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Overcoming breast cancer at 31 years old

When Erica went to the doctor to get a small lump in her breast checked, she was told that it was unlikely to be cause for concern as she was only 31 years old then.

This reassurance was short-lived when the results of an ultrasound and biopsy came back. Erica was diagnosed with stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), where abnormal cells are present in the milk ducts of the breast. Even though she was diagnosed early, the discovery that it was cancer still came as a shock to her.

Erica's cancer evolved into stage 1 and she subsequently underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. While the post-surgery recovery was manageable, Erica found the subsequent chemotherapy treatment harder to handle.

Before each chemotherapy session, she had to undergo a blood test to check her white blood cell count before proceeding with the treatment. Several times when her blood count was too low, she had to receive booster shots to increase the white blood cell count which made her feel very weak. She also experienced side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, insomnia and nausea. It was a very difficult period, but she was able to persevere and get through the treatment with the strong support from her family and partner.

“When I first got the cancer diagnosis, I felt scared that I was going to die young and had so much uncertainty about my future. I also worried about finances and whether my insurance coverage would be sufficient to cover the treatment cost,” said Erica.

While undergoing treatment, there were days when Erica felt depressed, but the thought of her loved ones gave her strength. “Whenever I thought about my loved ones who were by my side through it all, I reminded myself to stay optimistic. To distract myself from feeling low, I would do activities that I enjoy like cooking and baking. I also turned to my religion for strength,” said Erica.

Throughout her cancer journey, Erica was pleased with the care she received from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) medical team. Her oncologist Dr Rebecca Dent made her feel at ease and hopeful, and all the other NCCS staff who took care of her were always kind and patient.

Erica's outlook on life has changed since she completed her treatment. “I tend to over think and I often worry about my cancer recurring. Instead of worrying too much about what might happen in the future, I am now learning to stay positive, focus on the present and enjoy my time with my loved ones,” said Erica.

Her advice for other cancer patients is, “Stay positive and be kind to yourself - eat well, get plenty of rest and reach out for support when you need.” Erica hopes that the general public will donate to cancer research as it will help clinicians and scientists develop better cancer treatment that will improve the quality of life for patients in the future.

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