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Thriving after second cancer relapse

"It's back?"

Connie exclaimed in disbelief, as she processed the news of her second cancer relapse.

Connie had already spent three years of her life battling stage 3A* non-small cell lung cancer, undergoing numerous rounds of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. Nausea, hair loss, insomnia and a loss of appetite affected her everyday life but she was determined to survive.

However, within a span of two years, Connie underwent two relapses as the cancer spread.

Connie, who is single, had relied on her faith and support from family and friends to cope with treatment, but when she heard of the second relapse, she could not help but feel a sense of helplessness. "The thought of going through another cycle of chemotherapy and enduring the side effects all over again just seemed too much to bear," Connie shared.

Seven years ago, when she experienced persistent coughing spells Connie's doctor, a general practitioner, recommended an X-ray. A white spot was discovered in her left lung and after further tests she was diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2014.

It came as a shock to her as she had never smoked and had no family history of cancer.  "I initially thought it could be pneumonia or some other medical condition, but not cancer. I also had little understanding of cancer and thought that it was incurable," Connie said.

Family and friends were equally shocked at the cancer diagnosis but quickly rallied to provide mental, emotional and physical support. As she has no family in Singapore and lives alone, her friends pitched in to hire a helper. Connie's brother who lives overseas also returned to Singapore for a period of time to care for her. 

Suddenly, the active marketing manager who was always on the go, working and travelling, found her life being restricted due to the disease. She coped by focusing her time and energy on a newfound hobby - painting.  

 

Connie chanced upon a painting studio near her house day one day and picked up acrylic painting since that day.

Connie settled into a new routine and looked forward to painting whenever she was well enough to leave the house. However, this was disrupted by the news of the second relapse. Her cancer had also progressed from stage 3A to stage 4 lung cancer.

"Due to the intensity of the side effects I've suffered, I decided at that point not to continue with intravenous chemotherapy. I asked my oncologist if there were suitable alternatives."

After undergoing some tests, it was found Connie could receive an oral chemotherapy drug targeting lung cancer. "I was hopeful that the new drug would be more effective and would not cause more side effects," shared Connie, who switched from private care and started the regime at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) in July 2017.

And so dawned a new day in Connie's life. She responded well to the new treatment and is no longer plagued by severe side effects.

"I do not have to receive treatment at the hospital and my only visits to NCCS are two check-ups each year. I finally feel like myself again."

Connie has been on the oral chemotherapy treatment for the past four years and will continue taking it for the foreseeable future.

Though much has changed since her diagnosis seven years ago, Connie is determined to live life to the fullest. She has regained her strength and her hair, and keeps fit by exercising and carrying on with normal activities. The 58-year-old retiree continues to paint in her free time and looks forward to globetrotting again one day.

 

Connie enjoys painting pictures of her dog, people she loves and the landscape around her.

*Stage 3A non-small cell lung cancer refers to cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the primary tumour, and treatment may include a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy and/or surgery.