"I woke up one morning with a strange pulling pain in my right breast. It didn't feel right," says Singapore mum, Theresa Tan.
It was 7 years back, and her life was never quite the same again...
Singapore mum with breast cancer
Mummy of 3, Theresa Tan, tells us her story. Theresa runs a writing and PR business called WORD Agency and she is also a part-time church worker.
She has 3 children - Bruce (18), Bethany (16) and Becca (11)- and is married to a legal service officer.
Theresa was diagnosed with breast cancer 7 years back, and here, she takes us on her journey.
When did you first suspect that something was wrong?
"I woke up one morning with a strange pulling pain in my right breast. It didn't feel right."
"After a full day of meetings, I finally went to KK Hospital's 24 hour Women's Clinic where a doctor did an examination and asked me to return the following Monday for a mammogram."
"Prior to that, I did not have any signs or symptoms. However I DID miss my annual mammogram the previous year."
Is there a family history of cancer?
"Yes, my mother had breast cancer—first mastectomy at age 49, second mastectomy age 58, she eventually died of breast cancer when the cells occurred in her lungs."
At what stage was the cancer detected?
"The cancer was at a very early stage known as DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ)."
"Basically, the cancer cells had not broken through the milk ducts to form a mass yet. But a mastectomy was required because I actually had active cancer cells all over my right breast."
How did the family (especially the kids) deal with the news?
"My husband was a pillar - he was the one who arranged for a second opinion (first doctor told me I had stage 3 breast cancer without doing a biopsy)."
"He kept me very practical about the whole thing, which was a good thing. It kept my mind clear. Bruce and Becca were relatively unworried, but Bethany was very concerned."
Where did you seek treatment? What did it involve?
"I saw Dr Hoe Ah Leong at Gleneagles for a second opinion, and he did a biopsy."
"Two days later, the results came back as DCIS, and my mastectomy was scheduled for the following week."
"I had a full mastectomy of the right breast followed by reconstructive surgery using the TRAM-Flap method (using flesh from the tummy to reconstruct a breast)."
'I did not need adjuvant therapy - no chemotherapy, no radiation, no oral drugs."
Do tell us about the support you received in those dark days?
"My faith was really what brought me through that tough time. My church family was there for me all the way. It was very comforting to know that my pastors and friends were praying for me."
"I knew I was in good hands. I also had support from friends who had been through breast cancer before and whose recoveries were very encouraging to me."
Do you still go for follow up checks?
"Yes, I see my breast surgeon yearly. I also see my gynaecologist yearly, because breast cancer is linked to ovarian cancer so it's good to be vigilant."
What lifestyle and diet changes did you make?
"Lifestyle wise, I was doing A LOT when cancer hit. I quit a business I had started with a close friend (a web business) and I scaled down my agency work."
"Diet wise, I reduced dairy (which was tough because I'm a yoghurt junkie), stopped drinking diet drinks, ate cleaner (I won't say absolutely clean because that would be lying)."
"I also stopped taking super-antioxidant supplements as my oncologist warned that they could activate or multiply any existing active cancer cells."
Did cancer change you as a person and your attitude to family and life in general?
"Well, I started working out as part of my recovery, because my surgery really took a lot out of me. It began with short walks, turned into short jogs, and within a year I had signed up for my first 5K race."
"Running helped me recover well, and although I am not as zealous as I was in the 2, 3 years after cancer, I am a firm believer in regular exercise today."
"The biggest change has probably been my approach to life. "Earlier, I would put things off till later because some work would come first."
"But now, every opportunity I get to spend time with my husband, my children, my family is a golden opportunity. My focus has shifted completely from work to family, and I think it's a good thing!"
What advice would you like to give other mums on early detection of symptoms, and what to be wary of?
"My advice would be:
- Be diligent and do breast self-examination at the end of every period.
- Spotting lumps is the first step.
- Eat well and don't consume diet drinks.
- Read food labels and avoid chemicals in daily items like soya sauce.
- Get enough sleep—be in bed by 11. I know it's hard, but it's good for you.
Most importantly, listen to your body. Don't ignore it when something doesn't feel right—your instincts can save your life."
Thank you, Theresa for sharing your very inspiring story with us. Here's wishing this family peace, good health and happiness!
Also READ: Singapore mum fights breast cancer during pregnancy