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The daughter and father who battled cancer together

“When life returns to normal, it’s easy to forget the bad days - when you had cancer and weren’t sure whether you were going to live or die,” said Jane, a civil servant in her mid-30s. 

 Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, when she was 26-years-old. She was newly married and planning to start a family. The experience of being diagnosed with cancer at this stage of her life came as a shock to her, her husband, and their families. 

That year was spent making tough decisions and cancer treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and radiotherapy. “Going through chemotherapy was the hardest because of the side effects such as severe nausea. When I felt well again, it would soon be time to go for the next cycle. However, I was really blessed to have the support of my family and friends to walk the journey with me.” Jane and her husband were also concerned that chemotherapy would affect her fertility and considered fertility preservation options, but they eventually decided not to delay the cancer treatment. 

After completing her treatment that year, Jane felt an overwhelming sense of fear and uncertainty. “When you’re going through treatment, it felt like we were actively doing something about my cancer. But when I had finished with radiotherapy, that was when that sense of uncertainty hit. I felt afraid to plan ahead as I couldn’t be sure whether my cancer would come back,” reflected Jane. “It was a tough period. Eventually, my faith helped me through that time as I realised that I should just be thankful for each day I had, live purposefully, without worrying about the future.” 

All throughout her cancer journey, her father, John, played the key role of supporter and cheerleader. However, in 2018, the roles were reversed, when John was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer. 

Father and daughter were referred to the Cancer Genetics Service (CGS) at the National Cancer Centre Singapore as a doctor observed that there could be a link between prostate and breast cancers. The genetic test revealed that both John and Jane carried the BRCA2 faulty gene, which is linked to prostate, pancreatic, breast and ovarian cancers. 

John and Jane met with Associate Professor Joanne Ngeow and Genetic Counsellor Tarryn Shaw from CGS. Getting more information to better understand their familial condition was key to understanding and being aware of treatments that would make a difference to their condition, such as a specific chemotherapy drug to address the BRCA2 gene, for example. 

 On the way home from NCCS after receiving their genetic test results, John told Jane that he didn’t expect the cancer genes to come from him, but he would still have started a family and had her even if he had known that he carried the risk of hereditary cancer. “I would not exchange you for anything in the world,” he said. It was a comforting thought for Jane especially as she considered having children of her own. Assoc Prof Ngeow and Tarryn had also shared that BRCA2 wasn’t considered a genetic condition that was serious enough for them to advise against having children. 

John decided to share the outcome of the genetic testing with his family and left his two other adult children to decide whether to get genetic tests too. Discussing the test results with the genetic counsellors would give them a better understanding of their hereditary cancer risk so they could consider their screening and treatment options. 

For those considering genetic testing for hereditary cancers, Jane says: “The CGS team used a metaphor that was quite helpful - genetic testing is like turning on your headlights when driving at night. It helps you to see what’s ahead and if you see an obstruction, you can drive around it. In the same way, genetic testing helps individuals and their family members manage their risks. A negative test would put your mind at ease, while a faulty gene being identified means you can proactively take steps to be more vigilant such as going for regular cancer screening.”

“Having more information and knowledge is helpful in knowing what to expect and what actions to take, but I understand not everyone feels the same way,” said John. 

To John and Jane, this journey has helped them draw closer to God and brought the family closer together. “When you have cancer at a young age, you are reminded that your time on earth is limited and that we have to be intentional with the time we have,” said Jane as she reflected on her experience. 

“My experience reminds me of my faith, that life doesn’t end after death. So I can live without the burden of fear of death,” added John. “This allows me to share about my journey with others, so that they can be encouraged and supported.”

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