When Tracy’s aunt got diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in August 2016, it made the 29-year-old office manager at a financial services job board realise she should get checked too.
“I went home and did a self-examination. That’s when I felt something protruding on my right breast. My husband felt it too and said it’s just part of my rib, but my left side didn’t have the same thing.”
Just two weeks later on 30 August, Tracy was diagnosed with stage two to three breast cancer, which had spread to a few lymph nodes.
“My first thought was: Why me? I’m so young and I’m not prepared to die yet; I still have a lot of things to do.”
“I cried, because I couldn’t believe it. At age 29, going for mammograms and anything to do with breast cancer was the last thing on my mind. I was definitely not within the at-risk group; I don’t smoke or drink alcohol, I don’t have a family history of breast cancer (my aunt and I both did genetic testing and it was negative).”
“The point to note here is also that my breast looked normal at the time, even though the cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes,” Tracy says, noting that the surgeon actually had to do a multiple mammograms and ultrasounds to find the tumour, which was sitting behind the nipple.
“My first thought was ‘Why me? I’m so young and I’m not prepared to die yet; I still have a lot of things to do.’ I had just got married in November 2015, just moved into my new BTO flat and just started a new job. Everything was falling into place and then this happened.”
“I didn’t know how to break the news to my parents because I felt a strange sense of guilt. Like did I not look after myself enough? I’m supposed to look after them till they’re old, but I didn’t know if I would even survive this illness.”
She also felt sorry for her husband, as they had been married for less than a year, and her mother-in-law was hoping for grandchildren.
The Road To Recovery
Tracy started six months of chemotherapy in September 2016, persevering in spite of side effects like insomnia, diarrhea and joint pains. It was painful to even wash her face because of the low white blood cell count, and at times, even brushing her teeth was difficult as she just didn’t have the energy.
What kept her going?
“I never thought about giving up because my mind was just focused on needing to get well. Obviously, one of the more emotional aspects of chemo was losing my hair, but it’s really nothing compared to getting well. Hair grows back and I told myself to just be strong and do what I need to do to get the cancer out of my body.”
“My battle scars remind me that I’ve survived and I’m a warrior with a story to tell.”
During her cancer battle, she picked up hobbies like calligraphy and attended clay jewellery-making workshops.
“I finally had time for ‘me time’, where I could find out what I really like to do. And these are things I think I should do before it’s too late, or that I wouldn’t have time to do once I go back to work.”
Tracy also joined a support group at the Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) with her husband, who would go for the Caregivers support group.
“Going to the support group, where I could speak with survivors and fellow patients, made me feel normal. Seeing survivors of 10, 15 years at the BCF support group gave me hope that there’s life after cancer. Having breast cancer doesn’t mean you’re going to die.”
“After going through chemo and everything, I learnt to appreciate life and the people around me. I used to be a grump, complaining about everything under the sun and getting easily affected by what others said about me. Now, I’m more happy-go-lucky. If I can go through chemo, I can go through anything.”
Tracy is now a vocal advocate for creating awareness among younger women and is working with the BCF’s young women’s support group.
“Now I get messages from friends asking for my advice, because my case has made them aware that they have a chance of getting breast cancer too. At 29 or 30, your concerns are very different from people who are undergoing breast cancer in their 40s or 50s.
If you’ve just gotten married, would your husband leave you? If you’re single, will you still be able to find someone? For me, it was the questions of whether I’d have the chance to have children.”
In March 2017, she had a mastectomy to remove her right breast tissue and replace it with belly fats. “An MRI showed that I had a 1.8-cm tumour left. I didn’t manage to salvage my nipple, but I kind of love my body now. My battle scars remind me that I’ve survived and I’m a warrior with a story to tell.”
Tracy’s words of advice for younger women:
“If I can have breast cancer at 29, then you should do your checks too. The earlier it’s discovered, the better your treatment options and the higher your chance of survival.”
Watch this next:
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