Contributed by cancer survivor, Mdm Florence Heng living in Singapore.
Update : On 9 April 2005, Florence launched her first book, My Journey with Breast Cancer - Awakening. The proceeds from the sale of her books will be donated to the Breast Cancer Foundation. If you wish to buy a copy of it, please contact Rank Books at 6250 8180 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We received complimentary copies of Florence's book and had donated 10 copies to the National Library Board on 11 April 2005 so that local web surfers can borrow it from their nearest library branches.
My Second Chance At Life
When my oncologist told me I had secondary lung cancer, I handled it calmly and unemotionally. But deep inside me, I felt shocked, vulnerable and alone. The diagnosis of lung metastasis is more traumatic than the first diagnosis of breast cancer because the hope for a cure is replaced with the realization that this is no longer possible. And I would not be able to fulfill the plans I had with my family and husband for traveling when he retired.
People around me encourage me to be positive and to fight the cancer. But it is hard to be positive all the time and pressure from other people can sometimes make me feel inadequate and guilty. I tried to deal with a certain amount of stress and tension but it can get on top of me. Sometimes anxiety can become so overwhelming that it results in panic attacks, causing further fear and worry. Later my anxieties lead to depression. The threat of pain is one of my biggest fears, but fear and anxiety can make the pain worse and nearly all cancer pain can be controlled.
After four years of regular check-ups showing no evidence of disease, then in January 2001, I had Stage IV recurrent breast cancer with metastasis to my lungs. Two tumours on the right and one on the left near the heart. I had 4 cycles of IV Adriamycin. But no improvement, so doctor changed to IV Vinorelbine CI 5-FU for 6 cycles. Result of the CT scan showed no increase in the size of the tumours.
I requested for a "wait and see" approach and hence I stopped treatment in August before my birthday. During my "rest period" I traveled to Tasmania, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Hatyai, Hawaii and Harbin in China. So far I was doing well, all tumors had remained the same, and my overall health was good.
Learning to Live with Cancer means more than staying alive. It means learning to derive the most from each moment - to be more present to the everyday sources of joy and aliveness. Getting cancer was a very positive event in my life. It taught me to enjoy each moment. Sense of humor helps to assure that we have more joyful moments to enjoy. I consider my cancer to such a blessing because through it I have learned so much about how to handle my life, how to speak out my feelings to others, how to throw away the unpleasant things and have more contentment in my life.
My journey is not over. I have to keep up with my checkups every two months for the time being and regular checkup for the rest of my life for reassurance. I am trying to become single-minded, concentrating on my positive thoughts.
My husband has always stood by me and has never missed any of my medical appointments.
Last but not least to my children, aunt and my buddy-Catherine who are a very special part of my life. My children and friends have been a source of great strength and courage to me. I love them all!
I am blessed to have supportive family and friends. It said that a positive outlook may or may not cure your cancer, but it will certainly make the disease easier to bear, and will help you live life to the full despite the cancer.
Now, I have learned to live with cancer and put the fear of dying from it to rest. I have given my recovery my very best efforts. I live in the moment, laugh a lot, to see much of the world and receive love and passion from my husband, my three girls and those who have supported me in my time of need.
As survivors, we understand that metastatic breast cancer is generally not considered curable, and we accept the "goal" of palliative treatment is to achieve a remission or slow down the growth of the tumor. This belief will bring us the courage to do all we can. So we MUST have a wonderful attitude and deserve to overcome this battle.
If I should die from this cancer I shall die as happy and peaceful woman. As I have 3 beautiful daughters.
No one can predict exactly how long your life is likely to be after a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. I will need to face the fact that I may not live as long as I wanted if the breast cancer had not spread. And whether I have months or years left to live I will almost certainly think about my death from time to time
Understanding more about how my symptoms can be effectively controlled and being aware of the support that will be available to me towards the end of my life can help take away some of the fears.
However painful, once you begin to consider these issues and possibilities, it can be easier to think about what you will leave behind and how things will be after you have died. It may help to remember that there is no right or wrong way to deal with these fears.
When a lady patient in my support group was dying, she felt quite serene. She had not expected to feel like that because she had fought her cancer. Her experience had helped me and it gave me a lot of hope that I could feel the same when my time comes.
How long will I live with this cancer? I don't know, no one knows, but I am full of hope. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. So I try my best to treat this disease as a chronic illness and live as full and productive a life as I can.
Thinking about how life will be going on after I have died can be painful for me and for those around me. I know that I must manage my affairs in a good order - a positive thing to do. This can be a way of making sure that my wishes are carried out after I died.
I hope I can continue to have a good quality of life for quite a while. My fear is that I will become a burden to my family.
My tumours in the lungs have been growing from 17mm to 5cm since last August. I have been coughing for the past three months and started chemotherapy on 17 May 2004.
Always Hope for the Best
Don't let go of hope
Hope is a beautiful answer to many
Hope gives you the strength to keep going
when you feel like giving up
Hope only asks that you believe
Hope only wants you to receive
Hope is "hanging in there" until help arrives
Don't run away from love but towards love
Because it is our deepest joy
Learn how to laugh and
Be proud to cry.
Update : Florence lost her battle against cancer on 18 December 2005. Her story and fighting spirit shall 'live on' in her book, "My Journey with Breast Cancer - Awakening" to inspire other cancer survivors to face the cancer challenge bravely and cherish each day till the end of their life journey.