Ever wondered what happens to cancer survivors after completing their final chemotherapy or radiation treatment? Will life change after surviving cancer? Subang Jaya Medical Centre (SJMC) cancer survivors Ms Tham & Ms Jane share their story in hopes to inspire and encourage those who need it as we celebrate their courage over cancer.
Breast Cancer Survivor: Ms Tham, 70 years old
When trying to recall her first reaction after being diagnosed with breast cancer 16 years ago, Ms Tham laughed and said she didn't remember the details of what happened. "I didn’t break down nor did I feel sad. I just didn’t think too much about it. What I remembered was feeling like I needed to see the doctor because I was sick and I trusted that a doctor could help treat me,” she said.
Perhaps due to her optimistic personality, Ms Tham’s cancer journey seemed less arduous compared to most cancer patients.
Seek medical attention & cancer check-up immediately if you notice any abnormalities
She discovered the lump at the age of 54 when she happened to do a self-examination on her breasts. In fact, she did not feel any discomfort before that, but purely did so because she heard about it and wanted to try it out. Incidentally, it was then that she discovered the lump and went to get it checked.
The lump turned out to be cancerous and considered an early stage of breast cancer. Seizing the window of opportunity for early treatment, Ms Tham followed through with all the tests and treatment recommended by her Clinical Oncologist, Dr Matin Mellor Abdullah from Subang Jaya Medical Centre (SJMC).
"I was offered two options, one was to have a total mastectomy and the other was a partial mastectomy to preserve my breast,” said Ms Tham. After considering the lower recurrence rate of a total mastectomy, she opted for that instead and underwent 6 chemotherapy sessions, plus 15 radiotherapy sessions post-surgery. The entire course of her treatment lasted for over a year.
Ms Tham was privileged in the sense that she did not experience any discomfort during her treatment. She knew how to take care of her health and her body was still strong, except for the occasional headache as a side effect.
Family support is important during cancer treatment
"During my treatment, it was my husband who drove me to the hospital. The support and care of my husband, children and other family members were a great help to me." Therefore, she shares that it is very important for breast cancer patients and survivors to have enough support from the people around them.
Compared to other cancer patients who have to worry about their jobs, finances and families, Ms Tham is grateful that she did not have the burden and stress associated with it. "I was a housewife, and my three children were grown at the time. Plus, my husband's company covered my medical expenses, allowing me to receive treatment at SJMC with peace of mind and confidence,” she shared.
Maintain an active social life
In the early stages of her cancer, Ms Tham joined the Breast Cancer Welfare Association on the advice of her doctor. It was there that she met a group of cancer patients who had the same experience as herself, where they encouraged and shared experiences with one other.
Ms Tham is still actively involved in the Breast Cancer Welfare Association’s activities today, despite being cleared of breast cancer for over 15 years. She is also a member of the association’s dragon boat race team consisting of breast cancer survivors, a sport that helps rebuild a breast cancer survivor’s physical and mental capacity; in addition to helping reduce the risk of lymphedema in patients.
Thanks to dragon boating, Ms Tham has travelled throughout the entire nation, and even overseas to participate in numerous dragon boat races. The "Pink Challengers Dragon Boat Club” has also won a few prizes with their active participation, with their latest race set in New Zealand for 2023. Breast cancer opened the doors to another life for Ms Tham, and these are all life experiences that she never thought she would go through prior to getting cancer.
Regular breast self-examination is important
These days, in addition to regular dragon boat paddling practice in Putrajaya every week, Ms Tham also takes a two-hour morning walk every day to maintain a moderate amount of exercise. In terms of diet, she also tries to eat less outside, and consumes more fruits and vegetables. She keeps herself busy with activities she loves, such as travelling, gardening, baking, and cooking.
"To be honest, I didn't have any symptoms of breast cancer at first, and I wouldn't have known if I didn't do a self-examination,” she said. Therefore, she urges women to make sure they have regular breast self-examination and regular mammograms once they reach the age of 40, so that any abnormalities can be detected and treated early, just like her.
As a cancer survivor, Ms Tham understands that no matter how many years have passed, there is always a chance of recurrence. This is why she still returns to the hospital for annual follow-ups and mammograms once every two years.
She also reminds cancer patients not to avoid treatment or be afraid in letting others know they have cancer. Instead, they should be brave and receive treatment as soon as possible. “Seize the window of opportunity to receive treatment, and make sure to stay active. Open up and meet more people. Most importantly, stay happy,” reminds Ms Tham.
Ms Tham shares her story in this video and you can read Part 2 about Ms Jane, a colorectal cancer survivor HERE .