Breast Cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in Singapore, with numbers on the rise. This Singaporean woman shares her story
In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout October we share the stories of women across Singapore who have battled, or are fighting, breast cancer. Singaporean Tracy Hoo, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 29 shares her story.
At what age were you diagnosed with breast cancer? How did you discover it?
I discovered I had stage 2-3 breast cancer in August 2016 when I was just 29. I discovered it when my aunt discovered hers; she had stage 3 breast cancer and her arm swelled up as it has already spread to her lymph nodes. I discovered a lump on my breast two weeks later, with a tumour size of close to 4cm and some of my lymph nodes were affected as well.
How did you feel upon learning that you had breast cancer? Do you remember what the first steps you took were?
I broke down, as it was a piece of news I was not ready to accept, especially after hearing about my Aunty. I had just gotten married (back in November 2015) and started staying in my new flat, I was still relatively young to have breast cancer and could not accept it. Upon diagnosis, treatment options were laid out to me by my surgeon. I had to sort out my insurance and my work before embarking on my treatment journey two weeks later, in September 2016.
What course of treatment did you follow?
I went on a 6-month chemotherapy course to shrink the tumour. After six months (in March 2017), while it is typically decided on a case-by-case basis, I made the personal decision to go for a mastectomy and did reconstruction on the spot using the fat from my belly. My surgery went well and I commenced a 3-week intensive radiotherapy treatment. This was followed by oral medication plus injections once every quarter for the next 5 years, as preventive measures to suppress the cancer from growing again.
How have you found the support system here in Singapore?
I found out about Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) when a relative brought me there upon knowing that l’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. Through BCF, I learnt that I was not alone and that there is still life after cancer. Seeing the survivors attending activities that BCF organised motivated me to get well so that I could join in the fun together with them as well.
The monthly support group meetings allow me to understand how other survivors got by when they were still undergoing treatments. The tips received from them were useful in helping me cope with my symptoms and side effects. BCF’s Healing Through The Arts (HTTA) Programme is an example of the various activities that BCF organises for its survivors/patients. We get to make jewellery, sew pouches and have fun together
How did breast cancer affect your outlook on parenting?
Although I’m not a parent yet, I do hope to become one after 5 years. If I was a mom, I know my child would be the strongest motivation for me to get well quickly. So to all mamas out there currently undergoing treatment, you can do it, and you will get better.
To all mamas who are wondering if they should go for treatment: do what you think is best for you, never let anything stop you. Whatever decisions you make, do know that it will affect your child and your family. Make the right choice. Try not to stress, as you need lots of positive vibes! To all mamas who are reading this, early detection is important so do take charge of your breast health and go for your regular check-ups and screenings. If I got it at 29, this means it could happen to anyone, regardless of age.
For young ladies who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and may feel lost and helpless, the BCF Young Women’s Network is a support group that is aimed to equip women with relevant information to support women within the younger age group.
What has been the biggest challenge for you, both physically and mentally?
To accept the fact that I had breast cancer at such a young age which is not common, especially when I was not within the “at risk” age group at all.
One year post-surgery, I would say that I have not regained my physical strength back yet – I get tired easily, but then again it could be that I have not been exercising much post-cancer.
What has been your biggest comfort?
That I have recovered and everything is finally back to normal after one and a half years. I was studying for a part-time degree before diagnosis and I had to put my studies on hold for a year. My classmates had already graduated by the time I resumed my course last year. My last module had finally completed last week and I am so glad to be finally graduating!
Thank you for sharing your story Tracy!