It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month and we’re extremely honoured to have made acquaintances (or even friends!) with 2 cancer survivors who are standing up to tell their story.
First, we meet with Tracy, a 31 year old who first found out she had Stage 2-3 breast cancer back in 2016. She was 29 when she received her diagnosis and there were no tell tale signs of cancer up till her diagnosis.
If we didn’t know better, Tracy looks just like any other one of us. Beautiful, radiant and confident. But slowly, as we progress through a photoshoot, we see her scars and learn more about her story.
Q: Can you share a little about yourself with our readers? We’d love to know more about you!
I’m Tracy and I’m 31 this year. Happily married and is a proud pawrent to a 1 year old toy poodle – Shynee (IG: little_shynee). I love spending money (that includes my husband’s money!).
Q: When were you diagnosed and what was your diagnosis?
A: I was diagnosed with Stage 2-3 Breast Cancer back in August 2016 when I just passed my 29th birthday. The cancer spread to a couple of my lymph nodes as well. The tumour size on my breast was close to 4cm.
Q: What were your immediate thoughts upon receiving the diagnosis? How did you feel?
A: As with anybody who receives their diagnosis, the first few questions that came to my mind was: Is it true? Did the doctor messed up the report of another patient’s with mine? WHY ME?
I was definitely not in the at risk group at all – I do not drink alcohol, I’ve never smoke in my life, I’ve not given birth to my first child after 30 years old, I did genetic testing and it turned out negative (ie. I do not have a family history for cancer), I do not take contraceptives and I am definitely under the age of 45. But yet, breast cancer had to happen on me.
I felt scared and lost – scared because I thought I would die (“because all cancer patients die”). Lost because I’ve got a bucket list I’ve yet to complete, I’ve not travelled around the world yet. I’ve just moved into my new flat and it’s a new phrase of life – after marriage. What if I die, what will happen to my loved ones?
Q: What kind of treatment and surgery did you undergo?
A: I started off with 6 months of chemotherapy (Sep 2016-Feb 2017), in hope to shrink my tumour so that I’ll eventually be going for a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the lump). Mastectomy was not part of my plan simply because, if women my age get to have 2 full breasts, why should I deserve to have only 1?
However, upon completion of my chemotherapy, my MRI scan has shown that I still have a 2cm mass in my breast. After a consultation with my breast surgeon, we figured that he’ll need to clear at least a 1cm margin around the tumour and I probably will not have much breast tissues left, so I had to opt for a single sided mastectomy (surgery to remove all breast tissues) in the end, which was completed in March 2017. In the same surgery, I also did a breast reconstruction (DIEP flap) by using the fatty tissues from my belly. I then went on a 3 weeks intensive radiotherapy treatment in May 2017 as preventive measures for a recurrence..
To reduce the chances of recurrence, I have to take a tablet everyday for the next 5 years. This tablet is potent enough to cause the foetus to be deformed should I get pregnant (which means I cannot afford to be pregnant in the next 5 years). Apart from the oral therapy, I am also given a hormonal injection every quarter (to “put my ovaries to sleep”) to help suppress my body from producing estrogen (female hormones) which may increase the chances of my cancer from coming back.
This also means that I’m currently in a menopause state (yay, no period!) but I suffer from having hot flashes, stiff joints, insomnia, osteoporosis and weight gain, which are some of the common side effects of the tablets and the injections. Not forgetting, the poor husband who had to endure my fiery temper and mood swings for the next 4 years.
Q: How did your family and friends react to your diagnosis?
My parents and mom-in-law were very sad to know that I’ve got cancer. My husband too, after all, we got married for less than a year when we received the bad news.
I’m very sure my parents felt guilty for not ‘looking after me well enough’ and they would rather be the one to suffer in my place instead. Nonetheless, they encouraged me to complete my treatments ASAP so that life would be back to normal and that this journey was just another phase in life that I had to go through.
As for my close friends, they thought I was joking when I told them I had cancer. I remembered texting them a few days before my first chemo session that I might need their help to ferry me home if my husband was not able to do so. One of them replied: Is this a chain message? Or a spam message?
