I am 29 and I’ve just been diagnosed with lymphoma three months ago. It’s surreal to even type this out now because four months ago, I don’t even know what “lymphoma” is.
I just got married in June and almost exactly one month later, I was diagnosed.
Bam! It felt like everything came crushing down on me.
Now, I’m fighting an illness that I would have never imagined suffering from at such a young age.
Do you know that cancer is the most common illness that Singaporeans suffer from, with one in three diagnosed with it in their lifetime? And of them, breast cancer tops the chart for women.
Yet, while everyone has heard of cancer, or even know someone who suffers from it, how many of us actually understand what a cancer patient goes through?
Because there are so many types of cancers and a varied number of treatments, I shall only share some of the challenges that I face as a lymphoma patient going through chemotherapy:
- The trauma. Mutant cells are literally taking over your body and growing, and there’s nothing you can really do besides treatment to make them stop. It’s normal to feel depressed, or even angry. It disrupts your life and inconvenience your loved ones. Going through surgery and other procedures aren’t the best experiences as well.
- High hospital bills. If you have insurance coverage, perhaps it’s easier to tide over. But cancer treatments aren’t cheap and doctor’s visits, blood tests, scans and other procedures cost a bomb, even with subsidies and Medisave.
- Side effects from treatments. For chemotherapy, a treatment that kills all fast-growing cells, including “good” cells like hair cells and white blood cells, it brings with it a huge number of side effects that, honestly, can be more painful than the cancer itself sometimes. Some of those that I’ve experienced include: nausea, poor appetite (it really sucks feeling hungry but you simply stare down at the plate of food, your throat unwilling to get anything down), hair loss, muscle/bone pains, general weakness (so much so that you can’t even work up energy to write a text message or smile), dizziness, tingling sensation in the fingers (because your nerves are damaged by chemotherapy, and this means that you find it more difficult to button your shirt or type on the keyboard). And generally, there was never a day after chemotherapy that I feel “well”.
- “Managing” your body gingerly. Most of us take our bodies for granted and trust that they can function on their own. For me, regular observation and tests (e.g. taking my temperature twice a day) are a part of daily life now. Everything in your body goes haywire from the treatments and you have to monitor all vital functions. E.g. if my blood test shows that my blood counts have a problem, I have to immediately go for blood transfusion. And if I get a high fever? Call an ambulance to send me to A&E immediately.
- Compromising your social life. My protocol is rather aggressive (because the cancer that I suffer from is aggressive so my treatments have to be fast and furious), which means I have little “downtime” between treatments. Any “rest” that I get are mostly days when my white blood cells are so low that I have to avoid crowds or anything that can get me in touch with bacteria (to avoid getting an infection, which can disrupt my treatments, or worse, threaten my life). This means I can’t really “hang out”, or even dine out.
- Worry for the future. Ironically, going through treatments like chemotherapy and the radiation from scans can increase health problems in the future. I’ve always been a relatively healthy person and the thought that I’d end up with a weaker body after this, scares me sometimes.
And with these experiences, I really want to take the chance to do my part to raise awareness for cancers, and particularly breast cancer in October – it being the month dedicated to breast cancer awareness.
Besides going through some of what I’ve gone through, many survivors have to live with removed breast(s). As superficial as it may sound, our breasts are a symbol of our femininity and are physical assets that are quite outward and obvious.
The hair I’ve lost now may grow back months after my treatments are completed; I simply can’t imagine the trauma and pain a woman who has already gone through a series of strenuous treatments have to bear with for the rest of her life, with something taken away from her permanently.
For me, raising awareness doesn’t mean we are going to be able to take away anyone’s pain totally, but reminding ourselves about how real this illness can be and how it can affect us or someone close to us, is a first step to making things better.
Any fund raised, additional effort lent towards the cause or word of encouragement can help patients and survivors tide through their ordeals better. And at the very least, for ourselves, let’s remember not to take our health lightly, and go for regular checkups.
These are things you can do:
- Get a mammogram screening done at least once every two years.
- Do self examinations for lumps in the breasts. (And don’t be afraid to get paranoid over it if you find something! See a doctor – don’t just sweep it away lightly!)
- Keep a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and adequate exercise.
This is the first of a series of articles related to Breast Cancer Awareness we’ll be running on Daily Vanity. See more related articles here.