When a close colleague was diagnosed with stage 4 Breast Cancer in her mid-30’s, Erika was shaken out of a denial and knew she had to take action. She had ignored a lump that she felt in her right breast. She went to see a GP and was referred to a breast surgeon who recommended a biopsy. Within days, Erika learned that she had cancer.
When she first discovered the lump, she dismissed it as she was breastfeeding her youngest child and it was common for lumps to come and go whilst breastfeeding. She also believed that breastfeeding could reduce a women's risk from breast cancer.
Erika went through chemotherapy and while most cancer patients worry about losing their hair, she was not bothered. She told herself that it would grow back and was more concerned about her children. “They were so little, and I could not imagine what would happen to them if I wasn’t around,” said Erika. She also worried about premature ageing and the likelihood of developing long-term health problems. Having led an active lifestyle doing sports and yoga, she felt anxious that she may no longer be able to do what she loved.
However, she tried to stay positive by ‘controlling the controllable’ and getting support from family and friends.
“So much is out of your hands when you have cancer, but I devoured information on lifestyle changes I could make to increase my odds of long-term survival, such as having a healthy diet, doing exercise, being intentional about relationships and practicing gratitude. I had great support from friends who surprised me with their generosity and empathy. Some of my work colleagues came to my chemotherapy appointments and sat with me for hours, working away on their laptops, just so that I would have company while undergoing treatment,” said Erika.
Erika is also grateful to her oncologist, Dr Rebecca Dent, at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), who understood the concerns of a mother of young children and anticipated her questions and concerns. She also appreciated the ‘holistic’ approach at NCCS where she was referred to specialists, including a radiation oncologist, gynaecologist, and cardiologist who checked on her heart health. “It was all integrated and I felt that the treatment I received was world class yet affordable,” Erika said.
Post-treatment, Erika is now the fittest she has been in years, thanks to her focus on diet and exercise. She took Dr Dent’s advice on staying fit and healthy with a high protein diet, and practices weight training. “Many patients are advised not to lift weights post-surgery, but the gradual approach that I have adopted worked for me. I set myself goals and have picked up new sports such as stand-up paddling and kayaking, which gives me a sense of accomplishment and joy,” said Erika proudly.
Erika’s outlook on life is positive and she feels physically, emotionally and mentally strong. She feels that she’s doing all she can to stay healthy.
“Before I got cancer, I thought I had my life planned out, but cancer threw a wrench into everything, at least for a while. I grieved about this, but once I got over the fact, I created a new vision of my life going forward. It’s been nearly four years since I was diagnosed and the fear associated with cancer is not something I think about everyday like I used to. Now it’s about accepting the circumstances and moving forward,” added Erika.
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