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Art transforms into compassion
Contributed by cancer survivor, Mdm Florence Heng living in Singapore.

My Wake-Up Call: About my journey with breast cancer, and what I am learning from the experience.

As early as the age of 12, I had discovered a tumour in my right breast. A biopsy confirmed that the tumour was benign and I had heaved a sigh of relief.

Twenty years later, I again detected a tumour in my right breast. This time, I was psychologically prepared and told myself that I could have contracted breast cancer. However, the medical report still said the tumour was benign. Two years later, the same thing happened. This time though, the tumour was in my left breast. It was in October 1996 that I found a tumour in my right breast for the fourth time. A mammogram did not show that anything was wrong. However, after the removal of the tumour, it was determined as a malignant one, 1.8cm in length, an Infiltrating Carcinoma (Bloom- Richardson Grade 2 /3) with negative estrogen receptor status. The tumour was small, so the cosmetic result of a lumpectomy would be good. As I understood, cutting more does nothing to improve survival chances, so I had a lumpectomy with lymph node dissection, which showed no lymph node involved. I underwent 6 cycles of chemotherapy (Cytoxan, Methotrexate and 5-fluorouracil-CMF) and 3 weeks of radiation therapy.

During my treatment, I liked eating spicy and flavorful foods. I enjoyed and craved for foods. I adhered to a well-balanced diet which included meat. My cancer had provided a sound wake-up call - a call that I'm very happy to say, took place at age 43 rather than later. It has allowed me to implement the appropriate life changes. Before that, I'd never thought of helping others. The impact of having breast cancer seemed to have awoken me. I begin to feel that living meaningfully was more important than living a long time.

It was time to start looking at things in a new way. I was determined to figure out what else I could do to enhance the conventional cancer treatments and to recover physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually by changing various aspects of my lifestyle. I accepted for myself the challenge of looking for the best that conventional oncology therapy had to offer and complementing it with additional therapies.

Surgery and radiation may reduce the cancer cells but not all of the microscopic ones are destroyed. Chemotherapy helps to wipe out the microscopic cells, but it doesn't kill them all either. Hence the body's immune system has to take over and destroy the rest. The next logical step would be to find ways to stimulate the immune system. Most of the complementary treatments - exercise, diet, herbs-TMC way, "positive thinking" techniques, laughter or visualization are methods that will strengthen the immune system and help to fight off the cancer. Theoretically the complementary treatments can work well in conjunction with chemotherapy. The chemicals kill the cancer while the complementary method bolsters the body's immune system. Although there has not been scientific proof, I feel that, if nothing else, my ability to empower myself by taking an active role in my care can't help but strengthen me.

Before my illness, I did not have the courage to say no. I was tired, but I pushed myself. If I didn't believe in the thing I was doing, I did them anyway for other people's approval. The things I wanted to do for myself, I deferred because I preferred the approval of people I considered more significant than myself. Cancer changed all that. It allowed me to say no.

Cancer excused me from doing things I had wanted to do for a long time i.e. resting, reading, letting people come to me, putting myself first and loving myself more. Surviving cancer actually empowered me to believe I could do anything. Over the last four years, I have volunteered myself as a BCF counselor - mainly to stay in touch with the power of what cancer taught me. Just as my cancer experience have benefited and inspired many people, I feel enriched and empowered talking with people who are just beginning cancer treatment.

My cancer turned out to be a blessing because through it, I have rediscovered my inner strength and am able to voice my inner feelings. I've learnt to throw away the unpleasant things, be more contented in my life and to enjoy, respect and appreciate friendship, as well as to cultivate a positive attitude. I have made many major lifestyle changes, but I am still working on others.

As a survivor, I believe in recovery, this belief will give you the courage to do all you can to get completely well.

Email Message received on 31 January 2002

For the past 25 days I have been working on my website with the help of a friend. Finally, I have accomplished my mission, as I notice not many breast cancer survivors in Singapore have put up such site. At my site there is love, support and inspiration. You can post Messages, Inspirational Quotations, Poetry and read personal stories of other breast cancer survivors. Hope you will find this site useful. Do comment about how I can improve these WebPages by signing in my guest book. Even a hard journey has many happy memories.

Visit my website:www.florenceheng.com

From : Florence Heng

Update : Florence passed away on 18 December 2005.

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