When it was reported in the news that theatre actress, Emma Yong had finally succumbed to stomach cancer after a 16 month battle, it left very little impact on me. Even with well-loved hits like Boeing Boeing and Dim Sum Dollies, I felt nothing. Unlike my fellow grieving Singaporeans who were familiar with Emma and her work, I was shamefully more of a "guns, aliens and preferably sex at movies" girl and not a "theatre" girl.
When I switched on the TV sometimes, I might come across an episode of Bill and Giuliana whereby Giuliana would be whining about her inability to have a baby and her battle with breast cancer. Again, it left little impact on me apart from the annoying fact that Giuliana's whiny voice had taken up an hour of quality TV time from me. I even thought it laughable that a double mastectomy later, she could still appear on the panel of Fashion Police with the only obvious scar as her lack of classy style.
More importantly, while I understood what it was, I was not remotely acquainted with cancer as I have not had family or close friends that had been through the illness.
Oddly enough, I hear the terms critical illness, hospitalization and disability on a daily basis because I worked at an insurance company that prided itself for its continuous education of consumers about the need to get adequately protected from high medical costs, and the need for them to take full responsibility over their own health and wellness. Yet, I thought I was the infallible Joanna. I did not have a family history of cancer and apart from the very common condition of high blood pressure, and the occasional cranky and erratic temperament, I considered myself a healthy 42 year old woman with lots more healthier years ahead of her.
Yet, here are the facts.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Singapore. Of all cancers diagnosed among women in Singapore, almost 30% are breast cancers. More than 1400 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and more than 300 die as a result of breast cancer each year(www.hpb.gov.sg; Singapore Cancer Registry Interim Report 2005-2009). Even with these statistics that I had gleaned from the web and the news articles that I had read about cancer victims, I was not prepared for this experience of going through the pain, anxiety and fear of my own breast cancer scare.
If my colleague did not forcefully shove me up the "Mammobus" sent by the good people from National Healthcare Group, I wouldn't have found out about the issue I had. That, was my first mammogram experience. Unpleasant as it may have been, that mammogram was practically my life-saver.
Multiple mammograms, ultrasound scans, and a biopsy followed by an agonizing wait one week later, I finally found out what the issue was.
The doctor diagnosed the condition as a Flat Epithelial Atypia in the right breast. These are abnormal cells which may present itself as a precursor to Ductal Carsinoma InSitu which was described to me as " pre-cancerous" or " pre-invasive".
I have only heard some of these terms used in my insurance product brochures. But I was gripped with fear and was about to burst into tears until the doctor told me not to worry as they were benign now. However as the abnormal cells are changing, there is risks that they may turn malignant later. So he advised that the affected breast tissue be surgically excised as soon as possible. I could not agree more. I am scheduled for surgery on 20 June. And I can't wait to "zap the beegeezus" out of these cells.
I chose to live many more healthy years of my life with my wonderful family and friends. And I have so many plans ahead to live life to the fullest, embracing everything that the universe has put at my feet. So I am sure as hell, not allowing any semblance of breast cancer, at a pre-cancerous stage or otherwise to ruin my plans.
I have been supporting my favorite charity, the Children's Cancer Foundation for awhile now and I have been doing tarot readings for clients in support of the cause. I am doing this in the belief that while adults like me had led a life full of love and rich experiences, some of these kids may not have that opportunity.
As I was forced to stare at mortality in the face today, I made a promise to myself, my family, my friends and my wonderful staff at work that I am going to start taking good care of myself and will learn to live each moment to the fullest and smell the roses.
Also, I want to remind all my women friends out there to get a mammogram done regularly. It was my life-saver and it could be yours.