Pat was looking forward to being 50 this year. She had many plans for her family.
She wasn’t a strong advocate for healthy and clean living, but she had a balanced lifestyle. She thought she did a fine job juggling a big family of eight children as well as a top position in her company. She has always watched her health, alongside her runner husband.
But all her plans and hopes crashed when she was diagnosed as having Stage 3 breast cancer late last year, just a few months before she turns 50.
Everyone was shocked, but none as shocked as her. Pat just went through her first chemotherapy last week.
Here’s her story:
I never thought that anything like this could happen to me. I’d like to think that I looked after myself well, always performing annual health check-ups and doing monthly self-examinations. I had no family history of breast cancer either.
It all started with discomfort on the right breast, where I felt a lump. Unsure, I even asked my mom to help check the area. Both she and my husband suspected something amiss – they urged me to go for a medical examination.
“Please let it be harmless and benign”, we prayed.
So, I went to the hospital and did a mammogram and ultrasound. The doctor found enlarged nodes on my right breast – we proceeded with a biopsy.
This all happened right before Christmas last year, and we kept everything away from my children as we had a family trip planned. I didn’t want to spoil that for them.
I received the biopsy results in January, where the doctor broke the dreaded news – he confirmed that I had stage 3 breast cancer.
I was numbed.
I was devastated.
I was crushed.
I was dazed.
But I had my husband with me, and at that point, I just wanted him. No one else. Not yet.
“Are you OK?” asked the concerned doctor as she saw me looking rather ‘calm and composed’.
“Do you wish to see me cry right here doctor? I’ve already cried my heart out to my husband when we went for the biopsy earlier. Somehow, we knew the news wasn’t going to be good. I am a bit out of tears at the moment to be honest,” I said.
One of the hardest things I had to do was break the news to my mom and children. I didn’t have the heart to tell them.
How would you tell an eight-year-old about a critical illness her mother is having?
I started with my mom, with a heart-to-heart talk inside her room. She had a tough time accepting. She had many sleepless nights and didn’t have the appetite to eat that weekend.
Next was my children’s turn – I started with my 24-year-old son.
“Take it easy Umi. You have us to beat this,” he said.
The rest of the children took it quite well, being positive and optimistic about me battling cancer. My youngest got her older siblings to explain it to her, and it went as easy as, “Umi’s nen-nen is sick. She’s going to see the doctor to heal it.”
I think I raised my children well indeed.
The full mastectomy procedure was in mid-January. I stayed in the hospital for 11 days, including a short stay in the ICU as my heart needed to be stabilised. I felt fine during the first dose of morphine, but once the effects wore off, reality and discomfort began setting in.
Post-surgery, I had to wear diapers.
For goodness sake! I thought that time would only come when I’m much older and greyer!
Touching my flattened chest, I felt less of a woman. I’d lost one part of my life forever.
I had to do physiotherapy, which involved simple movements of the arms. It made me think of the things we took for granted – even something as simple as lifting your arms means the world to me now.
Though I deeply appreciated all the visits and words of encouragement from family and friends, I was overwhelmed by the endless questions and attention. At some point, all I wanted was some privacy, away from everything and everyone – and just be with my husband.
After the surgery, there were a series of follow-ups and hospital stays. I still had to do CT scans to determine that the cancerous cells haven’t spread to other organs.
A procedure was done to insert the chemotherapy port, which required me to stay at the hospital for another two days.
As I listened to the doctor explaining my life expectancy and the treatment to prolong it, my thoughts went to my family. Though my husband and I are determined to make everything the same, we all knew that life with the children will never be the same again.
“Expect your hair to fall, either some or all of your hairs,” explained the doctor.
“Your nails will get hardened and blackened. It all depends on how your body is adapting to the chemo.
“As for your dietary needs, only eat thoroughly and properly cooked food. No smoked food, so forget all grilled food, and no salad either.”
I went for my first chemo a few weeks back, and so far, my body is responding well to the medicine.
There’ll be six cycles of chemo every three weeks, followed by radiotherapy.
Fingers crossed, all goes well for me.
One of my regrets was not taking my own personal health insurance. My husband did it for the whole family, but he discontinued it after a while. We thought nothing bad would happen.
We were wrong.
I am fortunate though – all expenses for the surgery, procedures, follow-up treatments, and chemotherapy are covered by my company.
The bills currently amount to approximately RM100,000. I shudder at the thought of paying for these out of my own pocket.
How could I ever afford to, with a big family like mine with its own huge expense?
What if I wasn’t in the position to have my company bear the expenses for me?
What if I wasn’t working?
It’s funny how we’d often put aside things which are the most important, but be bothered with the most petty things in life.
It’s no laughing matter, and I’m paying the price for it now.
“Life is a precious gift – a gift we often take for granted until it is threatened” – Lecrae
I am a few months shy of turning 50. I have eight children who were all breastfed. And that was supposed to reduce my exposure to estrogen, which can promote breast cancer cell growth.
So why me? How come I still get this?
I’m not an athlete, but I’ve lived a fairly well-balanced life so far. I eat well, exercise, and do regular annual check-ups.
So why me? How come I still get breast cancer?
“There are many things which can contribute to your cancer,” said the doctor. “You might think all was going well, but take a look at your environment, work, stress level – all these could also cause cancer.”
“Truth be told, just about anyone can get it. That’s why, as cliché as it is – prevention is always better than cure.”
I just couldn’t stress the importance of having yourself checked enough, especially for the ladies out there. There are so many ‘womanly’ illnesses like breast and ovarian cancer, to name a few.
Take the greatest care of those two ‘assets’ of yours. Your ‘girls’ must be monitored. Be on constant alert for any changes and take note of even the most minute detail.
Keep your stress level in check and don’t sweat the small stuff – those paperwork and meetings will always be there when you get to the office.
Go home to family and spend quality time with them – and always, always keep your religious faith and humble yourself to the Almighty.
Bear in mind, I learnt this the hard way. I count myself blessed as I’m still able to be showered with so much love and support from those around me.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I had a choice to make: to either keep everything bottled up inside me or share my battle with others.
I chose the latter.
I sought support from my colleagues, particularly from one who had fought breast cancer in the past.
I get my strength from my husband, my children, my mother, my family, my friends, and my colleagues.
I’ll beat this.
God willing, InsyaAllah, we’ll all beat this.
For more articles on health and wellness, read You’re Not Exercising for These 4 Reasons (And Why You Really Should), and Stress, and How to Handle It – by Raja Jesrina Arshad, Co-Founder & CEO of PurelyB.