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Overcoming cancer with her family’s love

Battling cancer has helped Ms Or prioritise and focus on what is important 
(Credit: Ms Or Yan Nee)

In January 2023, 53-year-old Ms Or Yan Nee, noticed a small, painless, lump on the right of her neck. She did not really worry until she felt it starting to grow. At the same time, she noticed she often felt tired and lethargic even though she led a healthy lifestyle, did not smoke or drink alcohol and had no chronic conditions. The part-time infant care assistant teacher in a pre-school shared, ‘My arms and legs felt weak, and it got increasingly difficult to carry the infants at work.”

She became concerned and decided to take a break from work until she recovered. 

A month later, Ms Or was alarmed when she noticed that the lump in her neck, which had started to subside in March, had resurfaced and grown even larger. This time, it was filled with pus and was so painful that she could not even turn her head to the side or sleep on her side. 

One night when she was in severe discomfort, Ms Or’s husband and children took her to the Emergency Department at Singapore General Hospital. After various tests and scans, Ms Or was diagnosed with early-stage oropharynx cancer in May.

“The first thing that crossed my mind was whether I was going to die? And what would happen to my children and husband when I did? There were so many questions racing through my mind,” shared Ms Or. 

The diagnosis hit her family hard but they took care to not to let her worry and were incredibly supportive. Ms Or was especially struck by how bravely her husband, took the news. 

“He was very calm. One of the first things he asked the doctor was what needed to be done for me to recover and get well again,” recalled Ms Or. 

In addition to reading up about the disease, treatment options and potential side effects, Mr Lee ensured that her meals were well-balanced.  Ms Or’s two children, who are in their 20s, took charge to help around the house, relieving their mother of household chores that were physically tiring.

“I drew courage to battle the disease from them. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if my family wasn’t around to support me,” shared Ms Or.

Ms Or’s doctor Clinical Assistant Professor Kiattisa Sommat, Senior Consultant, Division of Radiation Oncology, NCCS advised her to undergo radiation therapy for her condition as her tumour was in a sensitive area – her throat and neck. 

After an in-depth discussion with Dr Kiattisa and reading up on their own, Ms Or and her husband opted for proton therapy in hope that it could potentially minimise treatment-related side effects.

Ms Or together with the proton therapy team at NCCS. 

Ms Or began the first of 33 sessions of proton therapy on 26 June and concurrently, underwent 3 sessions of chemotherapy. She experienced some nausea, dizziness, fatigue and constipation from chemotherapy, and had some mouth ulcers, redness near the treatment site on her neck and temporary loss of taste from the radiation. 

However, the side effects did not impact her daily life much and were resolved once treatment was completed on 11 August 2023. 

‘I am so grateful to my family for the love and care they showed me during that very trying period. My two children accompanied me for every treatment and medical appointment and my husband would keep me company and take me out after my treatments,” shared Ms Or.

Given a clean bill of health from her doctor in September, Ms Or returned to work at the pre-school. 

“I missed the infants when I was away from work. I’m thankful to be back with them now that I’ve recovered and regained my strength. Seeing their happy faces when they learn or discover new things, gives me a great sense of satisfaction!” 

Ms Or on trip to Harbin, China in January 2024 with her husband and friends
(Credit: Ms Or Yan Nee)

After this ordeal, Ms Or realised that she had much to live for and set about creating fond memories with her loved ones. She has since travelled with her family and friends to Malaysia, Thailand and China and looks forward to more overseas trips in the coming months. 

Ms Or said, “I have regained my life thanks to the medical care team at NCCS and my loving family - I’m very blessed!” 

Ms Or is now an advocate of regular health screenings and advises that one should not be complacent about health even if there is no family history of disease. It is important to seek a doctor’s attention immediately if there are any worrying signs or symptoms.