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"You can never be prepared for bad news like cancer"

“You can never be prepared for news like cancer,” shares Karen, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020 at the age of 39.

Karen moved from North America to Singapore in 2019 to work in the financial sector. In 2020, she felt a lump in her breast and went to see the doctor to get it checked. As the lump looked suspicious from the ultrasound scan, the doctor arranged to do a biopsy.

Although she had done some research online on breast cancer and mentally prepared herself for the worst, her mind went blank when the doctor broke the news that she had stage 2 Triple Positive Breast Cancer (TPBC).

Karen broke down in tears with her husband by her side as she tried to process the news. It came as a complete shock as she was young, fit and healthy, and did not have any family history of cancer. Hearing that TPBC is an aggressive form of cancer that grows very quickly as compared to other breast cancers really scared her.

For the next few hours, her oncologist sat with her to address her concerns and shared in detail the treatment options available for her cancer, the benefits and risks of each option, and the recommended treatment for her.

Karen spent the next month contemplating and making tough decisions about the treatments she would undergo. She eventually went through 16 months of treatment including chemotherapy, targeted therapy, lumpectomy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy. Like most cancer patients, she experienced side effects such as fatigue, back pain, hair loss and slight loss of sense of taste. “Even though going for treatment will help me get better, it was tough thinking about the after effects of the chemotherapy where I will be in bed for the whole week with fatigue, body aches and any other symptoms that may arise. I was lucky to have strong support from my husband, family and friends who helped me through this difficult period.”

Naturally, Karen had many concerns and worries on her mind, like the cost of treatment and also the possibility of dying from cancer. Her self-esteem was also affected because of the temporary hair loss. But her strong support system helped her to stay positive and kept her going.

“My mum would look up nutritious recipes for cancer patients and prepare all my meals. She took care of me around the clock to make sure that I am doing okay. My friends would drop by to bring my favourite foods and accompany me for walks,” said Karen.

After completing treatment in 2021, Karen was determined to change her lifestyle for the better. Her work in the financial industry had been stressful and she has since reduced her workload, and put more focus on self-care activities such as going for massages and meditation. “It is amazing how the body can heal itself after going through such harsh treatments. We should really take better care of our bodies,” said Karen.

She wants to share this message to others who receive a cancer diagnosis, “It may seem impossible, but tell yourself you will get through treatment by getting all the support you can and persevering. When you look back after recovery, you will realise that you have become a much stronger person.”

Karen also wants to raise awareness and rally support for patients diagnosed with TPBC, which is often deadly and fast growing. She hopes more people can donate to support research in TPBC so that future patients can have even better prognosis and treatment options.

The future looks bright for Karen as she looks forward to many more opportunities to travel with friends and family.