Breast Cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in Singapore, with numbers on the rise. This Singaporean mama shares her story of strength and determination
In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Foundation‘s #EveryWomanMatters initiative, throughout October we will be sharing the stories of women across Singapore who have battled, or are fighting, breast cancer. Today we hear from Singaporean mother of three Linda Ng, 51, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer just months after cancer claimed the life of her mother in 2008. A decade later, Linda reflects on the challenges (and surprising positives) that have emerged during her brave battle with cancer, and shares her advice for other women who are facing breast cancer.
I have been living with breast cancer for 10 years now, with two recurrences over the years. I was first diagnosed with Stage 2B HER2-Positve breast cancer, an early stage of the condition, on 29 November 2008 at the age of 41.
I thought I had understood the condition when I first bore witness to my mum’s battle with late-stage cancer, which ended in June 2008. Within six months of my mum leaving us, I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself. I paid a visit to my gynaecologist as I’d been having prolonged menstrual bleeding for well over a month. Due to my family history, they sent me for further checks – this included a blood test and ultrasound for both my breasts and womb. The following day after the check-up, my doctor broke the news through a call.
The big ‘C’ word had once again resurfaced into my life and the news left my family and myself devastated. We had only recently lost a loved one to the condition and now it was once again upon us. There were only two things on my mind: “Why me?” and “Why now?”
Breast cancer is not something you can readily accept within a short period of time and it took a lot out of me before I finally came to terms with it. I had to accept the hard truth that whatever has transpired was real. I settled my emotions and underwent the rest of my medical appointments.
Although mastectomy is not a given for breast cancer and dependent on a case-by-case basis, I had to undergo the surgery and do my breast reconstruction on 1 Dec 2008, which took a lot of courage. Following that was six cycles of aggressive chemotherapy and 12 months of Herceptin-targeted therapy.
After 18 long months of treatment, I was ready to put everything behind me – resuming my normal life and keeping myself busy with family and work. As my kids are already grown up, I intended to lead a relaxed lifestyle without worrying too much about them. I told myself that I had no time to be sick and cancer was the last thing on my mind.
In 2010, I felt massive pain in my bones, but I dismissed it as merely stress on my body due to my personal physical training. So, I went back for my half yearly check-up without worrying too much. The moment I walked into my doctor’s office, she sent me for a PET scan and the results confirmed that the cancer had recurred in my bones and I was now a terminal stage IV cancer patient. Once again, I had to undergo another set of aggressive chemotherapy.
Life was never on hold as my family always needed me – I had to continue fighting and I never gave up for the ones I love. Life went on, and I continued to maintain a positive mindset. But in 2015, the tumour developed into a uterus metastasis. I undertook hysterectomy and carried on with my treatment again.
Throughout my entire journey, my family and friends have played an important role as my support system and I’ve received a lot of care. However, I was still lonely as they were unable to empathise and understand how I truly felt deep within. My family then found out about Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) and brought me here. It was through BCF that I was able to meet fellow survivors who battled with cancer, and we shared our feelings and concerns with each other. We lent a collective ear to each other on our experiences, how we dealt with similar problems, and how we learnt to cope effectively with the condition.
My biggest challenge, physically and mentally, after cancer was the side effects of every new drug as well as emotional challenges that came with the results of medical examinations and coming to terms with physical changes to my body. As for my hair, it did not affect me at all as I thought that I looked kind of cool after shaving it!
My biggest comfort lies in how my condition has brought my family closer together and taught us to better appreciate life today and to never forget to count our blessings.
The biggest advice I can share with my fellow ladies who are facing breast cancer – heed your doctor’s advice and learn to take things one at a time. It is always important to talk to a loved one or someone you are comfortable with.
Cancer is just a word! Stay strong and make them wonder why you are still smiling!