In part 2 of her series about her breast cancer journey, mama of two Jasmine Han reflects on the challenges and surprising upsides of chemotherapy, and shares tips for other women battling cancer
Mother of two, pole dancer extraordinaire, and author Jasmine Han is one of the coolest mamas we know in Singapore. So when she reached out to tell us she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, we were taken aback and saddened to hear the news. But then she told us she wanted to share her story, and that she has been able to draw some positives from this experience. In Part 1 she talked us through her journey, from diagnosis to first chemotherapy treatments. Here, in Part 2, she reflects on her chemo journey and shares her top tips on everything from choosing an oncologist to learning how to ask for help (not always easy for multi-tasking mamas!). Read on for a double dose of inspiration…
I just had my last chemo session.
It was a quiet one with just one of my best girlfriends. I know it sounds weird but I love my chemo sessions. After you make a few friends in the chemo care ward, be it the nurses or friends to arrange chemo buddy sessions with you, it’s a pretty awesome space and company. A sense of belonging. We are not alone anymore.
I see Dr Karmen Wong (my oncologist) every time before I get my chemo dosage. Somehow, she manages to slam a big amount of confidence and strength in place. She is a really cool person and so bloody knowledgeable, too — no airs or graces, just always there to share and to listen. She is truly my trusted chemo “husband” along with my amazing girlfriends.
Karmen does squeeze in some psychology time after each medical session. We live to be a nonstop vehicle of service to others, and sometimes something happens to make us realize that it is time to slow down and pick our battles. I resolve to heed this advice, it’s time.
Here are some of my key tips to make this journey / vacation / sabbatical a little smoother. Hope they help:
During the 5 days after chemo administration, it’s all about little naps, low activity days, brain dumps on paper, FaceTimes, Skypes and messaging close friends from the comforts of my studio or home.
Much appreciated are the homemade meals being dropped off on a daily basis (thank you my friends). Light yoga and core Pilates for 10-15 minutes a day, sometimes just 5 minutes of stretching freshens you up 100 percent. Stay hydrated and eat small meals, just like in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Chemo Comfort Foods
My comfort foods for my chemo mouth include: Rendang, curries, any dessert with gula melaka, chendol and tutu kuehs, roast chicken seasoned with Cajun and paprika, Japanese eel and cream cheese rolls with wasabi and soy, loh mee with garlic and chilli, ban mee with loads of chilli, hot and sour soups.
Once my appetite came back during week 2 – 3, Hai De Lao steamboats, curry fish heads and chilli crab gatherings with friends are a MUST! This chemo is just a little bit of an inconvenience, that’s all.
The importance of reaching out
I rang up four of my closest girlfriends who have been through cancer within the last few years for their recent recollections, as well as their ability to relate and to react appropriately. The purpose is to have a listening ear without judgements or opinions.
These people need not be your partner, relative or best friend. We made appointments for referrals to two surgeons and I am never alone or lonely during any doctor visits. In time, I went on to tell a few more of my closer, more mature girlfriends, the ones who are practical, proactive, my duplicates.
With family, I waited until I knew exactly which procedure I was going to go through before breaking the news. I just couldn’t handle more questions than the ones that were already circulating in my own head. It’s overwhelming.
Being a hands-on mother of two young kids, normality is the main key to my sanity. Please do keep routines going as usual if you can; cook and clean as much as you can when your energy allows you to, stock up on foods for quick prepping meals. Thank goodness for online grocery and toiletry delivery services. Drop your kids off at your friends’ places for playdates.
Accept service (food / pick-ups / drop offs / misc. errands), having loads of homemade food dropped off frequently (thank goodness we have two fridges!), food and drinks delivery, and plan ahead.
People want to help you and they feel good doing so, we do too… so let them help. We are glad that the nature of my work and support of my friends and family have allowed me to take care of my own kids from the start, so we never needed to hire extra help, thus my kids are fairly independent with chores, which is a blessing.
Work and Running my own business
I am sooooooo fortunate…. We have solid business partners and staff who are steady, proactive people who have been through hardship mentally and physically. Thank goodness we have a fabulous system that is already set in place so we just tweak as we go along. They are able to pick up extra tasks as needed, plus everybody is willing to help one another out, especially when a new staff member comes into SLAP.
Choosing your oncologist and surgeon
Bear in mind, you will visit this person rather often.
For me, you want someone you can comfortably ask questions to; can understand and communicate well with. Take your time and you will find the one who resonates with you. Someone you can build a professional relationship with where there’s mutual respect; we can’t just have a doc who wants to tell us what to do and not hear us out.
