Can you even imagine what it would be like to be diagnosed with Stage 2 cervical cancer aged 35 with two young children? Teri Choong, 49, the Regional Director of Corporate Affairs at an MNC, shares her story:
I’m not going to lie; my cancer diagnosis came as a shock to me. I think anyone who has received news that they have any kind of cancer will always get a shock to their system. I was just silent for a good five to eight minutes when the doctor said I had cancer.
At that moment, I just switched off and went blank. I didn’t know what to think and how to respond. I was just in a daze. However, I also felt fearless as well, I knew I had to get rid of it. If I was going to die, I’m going to die giving my all and on my own terms.
The first thing I thought about were my parents. I was scared to tell them because I feared how they would react to the possibility that they may outlive their daughter? I remember thinking that I had to reassure my mum that I would find a way to beat cancer. My next thought were my kids. The were both under 10-years-old at the time. I wondered how I could share my cancer diagnosis with them and make them understand the disease.
Since puberty, I’ve never really had regular periods perhaps due to my active athletic lifestyle in school. So having irregular periods or none at all were the norm for me. I never knew about Pap smears until I was an adult but since marriage, I’ve made it a point to regularly go for medical checkups and do yearly Pap smears.
In October 2004, I decided to go for a check-up after experiencing a bout of rather excessive bleeding. I wanted to clear it up before I went on a scuba-diving holiday. I switched to a different gynecologist during this time and after explaining my history of irregularity, he asked to do a biopsy of my cervix. I agreed and a few days later, the BIG C bomb dropped on me – in my case it was DOUBLE C! Cervical cancer.
I sought a second and third opinion and all came back positive: I had Stage 2B cervical cancer. It was quite aggressive and had I not sought treatment earlier, it would have progressed to Stage 3. It caught my by surprise naturally because I had been going for regular Pap smears but the doctors said it may not have been detected because the cancer cells were lodged far behind the cervix in an area that could not be swabbed.
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I did a full hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy in a bid to get rid of my cancer. Treatment took more than six months but the recovery journey was almost a year-long. For the first three months following my prognosis, I was in the doctor’s office every single week. It was painful and tough, I even fell into depression during the recovery process, refusing visitors and not communicating with my family members.
Ultimately, I told myself that I had to snap out of this state. What gave me strength were the cancer survivors I met on my journey and those who I had encountered before when I used to volunteered for cancer support groups.
I heard their stories of battling with and surviving cancer. They were one of the key motivators for me to really walk the talk and show that no matter how difficult this journey is, there is a way to beat this disease. The desire to see my kids grow up into wonderful adults also motivated me to get well and I was given the news that I was cancer-free 12 months after my surgery and subsequent treatments.
“I think anyone who has received news that they have any kind of cancer will always get a shock to their system”
When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, there was no vaccination against it. But now there is! The best advice I can pass on to other women following my battle with cancer is to go get vaccinated because the studies show that it prevents Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which causes cervical cancer.
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Want to know more about Cervical Cancer and how you can protect yourself against it? Dr Quek Swee Chong – Specialist in Obstetrics & Gynaecology at ASC Clinic for Women in Gleneagles Hospital, Singapore – answers all your burning questions: