Breast Cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in Singapore, with numbers on the rise. This Singaporean mama explains how a cancer diagnosis gave her a strength she never knew she had
In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Foundation‘s #EveryWomanMatters initiative, throughout October we have shared the stories of women across Singapore who have battled, or are fighting, breast cancer. Today in the final installment we hear from Singaporean Neeta Kumari, who is the mother to a 6-year-old son. In fact, she was still breastfeeding him when she was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2015, setting off a traumatic emotional and physical journey that’s caused her to declare: “We don’t know how strong we are until being strong is the only choice we have.” Read on for more of this reflective mama’s learnings, in particular her final conclusion…
Read more in this series:
At what age were you diagnosed with breast cancer? How did you discover it?
I was initially diagnosed in 2015 when I was turning 30.
I discovered a lump in my breast while taking a shower, but didn’t think too much of it as I was still breastfeeding my three-year-old son then and assumed that it was a blocked milk duct. However, upon getting checked immediately, I was given devastating news – it was ‘the big C’.
How did you feel upon learning that you had breast cancer? Do you remember what the first steps you took were?
It was definitely not what I expected, and was the most trying period of my life. It was the most difficult time for my family and for me. No words can describe the feeling, but I took the plunge to not dwell in my sorrow and how ‘sucky’ it was being ill, and how unfair life has been for me. I chose to focus on doing what I can to fight it and not succumb to the affliction.
The first thing I did was to stop breastfeeding my son immediately. This was a very difficult, emotional and painful period for both of us.
My husband was instrumental in doing a lot of research to understand the whole situation; he was like my personal ‘doctor’ while I didn’t want to find out anything. We then decided and settled on an oncologist. With the extensive research and knowledge my husband had developed, it really helped us a lot in our decision making process.
What course of treatment did you follow?
I went through the standard of care treatments which included a few surgeries, many cycles of chemo and radiation therapy.
How have you found the support system here in Singapore?
Being a Singaporean, I did not encounter any issues with looking for a support system here. On the other hand, I would say there are many forms of assistance available out there — it is merely a matter of reaching out to them and making the effort to research or find them, such as with organisations like Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF). Having comprehensive insurance is a must-have, as healthcare can be very costly in Singapore.
I also took part in support groups and sharing sessions at BCF and was able to relate to other ladies whom shared on their personal stories on the condition. This helped me to better understand and cope with my condition.
Thankfully, I had a supportive husband, family and friends who helped me through this difficult period. They have been instrumental in giving me the strength to persevere.
What advice would you have for other mamas facing breast cancer?
I feel you! No one can truly understand unless they’ve actually been through it!
We don’t know how strong we are until being strong is the only choice we have. Hang in there, persevere, have faith and the journey will be a breeze. Fight on for the sake of your children, family and friends – they are the reason we live for. The hardest battles are given to the strongest soldiers. Be strong, and let your heart take courage. Nature/God doesn’t give you anything that you can’t handle.
We, as women, have to be responsible for our own health. Go for your regular mammogram screenings and be aware of any changes in your breasts. If you find anything suspicious, do not procrastinate and get them checked immediately. Time is of the essence.
Women should also talk openly about breast cancer and share knowledge on this topic with one another. Through sharing, the journey through breast cancer becomes easier and less stressful. Let’s not shy away from the topic and instead encourage greater awareness. Whether you are a survivor or caregiver, there are plenty of organisations in Singapore such as BCF that you can reach out to for support – you are never truly alone.
What has been the biggest challenge for you, both physically and mentally?
Until my diagnosis, I was the sole caretaker for my son. I had to learn how to let go and accept help from others as I was weakened from my medical treatment.
Coping with cancer and managing the side effects of the treatment I was receiving, while at the same time trying to keep my son happy, healthy and not disrupting his daily routine was the biggest challenge for me.
The fear was always there despite how strong my mind was. I slowly started letting go of all the negative thoughts that arose in my mind and took baby steps in learning to be a positive and happier person. I firmly believe the mind is a powerful tool – if you are strong-willed in something, you can achieve it. I refused to let my fear overpower me.
I started learning to live my life the way I wanted it and the key was to be happy and stress-free. I surrounded myself with people who are genuine and those willing to journey with me through both my good and bad times. The rest is left in God’s hands.
What has been your biggest comfort?
The biggest comfort for me in this journey has definitely got to be my son! He was my biggest motivation and is the reason I fight and live for every day. I wish to see him grow into a fine man one day and he is the biggest reason why I managed to find the strength to push, fight and overcome this difficult time. He has been such an amazing young boy in this journey of mine, helping and praying constantly for me even though he doesn’t know what this is all about.
What are some lessons you have learnt from this experience?
What I have learnt from this situation is to remain positive. I have learnt that I should never take the gift of life or anyone for granted, as life is fragile. This experience has also made me a stronger and more confident woman — if you are strong and stand by what you believe in, miracles will happen!
I had always thought that breast cancer was a death sentence, but after being through it, I believe that cancer is not a death sentence but rather a life sentence, as it teaches you to live. Breast cancer is highly curable if detected early.
Having a strong will is also very important: you need to have the will to live, the will to love, and the will to believe. You can choose to either have faith in yourself and push through the tough times, or be fearful and let fear control your situation. I’m so glad that I chose to have faith! Today, I have never felt more alive.