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Tan Soi Hong Anna, 72, is a passionate altruist, dedicating a significant portion of her adult life to being a strong advocate of lowering the risks of breast cancer through breast feeding. Anna would have never expected herself to be afflicted by the same circumstance. On the receiving-end of care, she simply could not come to terms with the irony of her situation.

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(L to R) Tan Soi Hong Anna with SCS Goodwill Ambassador Victoria Cheng

 

Just as she was reaching her golden years, settled down and ready to take on a new chapter of life, this period of tranquility and respite was abruptly halted by her diagnosis of Stage 1 Breast Cancer. As an avid traveller, she particularly recounts a planned holiday postponed to October that year. From a mind liberated, free of life’s stress and anxiety, to a desolate state in the face of mortality - Anna’s world was upended. 

Anna recalls the beginning stages of this debilitating sequence of events. It started in 2007, when she experienced what she describes as a prolonged soreness and sharp pain in her breast. Prudent by nature, Anna knew the importance of regular medical checkups and had her previous one 6 months prior to this episode. When she noticed the pain becoming more frequent and intense, she took no hesitation to seek medical attention despite being unable to detect lumps on her breast during self-examination. A mammogram test revealed a 0.7mm malignant tumour.

Within a few weeks of recovery, things took a turn for the worse as Anna now faced pains on the other side of her breast. There were two tumours this time and were much larger in size, requiring further lumpectomy (a breast-conserving surgery) in order to survive. Anna had to endure two biopsy incisions, which she describes as excruciating. To have a recurrent experience, she had to go through agony yet again.

Anna felt as if no one could understand what had befallen her, and thought that the battle was hers to fight alone. She highlights the numerous times she lamented the solitude and inability to relate to others with her condition.  Despite the support from her husband, the emotional and physical turmoil was a heavy burden to bear as she often found herself alone.

But Anna is a person of sheer tenacity and faith. She knew that dwelling on her fears and anxieties would do her no good, and decided to take on a mindset of positivity, focusing instead on factors that were in her control. When she saw patients who were suffering more than her, the realisation that we often focus on the greener side and overlook the sobering fact that everybody’s circumstances are varied, dawned upon her. Anna says that comparing circumstances is a futile exercise, rather the value lies in how we respond to our situations and experiences and through that grow to be stronger individuals.

Chancing upon the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) on one of her past community outreaches, she was captivated by the multitudinous support network they offered to aiding past and current cancer patients integrate back into the routines of life. Her recovery process was accelerated when she became a member of the SCS Reach to Recovery Support Group (RTR), a curated initiative aimed at helping women cope with the diagnosis of breast cancer. The companionship and slew of activities organised by motivated staff-volunteers successfully kept their minds off woes. From dragon boating, boxing, ukulele to zumba classes, there was never a boring time in SCS as Anna would fondly say. There were even avenues to contribute back to the community such as learning sign-language for patients who found difficulty speaking as a result of esophageal cancer.

“SCS was a saviour for me” chimed Anna. 

Till this day, Anna is an active participant of RTR events and has forged an unbreakable camaraderie with her fellow peers.  She smiles exuberantly on mention of how SCS has played an indelible role in her swifty recovery and is eager to share experiences she made with her RTR buddies. Her outlook on life has changed for the better, and quoting from her, “Fear is natural...but prioritise what is important. Live life in the moment and to the fullest!”

 

Article contributed by SCS volunteers: Ian Chia and Nathaniel Chin

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