Breast, Ovarian & Endometrial Cancer: Stories of Hope - Victory Over Cancer

Contributed by: Dr See Hui Ti

For most people, a single cancer diagnosis can be devastating. Imagine being Mary — diagnosed with cancer three times in six years: with breast cancer in 2011, ovarian cancer in 2013, and cancerous cysts around her uterus in 2017.

The accountant-turned-financial adviser first encountered cancer in 2011, when a routine check uncovered four nodules in her left breast. Tests revealed that of the four nodules, one was malignant.

“Thank God for early detection,” she said.

Because of this discovery, Mary underwent an intensive course of radiotherapy, an experience which sapped her. “I felt very sick, and not my usual self; I just had no energy.”

As she worked towards recovery, she signed up for the 10 km Great Eastern Women’s Run in June of that year. The run was a revelation for her

“When I was doing the run, I felt the energy coming back. I thought, ‘Wow! Body movement and exercise really do restore me!’” Inspired, she continued to run more half-marathons, and capped off 2012 by completing a full marathon—an entire 42,195 km.

Unbeknownst to her, even as she was growing stronger, something else was developing inside her.

In December 2012, she realised that she had stopped menstruating. She made an appointment to see a doctor in February 2013. That was when the doctor discovered a tumour the size of her fist in her right ovary. Subsequent tests showed it to be malignant.

The news shook her. “I thought, ‘How is it possible to get cancer a second time?’”

  • According to Dr See Hui Ti, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology, if a patient is diagnosed with cancer a second time, it is usually a recurrence rather than a second cancer. However, she emphasised that while second cancers are rare, they do happen.
  • “Diagnosing a recurrent cancer is similar to diagnosing cancer for the first time,” explains Dr See. “Based on the signs and symptoms, doctors will do an examination to see if there is evidence of a malignant tumour.”
  • If the tumour is malignant, in the case of people who have previously had cancer, the hospital will test to see if the two cancers are alike (a recurrence) or if they are different (a second cancer). According to Dr See, this is an important step as identifying the type of cancer a patient has will determine the treatment the patient will receive.

Mary underwent surgery of her right ovary, and was then recommended 21 cycles of chemotherapy, which Mary resisted. “I thought, ‘That’s too drastic.’”

She went to seek a second opinion, where she was told she would only need six cycles. Mary was delighted and began treatment in April.

Following surgery, and during the course of chemotherapy, most people would tend to focus on recovery. However, Mary is not like most people. While undergoing treatment, she taught an accounting class. To minimise disruption to her students, she continued teaching even during her chemotherapy.

“It was very painful and I cried,” she recalled. One side effect was hair loss, but she took it in her stride. “One day before going to work, my hair fell off after I washed it. I quickly tied a scarf around my head and went to class.”

Following chemotherapy, life returned to normal for Mary. But four years later, during a routine check, she received abnormal results. A pelvic scan showed two cysts around the uterus. “My doctor told me, ‘It’s time to take out all your reproductive organs and you need to do it ASAP,’” she recalled.

Her doctor recommended surgery to be carried out in early December, but Mary wanted it done later because she had organised a tour to Changi Airport for residents from the All Saints Home. As a result, it was only the day after taking 14 wheelchair-bound residents through Terminals 1, 2 and 3 that she had her hysterectomy.

Mary has always put others before herself. Part of what kept her going through everything is the fact that she is caring for her 83-year-old mother as well as her younger sister who has Down Syndrome.

Because of her multiple brushes with cancer, Mary has become active in cancer-related charities, doing fundraising for the Breast Cancer Foundation and the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

In addition, she is also involved in Coffee and Conversation, a patient support group under CanHOPE—a non-profit cancer counselling and support service. At the monthly meetings, she provides advice, encouragement and a listening ear to cancer patients. “My role is to share and to give them hope. When I refresh others, I become refreshed too,” she said.

Based on her experience with cancer, she believes that it is important to get through the stages of denial and anger and into the stage of acceptance.

“Normally, when you first receive your diagnosis, there’s the ‘why me?’ stage. But if you linger too long there, you will have a hard time recovering. When you’re in acceptance, that’s when the recovery will come because your partnership with a doctor is better at the acceptance stage.”

POSTED IN Up Close and Personal
TAGS breast cancer, cancer & exercise, cancer awareness, cancer hair loss, cancer positive thinking, cancer quality of life, endometrial cancer, hysterectomy, radiotherapy (radiation therapy)
READ MORE ABOUT Breast Cancer, Endometrial Cancer, Ovarian Cancer