Pole dancer, author, and mother of two Jasmine Han shares an update on her breast cancer journey
Last spring, we ran a two-part series from mama of two Jasmine Han in which she relayed her own experience being diagnosed with breast cancer, then shared her tips for dealing with treatment, both physically and mentally.
We are happy to report that Jasmine finished her chemo treatments in May 2019, and the prognosis is good (though she’ll still be doing 6-month follow-ups with her OB, surgeon and oncologist for the foreseeable future). And yet there are mental and physical challenges – both anticipated and unexpected – that Jasmine deals with on a daily basis. Read on for a candid, truly moving update on Jasmine’s breast cancer journey…
How are you feeling? What are your energy levels like?
The emotions come in waves with ups and downs, but generally it is ok on a regular basis. This cancer saga is more of a mental battle than anything else.There are days where getting my kids to school is hard. I am reminded of how limited my time with them can be and the fragility of life. There were many days where I forced myself to eat an apple or celery sticks; basically anything that required plenty of chewing so I could stop myself from crying like a mad person while dropping them off in school.
I don’t mind breaking down in front of the parents, however I just can’t be a wailing mad person in front of hundreds of little kids ready to start the day.
[Jasmine suffered a miscarriage shortly before her breast cancer diagnosis.] Thinking back…6 weeks into my pregnancy, which was months before my cancer saga, I had downloaded a pregnancy app in my phone. It’s one those which tells you how the baby is growing and what to expect. Time passed and somehow, I didn’t think about uninstalling the app after suffering a miscarriage.
One day after my second chemotherapy session, I was brushing my teeth when the app beeped with a notification reminding me that my baby’s bones were now beginning to harden and the foetus was starting to turn head down.
I looked up into the mirror and saw my very bald and shiny head. I choked on my toothpaste, gagged for a few minutes, and curled into a ball on the bathroom floor. I wailed and cried for what seems like hours. Life can change so quickly; from being a happy and joyful expectant mother to a medical patient undergoing a surgery and chemotherapy in just a few months.
My current energy level is good and my mental and physical stamina is coming back. Physical activity and social interaction definitely helps. Heading back to SLAP to teach group and private dance classes, talking and interacting more with people for around 5 hours a week, and spending 4 hours of training time on my own has made a difference. I am regaining my core strength, building back my muscle mass, and getting my cardiovascular health back. Slowly, slowly.
Some of the cancer treatment side-effects include weakness, loss of shoulder movement, musculoskeletal pain, neuropathy, weight gain, lymphedema, numbness and shoulder stiffness.
There is a growing evidence-based reporting on the physiological and psychological benefits of physiotherapy as a safe and effective adjunct to breast cancer treatment.
Read more: Top Women’s Physiotherapists in Singapore
My treatment plan includes motion exercises to improve tissue extensibility and facilitate normal movement patterns, myofascial release for enhancing mobility and enhancing tissue extensibility, and getting treatments to get my shoulder mobility back.
The two most common complications that are evident in breast cancer patients are restricted arm motion and lymphedema. Thankfully, the professionals taught me some stretching exercises for my shoulder muscles, which consist of progressive active and active assisted shoulder functional activities which we can all do on a regular basis.
The weekly visits to my physiotherapist Ariane and my chiropractor Neil Stakes from Back 2 Life are paying off and I am forever grateful. We all need to remember to listen to our body every day and take it slowly, one day at a time.
How is your mental outlook these days?
Life is not short; life is fragile and so very precious. Every moment counts. There is nothing in this world that can trouble you more than your own thoughts, so think WELL. Be kind to yourself and honour your feelings because they are real. I have learnt that COURAGE is the most important virtue in life because without it, we cannot practice any other virtue consistently. Pick up the battle, solve the issue and make decisions that energize you. You do not always need to move on, but you’ve got to MOVE.
Some people feel that cancer becomes a major part of their identity, while others prefer to push it out of their minds and leave it in the past. How do you feel about it going forward?
When I finished my final chemo session, my doctors, friends and family said, “It’s over, go on now, have a life, now you can be normal.”
Everyone around me was ever so positive and encouraging. But emotionally, I felt worse than during the treatment, I felt no elation; I really felt lost when it all ended. I was very forgetful and simple daily tasks became difficult, sometimes to the point of impossible. I felt like crying most the time. So I started to write every single thing down on paper and taking each day as it comes, recognising my limits and learning to have boundaries.
Keeping to the same routine each day really helped me and it prevented me from breaking down and wallowing in a downward spiral. I slowly gained control over my daily life and I started to realise I did not lose everything to cancer.
Writing down my honest thoughts can be very therapeutic. I was often tearful and written expression is a great way for me to offload. There is no judgement and no pressure for perfect grammar or syntax. Free writing is my way of moving forward. It helps to slowly level out my feelings, and it feels as if a stronger and braver person has possessed my body. Through writing, I’ve found new strength in myself every single day which I never knew I had. It is part of my history and for the most part, it stays there.
Helping others also healed me by giving me a purpose. I started to help others, including young mothers who reach out to me. I don’t want someone else to struggle without knowing that there is support available to them. This is why I have gone on to offer my space and time to guide as many people as I can. For a while, I pondered if I was hiding behind the things that I do. But I am not, because helping others and getting back quickly to teaching dance classes has given me a purpose. If I can help that one person, then it is all worth the while. Spread the LOVE.
Picture yourself a year from now — what do you want for yourself and your family?
Prevention of physical and mental illness is the key. I will be more diligent in checking in with my family to ensure that everyone is healthy, physically and mentally. For now, I would like more time with my family.That’s all, just TIME.
Thank you SO much for sharing your time and your wisdom, Jasmine! We wish you and your family all the best in your continued recovery.
If you’d like to get in touch with Jasmine, you can find her at SLAP Dance Studio.