Whenever someone asks me how life is in Singapore, I tell them that it is amazing and express how much I love it here. And it’s the truth – I love the tropical climate and proximity to my family in Hong Kong (and other destinations), I love the efficiency and how things work as it should (like public transportation), I love that we have friends here who have made us feel at home, I love the people I work with – they have been so welcoming and helpful, and lastly I love the work that I get to do. But this game of life isn’t always smooth sailing, and today it threw me the biggest curveball of my life – Cancer. I have early stage and highly curable breast cancer. I am ok – I am in shock, but I am ok. We are ok.
Last week as I was laying on the couch (Monday), under the weather, I noticed a lump in my right breast. It was hard, not painful and felt like it was between the size of an M&M and a mini egg. WTF! The next morning (Tuesday), I went to a walk-in and to get a referral to a specialist. My manager recommended me to see a specialist she went to and was able to secure an appointment for me the following day (Wednesday). By Wednesday morning, the specialist performed a quick ultrasound of the lump and ordered a mammogram and ultrasound for the same afternoon and a biopsy the next day. The efficiency is unheard of. (Although this is a private hospital which felt kind of like a hotel – equipped with a pianist playing the piano in the lobby.)
Many people say that mammograms are painful, for me it was more awkward than painful. Many articles say biopsies are painless, I say – it fucking hurts. I’ve read that 80% of all breast biopsies are benign. Unfortunately, this is not the case for me. My tumour is around 1.8cm (small) – which puts it likely at stage 1 – however, due to the cancer cell receptors testing positive for all 3 receptors – especially the fast-growing HER2 – it is considered a high-grade tumour, grade 3. (These cancer cells look very different from normal cells and will probably grow and spread faster.)
Because the tumour size is considered small and the lack of signs that it has spread to the surrounding lymph nodes, it is highly treatable (97%). However, since it is an aggressive, high grade tumour, the recommendation is that chemotherapy and targeted therapy be done to “plug” the fast-growing receptors, reduce the tumour and lower the chances it will be found in the lymph nodes. Once that is done, a lumpectomy will be done to remove the remaining part of the tumour (if there’s any left…), followed by more chemo & targeted therapy and 12 months of another drug… which I don’t remember what for. The first process (Chemo – Surgery – Chemo) is expected to take approximately 6 months in Singapore.
Side effects of chemo – fatigue, hair loss, lowered immune system, constipation, diarrhea and loss of appetite. NO MORE RAW SUSHI, oh but alcohol is ok. (Don’t anticipate drinking, but it’s good to know.)
The diagnosis took place this morning. We are still in disbelief. I feel like I got kicked in the gut multiple times. I have spent many hours researching and trying to understand the likelihood that the outcome would be cancerous, and if so, what are the next steps? No amount of research and “worse case scenario” thoughts prepare you for the moment that your cancer diagnosis is confirmed. We expected stage 1 cancer, we did not expect it to be high grade. We expected surgery and radiotherapy, we did not expect chemotherapy.
I am writing this to help me process my new reality and the curveball that life has thrown at me. While I will often put on a brave face, I am scared on the inside. The road ahead will be rough. I know there are a lot of people who care about me, we may not catchup often but I know I can count on you to be there through this. I am not so much worried about the outcome (because breast cancer is highly treatable, my prognosis is really good), but I am worried about the up and downs which lay ahead. I am supported, I am loved, and I am strong.
Tomorrow I will be going back to the fancy hospital to get a PET and MRI scan. These will give the team a much better view of what’s going on and whether the proposed treatment plan is still suitable. As I write this, there are a lot of uncertainties and unknowns – such as whether we will stay in Singapore or go back to Canada for treatment. I am thankful to have an extremely empathetic, supportive management team at work who want me to get the best care and will support whatever is the best for me. Wherever I end up physically going through this, I know you will be there with me. ❤
Miss you lots.