Thailamei (or Mei for short) was an executive officer for MINDEF who loved life’s simple pleasures such as a morning nature walk.

Mei was diagnosed with Stage 1 Grade 2 Breast cancer back in November 2020 during her routine check.

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During her mammogram, Mei recalled that her checkup was different compared to her previous checks as her radiologist questioned her more than usual. She was told to get an ultrasound right after. Mei thought this was odd but went ahead with ultrasound anyway. During her ultrasound, she saw somethingthat resembled a lump in the imaging and got worried. 

She found out there was lump present in her breast, which although was neither big nor small, warranted a referral to a breast specialist. While awaiting her results, her mind started to run wild, as she feared the presence of something malignant in her breast. When she got home, she immediately performed a breast self-check, and she discovered a hard lump. 

An appointment was swiftly fixed at KK Hospital (KKH), where the doctor proposed a biopsy to confirm the possible diagnosis of cancer. and that a biopsy was needed to confirm the diagnosis. Meis mind went completely blank as she sat in utter disbelief. It took her some time to process her thoughts and emotions, but she eventually accepted the doctor’s advice. 

Everything happened quickly from that point and Mei was making weekly visits to KKH. She underwent a very painful biopsy, and her breast cancer diagnosis was confirmed. Mei revealed that her lump measured approximately 1.8cm when KKH advised her to get a mastectomy. However, Mei was reluctant to remove her whole breast. 

Mei was eventually referred to the National Cancer Centre (NCC), where the oncologist did a survey on the 21 December 2020 to remove the malignant lump, as well as the lymph nodes. NCC also presented her with the option to do an Oncotype test, which would give her an idea of her chances of cancer recurrence. The test indicated that she had a borderline risk of cancer returning. With the future risk in mind, the oncologists recommended 4 cycles of chemotherapy (with 21 days interval) followed by 8 sessions of radiotherapy.

During the course of chemotherapy, Mei suffered a range of side effectsfrom mental to physical, to social. She was unable to sleep, and it felt like something was eating her from inside. She also recalled that she was in so much pain during the process that she was unable to do simple tasks like taking a shower. It felt like everything had slowed down, and her appearance changed drastically. The once optimistic Mei struggled to go through with the remaining cycles and wanted to give up. 

Fortunately, her husband was a strong pillar of support, motivating her to complete the cycles. Upon completing chemo, Meis tastebuds took a hit, and she could no longer taste food, making eating no longer enjoyable. She also felt demoralised as she no longer looked the same. Mei recalled not going out other than for her chemotherapy sessions as people would stare. When she had to go out, she did so either at night or would rush home after running her errands. She hid from the world and wanted to get her old self back.

NCC eventually referred to a psychologist to treat her high stress levels. She was also introduced to the occupational therapists at Singapore Cancer Society (SCS). At SCS, Mei expressed her desire to get back in shape and a nutritionist was brought on board as well. The nutritionist accommodated her needs and reassured her that she could eat whatever she wanted in moderation. Following the nutritionists advice religiously, Mei lost 6kg in 1.5 months. 

Mei revealed that during one of her sessions with her nutritionist, a doctor walked in and asked if she would like to be referred to a sexologist since she was married. That encounter shocked Mei because at that point, sex not a priority. However, she decided to be open and despite not knowing what to expect, agreed.

Like many others, before Mei was referred to SCS, she never knew about our existence. Today, she is thankful because SCS was one of the places she could enter without feeling judged. Because every patient or survivor shares similar experiences and speaks the same cancer lingo, she did not feel alone anymore. She learnt a lot from the various tips generously shared by the other patients and looked forward to her visits to what she fondly refers to as her second home. Everyone was so encouraging and caring, and this has enabled her to keep going.

Mei emphasised the importance of going for routine checkups so that swift actions can be taken when something unusual pops up. The survival rates are also much higher when malignancy in the body is discovered earlier. Be as brave as Mei, go for your check up today. 

Written by Geetha Thayalan



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