Did you know 1 in 8 women has breast cancer? On 24 November 2018, I became one of them.
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. And that she wanted to give advice to other mamas battling cancer. So naturally we took heed. Read on for Jasmine’s story, and stay tuned for Part 2, where she’ll share her top tips on everything from choosing an oncologist to making sure you have the right kind of health insurance.
My name is Jasmine Han. I’m a mother of two young children, local author of the book I’m Not Perfect I’m A Mom, and the owner of SLAP Dance Studio overseeing 25 staff and more than 1,500 active students. This is my story.
Some time in November 2018…
Mammogram: pushing myself thru the pain, my knees buckling as the clamps came down and I held my breath for the longest 3 seconds before my knees unbuckled. Later I found out the calcifications around my tumour made the pain of a regular mammogram worse,
A couple days later, I took two steps into my doctor’s office.
“You can forget about having the 3rd child. You will probably need treatment and surgery, and hormone stuff after for the next 5 years and then you will be 48. Right now, you need to see a surgeon, let me book you in.”
“See this black stuff here…..it is most probably cancer…” My butt had not gotten a chance to meet the chair yet before all this information flew out from the doctor’s mouth.
It’s all still so clear. All that seemed to have just happened 1 minute ago. Whenever I close my eyes, I see myself standing at the office, before my bum hit the seat, before the door shut fully, before I had the chance to stand up straight. “Thank you, let’s proceed.”
My eyes shut and the silent tears fell freely in the waiting room, hoping that no one would see me if I just closed my eyes.
People saw me.
The staff are so professional, they went about their activities and pretended as if they did not and could not see me. Every now and then I would peek and see if there were any new patients around me; I didn’t want to scare them. Silent crying, now that is a valuable skill.
Meanwhile, in the back of my head….
Thank goodness for that miscarriage in August 2018; if not I wouldn’t have double checked my body and later pushed myself to see an OB/GYN and later an oncologist about the lingering suspicious lump.
Thank goodness for the miscarriage; I would have had to deliver an aborted second trimester baby to go through with the cancer treatment, mastectomy and chemo and further hormone therapy.
Looking on the brighter side and ploughing through the fear of the unknown… In retrospect I’ve found it is one way to embrace this journey.
5:30am: I lay down on the kitchen floor and spoke to my kids. Mommy will cry and when I do, please do not be afraid, just put your hand on my head and rest it there. Be still with me. Be calm with me.
Those are big jobs for a 5- and a 7-year-old. No motions, no words are required, just be still, calm and quiet with me.
Mommy just has too many things in my brain and they need to leak out somewhere; if not I won’t have the space for the rest of the good stuff like LOVE and EMPATHY – for both myself and others.
10:45am: 1 in 8 women have breast cancer. Today, I become one of them.
My girlfriend who’d been through this “thang” called breast cancer said I must have at least two toilet visits before seeing the onco for the biopsy results at Mount E. In my brain and guts, I know that I have it (my mom had it and my grandma had it). I have the BIG C, my heart is calm and collected.
Back in the surgeon’s office: “This is not good. It is cancer, you are one of the rare patients that I would recommend a full mastectomy; if we do a lumpectomy and it does not cover the margin of safety, the week after you have to come back for a mastectomy. Most of my patients can’t take that mentally.”
The second opinion was pretty straightforward; mastectomy was the only way to go.
As a healthy, active, hands-on mother of two young kids, age 5 and 6, let’s go forth with whatever treatment / surgery gives me the least downtime. At one low point, I wished I didn’t have a family; it would have been so much easier, as it would have just been me having to take care of me:
Who is going to take them school, who is going to cook homemade meals for them, pack their school snacks, vacuum the car, mop the house, do the laundry, bake fresh bread, casseroles, who will get the groceries, order toiletries, love them, read to them, teach them confidence, educate them about fostering self-esteem, sense of security, courage…? And my husband, he didn’t marry into this breast cancer saga, what to do when whatever happens… Oh, my kids and my husband.
