We don’t like to talk about it. In fact, just hearing the word “cancer” strikes fear and trepidation in many of our hearts, and we swiftly turn the topic to cheerier things. But the truth is that cancer is one of the biggest killers worldwide, and the top cause of death in Singapore.
The struggles that cancer patients go through are very real indeed. Even after beating cancer, the risk of a relapse is always there. It is not easy for cancer patients to share their journey with others. *June shares her story with TNAP.
Started with a lump
June, now 46, had been doing her monthly regular breast self-examination checks when she discovered a lump in her breast during a routine check in April 2016. Subsequent checks and tests confirmed that the lump was indeed cancerous.
The news was certainly a huge shock. “Death suddenly felt very real and near to me,” she shares.
June was married in 1998, and is a mum of four, with her children now all in their teens. Telling her family and friends about the diagnosis and impending treatment was no easy feat, and she received some negative reactions along the way. However most of her loved ones were very encouraging, and she also gained some new friends who rallied around her to support her through this time, for which June is very grateful.
The treatment process for cancer can vary depending on the stage and location of the cancer. For June, she underwent surgery, followed by several rounds of chemotherapy. After going through a mastectomy with tram flam and auxiliary nodes removed, she began chemotherapy in July 2016 – a total of 4 rounds of AC chemotherapy, 12 rounds of taxol and 25 rounds of radiation. It was a gruelling, physically debilitating and emotion-draining process.
June describes the AC chemotherapy as being her toughest days. Aptly nicknamed “red devil” for its red colour and debilitating side effects, the drugs left June with severe constipation, a life-threatening low white blood cell count, intense fatigue, numbness in her fingers which she still battles with today, and a loss of appetite – she lost a total of 12kg on her journey to recovery. During the three months that June underwent AC chemotherapy, she was literally just living one day at a time, and every day lived was a milestone achieved.
The road to recovery
Having to personally break the news to her children that she would have to shave her head and would no longer look like the mum they were used to seeing was incredibly tough for June. It was the first time she succumbed to her tears since the diagnosis. During radiation, she would undergo many physical changes to her body. For example, she lost hair everywhere – even her eyelashes were not spared.
Throughout the treatment process, June was thankful to receive much support from friends of the same faith. They prayed for her, helped her settle practical details (providing her family with meals, babysitting, shuttling her to and from her chemotherapy sessions) and gifted her with herbs and supplements to boost her health.
Halfway through the radiation process, June received a job offer and decided to go back to work as an Assistant Director at a corporate organisation. She had quit her previous job due to the treatment. “I could finally see the end of a dark tunnel,” she shares. “I started to live beyond my daily targets and thought more about the future, wondering what I could and should do to resume a normal life.”
Although the life of a housewife appealed to June, she knew that caring for her children 24/7 might actually wear her down more than returning to the workforce. Furthermore, returning to work would give them a higher household disposable income, much needed for the high cost of treatment and regular family expenses.
That said, returning to work was definitely a challenging transition. June’s hair had not grown back to its normal length at the time when she started work, so she has had to wear a wig until now, something which none of her colleagues is aware of. She also gets tired very easily these days.
Yet, she enjoys the fact that she can contribute to the company to the best of her abilities.
Her mantra? Taking one thing at a time.
June’s hope now is to live a healthy life, to spend more time with her children and family, and to be around to watch her kids grow up.
As a cancer survivor, June has this to share with all mums out there.
“Do not wait until problems arrive. Find time to start leading a healthy lifestyle, even as busy parents.”
“My biggest advice to all the mums out there would be to be aware of your body changes. I did not experience any symptoms of breast cancer, except for having a lump in my breast. Hence, it is extremely important to be aware of your body, and to do regular breast self-examinations. This is even more crucial for women under 40, as we are not recommended to undergo mammogram checks for breast cancer.”
Women newly diagnosed with breast cancer who has the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) card should look to the Parkway scheme which can help finance operations and post-operation treatments. All are also welcome to seek support at Breast Cancer Foundation support groups.
For more details, visit Breast Cancer Foundation
*Name has been changed.