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I was Diagnosed with Breast Cancer after Giving Birth

Diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer

Just three months after giving birth to her daughter, RG was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer at the age of 35. At a time when she should have been celebrating the arrival her newborn daughter, she had to focus on treatment and survival instead.

RG was diagnosed by coincidence during a visit to her GP due to irregular menses after child birth. During the physical examination, a lump was detected in her left breast. As she was breastfeeding her baby, it was hard to determine if the lump due to a blocked milk duct or a tumour. She went for an ultrasound and the results came back a week later, indicating a likely tumour. A biopsy subsequently confirmed that she had triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive type of cancer that is harder to treat.

Coping with treatment

RG felt anxious and lost when she got the diagnosis. The fear of not being able to care for her newborn baby and whether she would survive gave her sleepless nights. She had to do some research to find out who and where to seek treatment. She eventually picked the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) where she felt the treatment plan offered to her was holistic. She found Dr Rebecca Dent, Senior Consultant Medical Oncologist at NCCS very reassuring and felt that all the treatment options available were explained in detail to her. This gave her the confidence to start treatment.

RG underwent neo-adjuvant therapy, lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She experienced various side effects from chemotherapy such as feeling nauseous, lethargic, experiencing loss of appetite, diarrhea and hair loss. However, she felt the healthcare team was always there for her. This helped as she had to attend medical consultations and treatment alone during the COVID-19 lockdown period in April 2020, when there were restrictions on the number of accompanying persons or visitors allowed into NCCS, to keep vulnerable patients safe from infection.

During her chemotherapy sessions she saw people of all ages, from all walks of life undergoing treatment. She thought to herself, “I’m still young, I can definitely get through this!”.

Her friends and family members supported her by driving her to NCCS for her appointments or helping her babysit her infant daughter. They cooked her favourite food and made sure she got good nutrition.

Due to the lockdown, her husband who used to travel frequently for work, was in Singapore and was able to provide much-needed support. His reassuring presence and dedicated care gave her the opportunity to heal, physically and mentally. She owes it to her newborn daughter and husband, who gave her both the reason and strength to get through those challenging times.

Staying positive

Her diagnosis brought an abrupt end to being able to breastfeed her infant daughter, something that she really wanted to do and enjoyed. To keep herself positive, she joined patient support groups and benefitted from emotional support from fellow patients and survivors who had experienced similar journeys. She also participated in a spiritual group that helped gave her mental support.

During the treatment, she tried to continue to lead a normal life and kept herself busy by continuing to work as a Human Resource Manager and do exercises such as yoga.

Advice for those undergoing treatment

Now, as a cancer survivor, RG’s advice to anyone recently diagnosed with cancer, and those who are still undergoing treatment is to try get as much information as possible.

“You may feel vulnerable, but it is important to do your research and trust your care team especially once you start treatment. Manage your side effects and look after your diet to build your immunity. Having faith is important and do not be shy to ask for help when you need it,” said RG.

Having undergone a life-changing event at a relatively young age, RG concedes that while there’s still some fear and uncertainty, she also feels gratitude that life is meaningful, and she looks forward to a positive future.

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