More ugly cries ahead… I ordered and picked up 25 kgs worth of bread flour. One of the worlds I fall into with ease is baking bread — this is the time to get my self-physio going at home, kneading, baking experimenting with different baking techniques. At the same time, it was a way to get myself gently healed up from the surgery. It’s a major healthy low-cost distraction, too, perhaps a new start towards another route later in life. To my friends who have gotten the breads, thank you for sharing my homemade food. Food is one of the universal languages of LOVE!
10 December: Let the staycation begin
12:30pm: Sentinel Mapping begins with a radiologist injecting a weak radioactive dye into the cancerous area in the breast an hour before surgery so it can drain from the breast to the node.
5:30pm: Total Mastectomy of the left breast (2cm lesion cancerous lump), where the surgeon removed the entire breast, but no muscles. Some of the lymph nodes will be removed during the surgery later to see if any cancer cells are found in there. It turns out no lymph nodes were affected with cancer, so that’s great news.
I just realised this is the first time I’ve ever taken a break from chores and have so many lovely people waiting on me hand and foot. Not too shabby of a staycation! Gleneagles is GOOD. I can’t complain, we will touch upon having the right insurance later down this article.
13 December: Embracing the simplicity of children and their words
Jack: “You can walk Mom, the Doc only took off your breast, not your legs!”
Jack and Sarah: “I will protect you until you get better. I will take care of you until you get better. We are here so you will not be alone.”
My husband, my silent pillar of support, making sure the bills are paid, bulbs are changed, laundry, toys and dishes are miraculously put away, kids’ books are read… All the little back of the house stuff, no opinions, no judgements, just warm, still, quiet LOVE. I THANK YOU.
Three weeks later I visited three oncologists, shopping for the right one for me. Spoilt for choice.
More Bread therapy, ordered another 25kgs of Bread Flour. We are drowning in bread. Thank goodness my family and friends eat it.
14 January: Chemo Session, Party of 8
In private room / suite 8, with a concierge named Fish and the most wonderful personal nurse Joanna Lui. I could not ask for more. Thank goodness for that ever-flowing high tech hot drinks dispenser in the lounge to keep my friends high on their caffeinated beverage of choice.
Like I said, I never feel alone or lonely, even when home, because nurses ring me up at least twice daily. The first session took a bit longer as they needed to make sure my body was not going to react to anything in the content of the dosages. There was no hurry, comfort level was 10 and up. Went home and took an elephant tranquilizer, then slept from 7pm-6am.
Day 1 was fine, routine as usual, pre-drugs were still in full steam, no effects. Went to the hospital and learnt to administer booster jab 1. Metallic taste in the mouth moved me towards a good helping of Thosai and Teh Tarik in Little India.
Day 2, I injected booster jab 2. I pre-empted and took my pre-meds to prevent any aches or nausea, no suffering is allowed in the house of Jas. As usual, I’m up at 4:45am, making breads, packing lunches and taking the kids to school. Picked up the kids and off to swimming lessons and home, made dinner and everyone had an early night. No elephant tranquilizer, managed to sleep 10 hours, woke up to pee once. Had some homemade food delivered by friends, who have once again cooked for an entire military camp.
Day 3, Napped twice, business as usual, cleaning-cooking-bread baking. Metallic taste in the mouth, rescued by my neighbour with her yellow rice and sambal egg. It all went down smooth. Picked up kids, off to horse riding and home. Took the tranquilizer and slept 10 hours straight 7pm zzzzzz. Friends dropped off some fresh groceries.
Day 4, injected booster jab 4. Fatigue sets in, got the kids to school, came home and napped for 2 hours. Refreshed and ugly-ate the best curry chicken and rice from Killiney, so it’s all good. Interviewed a new receptionist, bought some toiletries and ordered some groceries online. Life is good. More homemade foods being dropped off. We are one lucky family.
