A carefree woman who takes things in her stride with her happy-go-lucky outlook, Nelleisa Omar, 35, didn’t expect her life to suddenly come to a standstill.
But in May 2016, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
“I knew that I had a lump in my body but I didn’t know it was cancerous. One day, when I was running, I felt this shooting pain and I really couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the doctor and got myself checked, despite putting it off for over a year.”
Nelleisa, or Nell for short, admitted that she was scared of what she would find out.
“That was the case for me. I think I finally went for the check up because the pain was something I could no longer take. And my suspicions were confirmed,” she said. “I had cancer.”
When the devastating news broke, she was served another whammy. What she thought was a 3cm growth turned out to be 8cm instead.
“I had tremendous support from my family and friends. They would read up on articles and advise me on what I should do and not do.”
“In a way, I appreciated their help but it came to a point where I felt that they were imposing and telling me how I should live. That was not what I wanted.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s a personal battle and you are entitled to make your own decisions.”
Nell says that this is the lesson she has come away with: “Take a deep breath, chill and be rational. It’s not the end of the world and if there’s a will fated by God, things will work out in the end.”
Determined not to let cancer get the better of her, she took measures to battle the disease, including a mastectomy to remove the growth, and chemotherapy.
“I believe that cancer doesn’t define a person,” said Nell during an interview at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, recently.
“If anything, it gave me a new perspective in life. It might sound cliche, but for many cancer patients this rings true. It gives us a brand-new outlook in life; we appreciate things that matter and let life take its course.”
Nell reflected on how life changed after her diagnosis; and how she became much more aware about her lifestyle before.
“There were many things that I overlooked in the past. We take things for granted and I feel like being diagnosed with cancer was a real eye opener for me. There is more to living than just going about your everyday life.”
Now, Nell intends to live life to the fullest.
“If you surround yourself with positivity and remind yourself that there are reasons to be happy, that is surviving life,” she mused.
After 16 rounds of chemotherapy, Nell is currently cancer-free and has been in remission for over two months.
She is currently heading a company called The Godmothers with her best friend. Originally, it was just a T-shirt line but they decided to do more than that.
“We are hoping to branch out and make it a cancer content marketing website, a platform to provide support for people whose lives have been affected by cancer,” she explained.
The website, Nell says, will provide online support and create cancer awareness, as well as share experiences and advice such as healthy diet plans for patients.
“We started The Godmothers because we want breast cancer to be something that can be talked about freely. Women shouldn’t be ashamed of it,” she added.
The group’s current focus is on children with cancer. Nell said: “It is alarming to see how cancer is not growing older, but younger.”
When asked about her thoughts on being selected as an “Ikon Negaraku”, Nell shared that she was overwhelmed to be recognised for all the advocacy work she has been doing.
“It feels great that people are touched by what I am doing – advocating cancer awareness and shifting mindsets about taboo topics such as breast cancer. My goal is to succeed at doing things in life that I am afraid of, and inspiring others in the process.”
For Nell, Malaysia is home – where she grew up and learnt her ABCs.
“Malaysia represents hope. It is amazing that we are united by our love for our country,” she said.
“We are multicultural and live together harmoniously. I am truly blessed to be Malaysian because we are a united front to ensure that our tanah air is peaceful and safe.”
“…and aside from that, food! And sports!” she joked.
Nell expressed her pride at Malaysia’s progress. “All the incredible contributions made by fellow Malaysians that have put Malaysia on the map make me so proud.
“I can hold my head up and tell the world that I am an ‘Anak Malaysia’.”