Ovarian Cancer: Stories of Hope - No Summit Out of Sight

Contributed by: Dr Ang Peng Tiam

When Nellie returned from cameron highlands after new year’s in 2006, she began to feel a slight discomfort in her abdominal area. When the pain in her abdomen became unbearable, she went to seek medical help from her company’s doctors.

Nellie was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, but after the discomfort persisted and symptoms developed into frequent cramp attacks, she was referred to a gynaecologist for an ultrasound. It was then that she discovered she had a growth in her ovaries.

Upon further scans, she was confirmed to have a cancerous tumour, and was advised to consider immediate surgery.

“My mind was spinning; how can this be? Just 3 weeks ago, I was in the cool mountains of Cameron Highlands. Now, I am in the clutches of cancer.”

“We were asked to seek a second opinion, but my mind was made up,” shared Nellie. “I asked for the earliest surgery available.

“The next day, I was rolled into the operating theatre.”

However, what awaited her post-surgery was more than she could handle. Her tumour had grown to such an extent that it also spread to her omentum, and she was subsequently determined to have Stage 3C ovarian cancer.

“My husband asked our doctor to give it to us in plain English what Stage 3 cancer really meant... ‘about 30% chance of survival’ was her answer. It took a while to soak it all up.”

However, little did Nellie know that hope was waiting around the corner. On the very day of her surgery, an article in the newspaper caught her husband’s attention as he sat in the hospital’s waiting area.

“It was titled ‘One in 4 Singaporeans will die of cancer’,” shared Nellie. “Few things could ever compare to the irony of the situation that we were in. Here my husband was on the very day of his wife’s surgery, and there it was, an article in the papers saying one in four people will die of cancer.

“In my mind, I was half dreading what’s to become of me in the months ahead, but also what I needed to do to win this fight... literally, the fight of my life. But reading into the article a bit more, it showed me how the most aggressive of cancers can be stopped from spreading further, if not fully cured.”

  • In the past, advanced stage cancer was deemed untreatable and terminal. Now, cure can be expected in some cancers, while treatment can be offered for control and prolongation of life in others.
  • As Dr Ang Peng Tiam, Medical Director and Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology explains, “When I first started my oncology training in 1986, you could count the number of drugs available for cancer treatment with the fingers on your hands.
  • “Today, thanks to chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy, there are hundreds of drugs; the field has exploded with many treatment possibilities.”
  • Dr Ang highlighted that cancer research has yielded great advances in medical treatment and technologies that have impacted the lives of many cancer patients.
  • “People must never lose heart. Many patients are now living in harmony with their disease. If you are on treatment, you can continue to enjoy good quality of life with the disease in remission or under control.”

For the past 10 years, between travels to many countries and even Everest Base Camp twice, Nellie also makes what she likes to call a ‘pilgrimage’ to her follow-up appointments every 6 months.

“It is indeed an achievement to be able to trek given my cancer journey. However, until now, that follow-up trip to the doctor is the one that I find intimidating and fortuitous at the same time,” said Nellie. “Intimidating because the needles await me, and one simply does not know if the results will be in my favour, but also fortuitous because I am very grateful that I am in good hands.

“To hear your oncologist tell you ‘you are in good shape, Nellie’ is simply music to my ears!”

POSTED IN Up Close and Personal
TAGS cancer quality of life, cancer ultrasound, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, ovarian cancer, surgery, targeted therapy, women (gynaecological) cancer
READ MORE ABOUT Ovarian Cancer