Inspirational Survivor Stories

If you or a loved one is fighting cancer, hearing from people who have come through it can be a great comfort and inspiration. The stories show that becoming a cancer survivor takes a lot of faith, support, and perseverance. But these stories show, most of all, that becoming a cancer survivor is possible.

Survivor Mari

Being diagnosed with cancer is a traumatic experience. Below is a story of hope and inspiration for those whose lives have been touched by cancer.

May 2009. Mari felt the lump on her abdomen getting bigger. "I had noticed the lump earlier. There was no pain. I was losing weight and my appetite was poor. I had postponed seeing a doctor several times but somehow I felt it was now time to see one', she recalled.

Mari went to Penang General Hospital but was told to wait for two weeks for the CT scan appointment. She then decided to go to a private hospital for investigations. Even before the biopsy result was out she had feared for the worst. “ I have friends who have cancer," explained Mari. "The biopsy confirmed what I had feared. I had ovarian cancer," she added.

Mari had a total hysterectomy in June 2009 and was referred to MMCH for further treatment. "I was depressed after the surgery. I didn't want chemotherapy. When I thought of what I had to go through - the hair loss, nausea , tiredness and not to mention how much the treatment was going to cost me, I wanted to give up. My family and friends were supportive. They said that in the past I had always encouraged others not to quit so now I should not give up."

In July, 2009 Mari had her first chemotherapy. "I was scared at first but after the intravenous cannulation, everything went smoothly."

Mari started losing her hair after the second dose of chemotherapy. She used a scarf to cover her head. "Curious neighbours asked me about it. I told them I have cancer. I have nothing to hide. It's not something to be ashamed of," she shared.

Mari underwent 15 doses of chemotherapy once every 2 weeks over a period of 8 months . The chemotherapy was postponed when the blood count was low. She was asked to rest at home and to come back for the chemotherapy on another day. Filgrastim and intekom injection was given at times to increase the white blood cell and red blood cell count respectively.

During the course of the treatment, she stayed at home most of the time. "My oncologist advised me not to go to crowded congested places because when the white blood cell count is low, the body immune system is weak. I tried to carry on with the normal daily activities to take my mind off the illness. I cooked simple meal for myself . Everything tasted sweet. I lost the sense of taste in my tongue," said Mari.

Mari had her last chemotherapy in April, 2010. The CT scan in August the same year showed that she is cleared of cancer. She has remained cancer-free since then. She has got back her hair and her sense of taste is now normal.

In the Eighties...

In the eighties, there was not much talk of breast self examination and although I heard a faint call for BSE, one night on Wednesday April 19, 1989 I thought I’ll try doing BSE to see if I can feel anything. I did not realize that this ‘main2’ act is the beginning of an unexpected journey. To my utter shock, I FELT a lump. Waiting for the sun to rise the next day was indeed very slow, for it is always too slow for those who wait...

Together with my husband I rushed to see a doctor at the Hospital. Yes, he confirmed there was a lump.

He gave various options of finding out the status of the lump. We sought a second opinion and went back to the first surgeon. I was admitted the next day and had surgery performed on the 3rd day I discovered the lump. It was malignant. I journeyed through surgery, 25 sessions of radiation therapy and a full 8 course chemotherapy – all not without being challenged by fear, anxiety, grief, depression etc. However, I focused my attention on the light at the end of the tunnel and knew that I must be strong to help my husband, my sons and the entire host of relatives and friends who were helping me as I went through the cancer journey. I persevered with hope, spirituality and faith and, trotted on and emerged from the tunnel with stronger determination that I should embrace life with greater passion. And it was also during those times when I was feeling lost and isolated that I felt the need for women to talk to survivors who will be able to stand testimony to alleviate anxiety and eradicate myths and misconceptions regarding breast cancer. I made up my mind to become one such testimony, and so today, together with fellow survivors, I stand with them to tell a story - that there is recovery for cancer, and with proper medical treatment, one can be restored to health and emotional wholeness. When I discovered the lump, I did not wait nor forget its presence. I immediately sought medical advice, diligently followed and completed treatment.

There is no special diet for cancer patients but like all other people, we have to lead a healthy lifestyle. Cancer patient do not need to avoid chicken, certain fish, certain meat, certain vegetable, and so on. By the time the list ends, there will be no food to eat, except to live on sunshine and fresh air. And is there sunshine and fresh air nowadays? So eat in moderation all kinds of everything.

Please pass the message to anyone you know who has journeyed through the Cancer path. Come out to society – to share experiences and help those going through this process of emotional upheaval, to act as brakes to smoothen out the ride for them.

Survivors are champions, it is true.
Uwill agree Survivors are fighters too.
Remember, the cancer journey is not so rough as it may seem.
Victoriously, I have walked this path someone now is treading in.
Iwas thrown into the sea of fear, anxiety & confusion not to deny,
Voyaged out with proper medical treatment & prayers to GOD who is so kind.
Others who have emerged from this state of perplexity will agree,
Restoration to health & emotional wholeness is almost guaranteed if, cancer is treated early.
So, seek medical advice immediately when one is suspicious of ones' own body.

