What is it like to beat breast cancer? We talk to three women who battled the disease and have emerged feeling empowered, educated and enlightened. Read Cindy’s story, the first survivor we profiled for Breast Cancer Awareness Month:
Last year, a cheeky squeeze led to a life-changing discovery for Cindy Wong. “My boyfriend squeezed my breast as he was leaving the house one morning and he told me that he felt something unusual,” recalls Cindy, who is studying for a career in early childhood care and education.
“I was convinced it was nothing but after doing some research and seeing my GP, I decided to visit a breast specialist.”
What they found was a 2.5-cm lump in her right breast that even the doctor initially thought was benign. Cindy decided to remove it for aesthetic reasons but a standard biopsy following the surgery would realise her worst fears.
“I went through a double mastectomy to lower my risk of the cancer returning”
“They diagnosed me with Stage 1A breast cancer and although I acted quickly following the discovery of a lump, it was a very aggressive type of cancer, commonly found in women with BRCA1 genetic mutations. That’s the same breast cancer gene that Angelina Jolie carries,” she explains.
“More tests revealed that I carried that gene, too, so then I went through a double mastectomy to lower my risk of the cancer returning because the doctor said there was an 80 per cent chance I would get breast cancer again.”
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While Cindy reveals that she’s not yet in the clear as patients can technically only call themselves survivors after five years, she admits she’s very lucky to be alive and now has greater purpose in life. Still, she has some hang-ups about the way Singaporeans broach the topic of cancer.
“My wider family still don’t know that I had breast cancer because being sick and suffering from a disease like this is still very taboo to them.
“I found it very, very hard to talk to people in Asia about what I was going through. Even though one in 14 women* get breast cancer in Singapore, no one wants to talk about it,” she laments.
“Survivors shouldn’t be stigmatised… we shouldn’t have to hide”
“I decided to take the train home after chemotherapy one day and the reaction I got frustrated me. People looked at me suspiciously because I had almost no hair and I was wearing a surgical mask.
“No one got up to offer me a seat. I felt like an outcast. This needs to change and that’s part of the reason why I agreed to do this interview. I want to be the face of breast cancer in Singapore and I want to talk about what I went through.”
Cindy hopes that the attitude towards cancer patients will change. “Survivors should be able to go on with their lives without the fear of being stigmatised,” she says. “We shouldn’t have to hide.”
Worried about your risk of getting breast cancer?
While nothing can prevent cancer from attacking the body, early diagnosis is key to nipping the disease in the bud and improving your survival rate. Learn how to self-examine your breasts at home to detect any lumps or changes with our inforgraphic below:
To encourage more women to go for a mammogram screening, the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS), Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) and National Healthcare Group Diagnostics (NHGD) is providing funding assistance through their Community Mammobus Programme. If you’re having a mammogram for the first time, it’ll be free! Find out more here.
*According to the National Registry of Diseases Office, 1 in 14 women will develop breast cancer by 75 years old.
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Photos: Frenchescar Lim
Art Direction: Ivy Choong
Styling: Debby Kwong
Hair: Ash Loi & Shawn Lee/Ravissant Hair Studio
Makeup: Audrey Wee using Chanel
Location: Slap Dance Studio