It was only when I snapped a picture of my diagnosis that they realised it was true. Some teared while at work and couldn’t concentrate on what they had to do for the rest of the day. But, my case made them realised that doing monthly self-checks are important and that breast cancer does happen to ANYONE.
Did your diagnosis affect the way you viewed your body and your beauty?
Yes of course. Ironically, I love my body more than before. Whenever I look at my battle scars (belly scar, breast scar, armpit scar (from the removal of lymph nodes)), I feel proud that I’ve won my own battle and emerged a warrior.
In fact, I did not opt for a nipple reconstruction (via tattoo or skin grafting) because I grew to like my reconstructed breast. Hey, I can save on nipple stickers now – just need to paste one side! 😉
I also like that I now have a flat tummy (because of the breast reconstruction I did).
How did you cope with the diagnosis? What was your biggest source of support?
I cried almost everyday for the next 2 weeks after diagnosis. When my hair started to fall 1 week post first chemo, I cried in the bathroom while showering. I had to ask my husband to pick up all the hair that has covered the drainage while I was still showering. I didnt have the courage to look down at the drainage at all. I did not dare to use the magic clean to mop the house too because, believe it or not, I had to change the wipes 3 times (after using it front and back) when I mop the entire house. That was how much hair I have dropped after my first chemo. Eventually, I picked up the courage to shave my head bald at a salon and told myself that that will be the last time I cried because all the crying will not help me get rid of my cancerous tumour. I have to be strong, not just for myself, but for my loved ones too. I do not want to see them sad and most importantly, I need to have positive vibes around me. No one can walk this journey on my behalf so if I don’t pull myself together, no one can.
My biggest source of support would be my husband – he continued to work throughout the period I was undergoing treatments but he made a point to text me every few hours to ensure that I was coping well alone at home. My mom-in-law too, she will go to the market, buy a whole fish, debone it, slice it into many portions for me before packing it into individual containers. All I had to do was to open the fridge, take the ingredients out and dump them into the boiling pot for a fuss-free meal. She did this every week for 6 months.
How did bralettes affect life after diagnosis?
For some reason, I stopped wearing bras (with cups) after surgery. I was given a plain black cotton bralette (that hooks from the front) by my plastic surgeon and was advised to wear it for the next 6 months post surgery because front hooks are easier for me since I have difficulties hooking from behind especially with my armpit wound that was still healing. I got quite comfortable in that and never looked back ever since. Bralettes are the closest I can get as to not wearing anything underneath my top and so I was very happy to have found OBC, that offers beautiful and elegant designs and yet at the same time, supports my breasts as well.
Would you recommend women (breast cancer or not) to start replacing bras with bralettes?
Yes I will. Before breast cancer, I wore bras only because I need to when I head out and more often than not, I can wait to reach home to unhook that bra! However, with bralettes, it’s as comfortable as not wearing anything but yet, serves its purpose of covering your breasts from people. And I must say, bralettes have many more designs and are more versatile as compared to bras. Let’s face it, with bras, there can only be colours, a little bit of lace here and there. But with bralettes, ENDLESS! Face in front, lace behind, lace on the side, additional strips here and there such that it can also be part of a design from your top. You can even opt for padding or no padding on that same piece of bralette.
If there’s only one advise you could give to young women out there, what would it be?
Do not be complacent. Doesn’t mean you are under 45 means you do not need to do your monthly breast self-check examinations.
Breast cancer can happen to anyone. If it can happen to me at a young age of 29, it can happen to anyone.
It took the doctors 2 mammogram scans to confirm that I have a lump on my breast. Prior to my diagnosis, my tumour was not protruding out of my breast, and there wasn’t any discharge coming out from my nipple (symptoms of breast cancer). I found I had breast cancer by chance.
You do not want to be like me, to detect it late when the cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes. You want to catch it early so that you have got more treatment options available and of course, you have a higher survival rate (we are talking about over 90% survival rate if you catch it early!)
Every time we read Tracy’s story and look at her, we’re filled with so much appreciation of a woman who’s able to come to terms with her circumstances and stand up strong again after fighting cancer. Tracy is also very active in helping to raise awareness for Breast Cancer and truly a heroine in her own way.
If you have any questions regarding breast cancer, or if you’d like to speak to Tracy, you can contact her here.