Day 5, Life is almost back to feeling like a human being again, energy level still in waves, just need to pace. Bake a bunch of breads for a birthday party, wet market, indulged in a foot massage and hair wash, yes the hair is still on my head.
Day 6, I am ok, back to almost normal and recovering for the next cycle of chemo in 2 weeks’ time. Cardio time, sheets, floors mopped, car vacuumed, knobs sanitized, took the car for a wash.
My hair has started to clump out in the shower, the thick strands flow towards the sink and I know it’s time. It’s time to shave.
My instructors in the studio have been on stand-by to shave my head. “Time is what I can give you. Time is one of the most precious thing we have.” Thank you to my teachers who have been with me through thick and thin
Damn, my face has the shape to hold this bald look! We tried a few different hairstyles — the half moon, the half half moon mohawk tie back, the full shave with aviators. Pictures and more pictures, time passes so quickly when you are having fun.
February 1: Chemo Session #2:
I saw Karmen Wong, who shared some words for the day. She said: “We are very alike, we try to meet people’s expectations, but sometimes it’s time to SLOW DOWN.” I promise her that I will.
Amongst a group of close friends, I closed and opened my eyes during treatment, feeling fragile as I got hit by the mother of all coughs. Picked up kids from my mom’s house and went home, tranquilized myself, and slept like a baby. A mommy friend chartered my mom and kids from school to home today; I was running late from my chemo.
Day 2: Feeling great, super drugs and pre-meds are still working. Busied the kids with playdates as it was the school holidays. Skipping the family reunions and gatherings – got to avoid crowds – plus my energy is inconsistent. The kids and I share the same bedtime now.
Day 3: Got a closer shave in little India, got a foot massage at Orchard Towers, went home, napped twice. Energy was good today, did the sheets and floor, tidied up the kids’ clothes, more hand-me-downs accumulated.
Day 4: Self Injection 1! Baked breads, injected neutrophils. Got kids off to a swimming playdate and lunch with some amazing mommy friends. My friends: what would I do without them? People who pick up and go. Had brunch and a massage with Amana, received a care package from Shuting. Feeling the LOVE from everyone today, it is WORLD CANCER DAY! New friends and new beginnings.
Day 5: Self Injection 2! My husband leaves for London and comes back on 14 February.
Day 6: Self Injection 3! My mom took the kids to the movies and kids stayed overnight. My body floated to Little India along with my another breast cancer survivor for a Dosai and heavenly body massage.
Day 7: Pick up an early morning kombucha (killed the previous one) and deliver breads to a mate. Kids had a another playdate and home.
Day 9: Went for a massage and took the car for a wash, appetite is almost back, still have the metallic taste in my mouth but managed to eat a Subway sandwich very slowly.
We are in the midst of my cancer treatment and I have a few more Chemotherapy sessions, and hormone therapy, to go. We are going strong, doing well, and feeling grateful everyday.
Three things that I will leave you with:
- It’s the thing that keeps you mostly alive (sometimes we forget to do that). Be gentle with yourself, keep the good warm energy growing inside of you.
- One Day at a Time. Let your energy decide who/when/what you want to do. You have already done your groundwork when you have the strength, let the rest of the days and the tears (or laughter) flow.Once you have answered the important questions, check in with yourself, and see if you have enough. Too much information / conflicting opinions will weigh you down to a point there they are no longer useful. Knowledge is power, but healing is the path forward.Try “Brain Bump,” a remedy recommended by a wise old friend of mine. When it gets too much, too overwhelming, just DUMP everything on a piece of paper, come back or don’t come back to it later, you will feel better, lighter, freer, less overwhelmed. Do not bother about grammatical errors, jumbled up words, nonsensical mumbo jumbos. Just DUMP! No one is there to give you their self-entitled opinions, judgemental looks or unwanted glares. Just take some time to be you. Condense your day into a sentence, a phrase, or even one word. Begin where you are…. But BEGIN!
- Surround yourself with the right people. You will feel it in your gut, they will make your heart smile.