn”. I was determined to be in high spirits and to value each day of my life. I knew then that the next phase of medical treatment would be the most challenging journey I would have to undertake.
Subsequently, there were numerous visits to different oncologists to determine the best possible medical treatment I should pursue. I received conflicting opinions on the number of chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions required. Feeling confused and terrified, I decided to take a break in decision-making and proceeded with an earlier planned vacation with my family.
In order to arrive at a final conclusion, I visited a renowned lady oncologist in Singapore for a final consultation. I went with a muddled mind but left with a firm decision made to pursue the recommended medical treatment.
She gave me the courage to face this difficult journey head-on when she said, ”Think of your children. They are still young and need their mother around. You owe it to yourself and them to give yourself the very best chance of survival.” This motivated me to pursue the next medical steps without any further delay.
On reflection, I went through the chemo sessions with optimism and a will to battle cancer although I felt nervous and fearful at the same time.
The side effects were quite unbearable during the initial sessions – nausea, loss of appetite, constipation, fatigue and rashes all over my body. I have never been on such a debilitating journey before in my life!
I braved myself to undergo each chemo session by telling myself that the treatment is to help me battle the cancer. It was my ally and I should not fear it.
After the first session, I decided to have my hair shaved before the effects of chemotherapy made me bald. This was the strong-willed part of me: to decide the fate of my hair.
One of my sisters called me as I was on the way to the hairdresser, thinking I would be upset with what I had to do. I assured her, all’s good. I was ready to go bald by then.
Following the chemotherapy sessions, I pursued over 20 sessions of radiotherapy. The treatment was quick and painless but after several times, the tender skin on my shoulders began to “burn” and peel. Each time I headed for the shower, I would brace myself for the “sting” to come!
Finally, with the medical treatment over, my hair began to grow back, slowly but surely. It was then that the saying “no more bad hair days” stuck with me! You really never know what you truly appreciate until you don’t have it anymore.
Hurray! With the medical treatment completed, I threw a celebration party with my family. Dress code: What else but pink!
On reflection, I am proud of myself for the courage, determination and optimism shown in battling this biggest challenge of my life. I definitely had my moments of fear, sadness and anger. But I kept telling myself, “I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me.” Adopting a positive frame of mind, I chose to believe that everything happens for a good reason. I tell myself this challenging episode of my life is behind me and is over for good. I choose to move forward and embrace my life positively, with gratitude.
I absolutely couldn’t have gone through this challenging phase of my life without the love and care of my family and friends. I am here today, stronger than ever, because of their support and encouragement. Not forgetting my nephew who courageously and selflessly shaved his head bald as an encouragement to me. As the saying goes, “When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too.”
If you are facing this biggest challenge in your life too, remember that cancer is an ugly disease, but the beauty of life after cancer is worth fighting for. Never underestimate yourself.
You can gain strength, courage and confidence with every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the very thing which you think you cannot do. Always remember, your illness does not define you but your strength and courage does.
I am planning to celebrate the 10th anniversary of being cancer-free soon. May the rest of my life be the best of my life!