Tay Soo Im
Treasurer, Penang Breast Care Society

Memoirs of...Survivors

It was May 1988.That day at Convent Green Lane canteen, a group of lady teachers was discussing breast-self examination. As I was not an expert in this filed, I decided to make and appointment with my family doctor for an examination. “There was a lump” said the doctor. Without any delay, I was referred to Dato Dr. Susila Nair , a Consultant Surgeon with Penang General Hospital. She told me that there were a few options and most probably, it could be a harmless lump. I opted for the “frozen section and when I woke up from my operation, I discovered I had gone through a simple mastectomy-“First stage cancer” I was told...

My World of positive attitude, “helping and caring” and “lending a hand” crumbled. “Why me?” I had a nasty shake -up that time. I could not bear to see violent pictures on T.V. Most probably, cutting off part of my body was a violent act. Fearful imaginations went through my mind and there was a lot of self –pity. Sr. Aidan my school principal then, visited me. “Don’t worry” she said, “God still needs you to be around.” That was the magic wand for me. With doctors’ help, family’s and friends’ support and most importantly, with Divine Help, I went through the conventional way of treatment- surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. That happened 21 years ago. It changed my life.

Other forces were at work in the year 1988, in the form of Dato Dr. Susila Nair and Dato Dr. Zaatar. Both were encouraging ladies to form a society to offer emotional and practical support for women diagnosed with breast cancer. The FMDM Sister, together with some breast cancer survivors, with myself included, sat down to draw up a Constitution for the society, with help of Mrs. Hoa-lim, our first legal adviser. The founder members were patients themselves, who faced great challenges, in the beginning, to keep the society going. They had to overcome many emotional issues, a major one was the loss of members. However, with the support, perseverance, dedication and diligence, the society was registered with Registrar of Society. With that, Penang Breast Care Society came into being in 1992. Thus began my journey with the society.

Today, we, the volunteers in PBCS are mostly women who are breast cancer survivors. The members, with maturity, sensitivity, warmth and flexibility, offer emotional and practical support for women affected by breast cancer. We run a Patients’ Refreshment Trolley, offer help in the fitting of Prosthesis and wigs and share experiences with breast cancer patients. Moreover, we offer our services wherever and whenever we are needed. Currently, we are helping Mount Miriam Cancer Hospital and carrying out counselling in “Mitta for life” Cancer Counselling Centre.

We try to reach out to as many cancer patients as possible, if and when they need us. Our belief is “To the world, you might be one person but to one person, you might be the world.”

Mrs. Lee Chong Hai

Questionnaire for Cancer Survivors

ADELAIDE CHONG also did not turn us down when we approached her to answer this questionnaire. Before her bout with cancer, she had also lived life in the hospitality service, as a nurse. Now, though retired, she still continues to reach-out to those that need help. However, she admits that she now does so at a slower pace. What do you expect from a grandmother? All grandmothers need to enjoy life and be cuddled too.

1. When did you discover you had cancer?

In November 1995, I discovered a small lump in my left breast. The biopsy was done in December and the results were sent to me and the surgeon.

2. What was your immediate reaction?

I was calm, feeling unsure, wondering if it was correct and hoping that it was all a mistake.

3. Who was the first person you told?

My husband, like me, was also doubtful. We were hopeful for a negative result.

4. What was that person’s reaction or advice?

He was good at hiding his feelings. He felt that a second opinion was advisable.

5. What was your next course of action?

I had thought of a second opinion but I had full trust in my surgeon. I went to him at once to discuss options.

6. What sort of treatment did you opt for?

We agreed on a simple mastectomy. During that period, there was no knowledge of other options like reconstruction, etc. No chemotherapy was needed.

7. Your reaction to the treatment?

After seeing the oncologist and listening to the types of treatment I was to receive, I began to face reality. I did shed a few tears.

8. Describe the help you received when undergoing treatment.

Physically and treatment-wise, I was looked after well but emotionally, I was afraid of the unknown future. In spite of the support of doctors, friends and family, I felt alone and so found support in my religious faith. I found great support here.

9. How did you feel when the whole course of treatment was over?

After two years of rest and proper nourishment, I felt renewed physically and emotionally. I kept busy by joining a support group to encourage others to cope with life after cancer.

10. Any follow-up through the years?

Yes, every three to six months, a check-up by the Oncologist who carried out repeated blood tests and X-rays were also done.

11. How have you lived life ever since?

I started living a different life style. I did things I had never done before. I beca me involved in outreach programmes, travelled and attended conferences on health and spiritual topics all over the world. I made sure that my life was less stressful and I never thought about tomorrow.

12. Word of advice for cancer patients.

Do not panic but just keep a check on your physical self. Most important, live life to the fullest everyday. Just be yourself – maintain a sense of humour. Reach out to others and remember that they are going through what you had gone through before. In this age of modern technology, you have many choices when it comes to treatment.