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Art transforms into compassion
Contributed by cancer survivor, Mdm Joanna Chan living in Singapore.
Update on 5 February 2007

Mdm Joanna Chan passed away peacefully on 1 February 2007

Update on 20 May 2005

4 years ago today, I was told I had Ovarian cancer stage 3 and will need to undergo chemotherapy. My world fell apart. I couldn't bring myself to say the "C" word for weeks. The first time I took a taxi to the Singapore Cancer Center I told the taxi driver to drop me off a block before reaching. I guess I felt I wasn't ready to let anyone know.

Then I started to borrow books from the National Library. As I read I began to question myself - how did I come to this? I began to realize I didn't know very much about health or nutrition. I eat all kinds of junk food, anytime of the day, any amount that I like. Sometimes I will stuff myself till I burst, especially during buffets. My weight went from 100 lbs to 130lbs, in spite of frequent dieting. I was young. It doesn't matter that I was suffering from insomnia, frequent headaches, constipation. Flu and panadols are part of my life. I hate to exercise, and I drink very little water. I let things bother me, and I flare up easily. Then I will feel remorseful. My mind is filled with useless thoughts, like, "Why isn't she returning my call?"

I did a lot of research on the internet. I learn about nutrition, the importance of exercise. I learn that it is bad to be overweight. I took up Zhineng qigong (also known as Chilel) which I still practise. I exchange green tea for coffee. I also learn to love drinking plain water at room temperature. I eat a lot more vegetables, especially those that are known to be cancer preventive. I still eat all kinds of food, but I now prefer wholesome food. I learn self-massage from books. I do stretching and deep breathing throughout the day. I walk/ jog 3 times a week for an hour each time. I have not lost a lot of weight, but I can now fit into a size 10. I was almost a size 14 at one time. In many ways I am healthier now than ever before. This is something I didn't think was possible when I was first diagnosed.

Chemotherapy was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It woke me up to the fact that I have taken a lot of things for granted, especially my health. A year after chemotherapy I was still suffering from fatigue and fear of the cancer coming back. Then I decided to take up qigong. Within a week my fatiue was gone. So was my fear. I feel empowered. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

In the last 4 years I have learnt so much.

Note: The original story was posted on 12 Nov 2002. Joanna sent us the below updated version on 12 March 2003.

A tribute to my husband

Prior to the year 2001, I was getting fatter. I used to be about 105 lbs. After the birth of my second child, I stayed at around 130 lbs. Each time I dieted, I lost a few pounds, only to gain it back again. I knew I had to exercise more, but it is easier said than done. I had trouble sleeping; I had headaches on a regular basis; I had the flu almost once a month; I was constipated; I was overweight. Yet I considered myself a healthy person, and expected to die either of old age or by accident.

The day my weighing machine said I was 131 lbs, I decided that's it. I am going to lose this weight, even if it means exercising. I know I am not happy being fat. I was already hiding behind my kids when we are taking a photo together. My face was as round as the moon.

My goal was to walk for at least 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week. After about 4 months, I was doing about 35 minutes 4-5 days a week, but I wasn't seeing any result. I was poking at my fat tummy when I felt bothered by the firmness on my right side, and less on my left. I even thought it might be muscles! I asked my husband to feel it, and he thought it felt normal.

I was taking one of my walks soon after that incident when I felt drawn to a Polyclinic that was near to where I was walking. As if in a dream I went in to request for a check-up. The result was a reference letter to see a Gynecologist in about 10 days' time. From what I gather, it could be Fibroids. I went home to research on it and felt that I was alright.

On the day of the appointment I was given a sonogram. The Gynecologist explained to me I had tumors on both my ovaries, the bigger one is on my right. I will need a major operation. This came as a shock to me. I was feeling fine! I went home to do more research and was comforted to read that ovarian cysts are seldom cancerous. I did not for a moment think that it would be.

The operation was scheduled on the 15th of May, 2001. It was a Tuesday. Before that I had to go for numerous tests to be sure that everywhere else in my body is fine. After the operation I was told that I had to wait for the results from the laboratories, but as far as I was concerned, it was all over. Perhaps I was in a stage of denial. Meanwhile my husband visited me whenever he is not working. He even slept in the hospital for a few nights.

My Gynecologist visited me everyday. I will be forever indebted to her. She told me the results on Sunday morning. I had Ovarian Cancer Stage 3. I will need Chemotherapy. I cried.

After crying for a few hours with my husband, I accepted the diagnosis and sent my husband to the library to borrow all the relevant books. Although my husband was in shock, he too, went into the "Let's deal with this" mode. I spent the next few days crying and reading. All the nurses and doctors were very kind. The Sister-in-charge asked me if I would like to meet a cancer survivor. I said "yes" immediately. She came the next day. She looked wonderful and that was very encouraging. She was a 4th year Ovarian Cancer survivor and she stayed with me for 4 hours, talking about her experience, and answering all my questions. Since then, we have been friends. I will forever be grateful to her. I was discharged a few days later after a meeting with the Oncologist who was present at my operation.

When I went into the hospital, my greatest worry was how to walk up to my 4th floor walk-up apartment after I was discharged. I even imagined being carried up in a stretcher! I was amazed how quickly a body can heal after such a major operation.

On the 1st of June 2001 I was well enough to walk to the cancer centre, 25 minutes from my home. There I had my treatment. The nurses were very caring and understanding. Chemotherapy drugs, Anzatax and Carboplatin were administered every 3 weeks apart x6. My CA-125 before surgery was 102. Post surgery, it was in the 60s. After the first chemotherapy, it was less than 20, well within the normal range. After the third session, it was a single digit.

I had all the side effects during chemotherapy. My husband did all he can to keep me as comfortable as possible. He massaged me constantly, as it made the pain more tolerable. He distracted me with borrowed VCDs. He made me miso soup. He made me juices. He was at my beck and call whenever he is not working. If I can't sleep at night, he would not be sleeping. He takes every Monday off each time I go for my treatment on a Friday. He helped me to research on the kind of food to eat. He listens to me when I am down and rejoices with me when I am up. He says all the right things to keep my spirit up. Not once did he complain. Even when I lost my hair, he said I was beautiful. My children helped with the massaging and household chores.

Things started to improve after I had completed the 6 courses of chemotherapy in September 2001. My hair came back a month after the last treatment. The main difference was my energy level. It was not what it once was. I was also afraid. I was afraid that the cancer would come back.

This continued until early September 2002. After rereading a book written by a Chinese doctor, I decided to take his advice and started to see a Chinese doctor. Till now I am still taking Chinese herbs to boost my health. Then, as suggested by the book, I started to look into Qigong. To my surprise, my husband decided to join me in learning qigong. We started to join a class at the Botanical Gardens. In just one week, both the fatigue and the fear were gone. My husband, too, felt better. No more eyestrains and headache. We have been doing it everyday since.

I continue to research on the Internet. I borrow books from the library written by survivors. I write to survivors posted on the Internet and am very grateful to all who have written back to me. I have always enjoyed fruits and vegetables, but now I eat a lot more of it. I still eat meat, but in smaller quantities. My husband bought me a second-hand treadmill, so that I wouldn't miss my walk due to the weather. For my birthday this year, he bought me a massager.

Today (12.03.03) I am a happy, healthy and better person. Unless you are in my shoes, you will not understand why I feel truly blessed.

God bless, Joanna Chan

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