We also want to look for someone who balances staying on top of new techniques and methods along with their wealth of experience.
As for your oncologist, my good friend Melissa Yambao (breast cancer warrior) couldn’t have said it better, “We want an open person who takes the time to understand us as a person, including our goals in life. Cancer treatment is not prescriptive, and it is truly an art in choosing the right treatment. Every person is different so the doc should be able to explain well the risks and effectiveness of each treatment option while also taking into account the patient’s quality of life.’
Melissa was the first to know about my cancer, thank you my friend, for the being my start up on “what to do”. Thank for you being my go-to person Mel.
Here’s what some of my other close confidantes and fellow breast cancer warriors have to say:
Jesslyn Midgley Chia (breast cancer warrior) says: “When choosing a surgeon, I like someone who can empathise with me and who will not butcher me unnecessarily. Oncologist – someone I can feel comfortable with and reputable in treating the type of cancer that I have.”
Thank you to you Jess, without your everyday support (several times a day), my road would not be as smooth.
Dr Lilly Leong Stakes from Back II Life, Singapore’s first leading Chiropractic and Homeopathic Clinic: “I would want the doc to have an amazing bedside manner. Someone who is understanding and compassionate. Someone who will look at each cancer case individually, and plan the treatment according to what the patient actually needs.”
Thank you for your hubby Neil Stakes and your homeopathic kit, it’s made my journey more comfortable.
Rosie Chong (breast cancer warrior and an oncology nurse): “When I had to embark on the choice of surgeon, I looked at their experiences, place of training, specialist interest, position held in the department, and length of time in that position. “I wanted to lay the foundation for good clinical practise and felt that the rest would follow. Luckily my surgeon was an exact fit, kind and caring but practical and direct. She gave me the luxury of fast and efficient treatment for which I will be eternally grateful. “With my plastic surgeon I followed my breast surgeon’s advice and went with her referral. On my first meeting with my plastic surgeon directly after diagnosis, we laughed and made plans together weighing up all options, I felt prepared and in good hands! “When choosing an oncologist, I used pretty much the same tools. I followed the advice from my surgeon given my oncologist field of interest. My breast surgeon, plastic surgeon and oncologists all worked together and I felt it was important to have continued, seamless care. She is a breast specialist with a genetics interest. She was knowledgeable and direct. I felt comfortable with her decision making.” Thank you to Rosie for those sessions of playdates and in-house chats, please keep me sane.
The Importance of insurance
From a veteran insurance adviser:
Insurance policy contracts are your “Love Letters” to your loved ones. They tell them how much you love and care for them, even in the unfortunate event of your absence due to premature death or suffering from total and permanent disability, critical illnesses and hospitalisation. While you work hard to provide the best for your loved ones, in such catastrophic events, insurance proceeds provide the finances to give them the same quality of lifestyle you gave them and funds your children’s tertiary education. Hence, insurance must be a high priority in your financial planning. Have a meaningful discussion with a credible Financial Services Consultant to help you plan and meet your financial objectives.
I have been very fortunate that my cancer was detected very early. The message that early detection saves lives is important to convey to all ages. You DO NOT have to wait until you are 40 to get an ultra sound or a mammogram.
Read more: I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29
Another challenge is learning to trust my body again, and that every sniffle, cramp or pain does not mean a cancer diagnosis. Breast cancer is a journey of many stages. This cancer is NOT just about me; everything / everyone else around me is affected, too.
IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT ME!!!
I put my mental state of mind and my family first, cancer came second. I look up, down, side to side, I can walk, talk, defecate, urinate, feed myself, normality is possible. There is nothing hindering me from living a normal life. When fatigue sets in, we rest. When the side effects get on my system, we manage.
One step at a time.
I do not allow myself to sit and wait for any side effects or bad things to happen, it is back to the Law of Attraction isn’t it. Do whatever it takes to fill your head with nothing but the BEST, because you deserve it at this time of your life.
Engage fully in this [hopefully once-in-a-lifetime] experience. It will cloud your entire being at first, and change the directions of your life. Once you decide which doctor to go with and your treatment options are clear, you will regain some control and focus your thoughts. Be grateful that our cancer treatments are diagnosed as they are now in the year 2019, and not as they were in the 1980s and before. There has been so much progress.
Once you step on it, there are no brakes, no give and no days off.
I have found myself on a road with many gorgeous spirits and we are able to keep life as NORMAL as we can. And together, we are able to leave our fears behind in a trail. I am happy to help guide, or to listen to anyone who is currently going through this or starting their riveting journey.
Send me a message and let me know how you are doing. I want to hear all about it!