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Young adults with cancer, finally

7 Jun

Finally we are getting the conversation about young adults! LiveSTRONG, bless them, has started a series of topics to help young adult cancer survivors move forward. There are interviews and accounts from survivors about how cancer has affected them and how they can move on with the leftover effects from treatments.

Some helpful topics include: Dating and sex after treatment, Fertility, Friends and family etc.

I’m so happy that they decided to do a series on this because more young adults are being affected by cancer and we need to get the conversation going. How to survive cancer treatment and also as important, how to deal with the diagnosis while these adults are in the prime of their lives.

You can visit the LiveSTRONG blog for more details, or watch the videos on YouTube.

Cancer and Depression

3 Jun

I’ve written about post-cancer depression here before. It creeps in like a bad flu and when it happens most people are surprised. Depressed? Not me. I’m a fighter, fighting against cancer. Nothing’s gonna get me, no, nothing at all.

The truth is, post-cancer depression is a lot more complex than that. There is a sense of great loss and also a sense of betrayal that the body and soul will not ever return to normal.

And of all the books, websites that I’ve read, nothing describes it as succinct as Dana Jennings, a writer for the New York Times. Gosh I wish I could write like him!

“Partly, I think, I’m grieving for the person I was before I learned I had cancer. Mortality is no longer abstract, and a certain innocence has been lost.

And while the physical trauma is past, the stress lingers and brings with it days washed in fine shades of gray. In the same way that radiation has a half-life, stress does, too. We all ache to be the heroes of our own tales, right? Well, I’m not feeling too heroic these days.” – Dana Jennings

After Cancer, Ambushed by Depression : Dana Jennings, The New York Times

Have a peaceful and joyful day ahead.

Return of the M

2 Jun

It’s fantastic news! My period is finally back after a hiatus of two dark years.

In the last two years, after my first chemotherapy treatment, I have been in a premature menopause. Never in my life did I realise the importance of estrogen to my body. As my cancer is estrogen receptive, it is good news for my cancer cells that I was in menopause. But menopause, oh menopause! I had no idea how difficult it is to go through menopause, the hot flashes, the memory loss, the dry skin… everything they say in the books are true! For a while I was worried that I would be part of the 50% of women whose periods never return and they will be pushed into menopause. Now I am just grateful that I could finally be rid of the menopause goodies!

In terms of fertility, I wasn’t sure about what to expect. My oncologist’s advice is to continue having Tamoxifen for three years (it’s been one and a half years) but if I am planning to start a family then I can stop the Tamoxifen early in order to try for a baby. Wow, the many difficult questions in life! As Tamoxifen stays in the body for a considerable amount of time and it is hazardous for the foetus, it is important to stay off Tamoxifen for a good six months before actively trying to conceive. Looks like I have to do some serious planning… since I am not even married and now am in the process of “relocation”…

After visiting my oncologist, I had another visit to my Chinese traditional medicine doctor. Again, it’s great news about the period resuming. For one, that means my body is returning to normal and the hormones are balancing themselves. The difficulties of menopause will slowly fade away and I can look forward to getting back to normal! Yippee!! But with traditional medicine, I was told to stay clear of cold drinks and foods that are considered too “cooling”. Also, I was told to have more ginger tea which will be good for my body.

Let’s hope this body recovers and gets back to normal! Go, baby go! 

No mud, no lotus

19 Apr

Since the ending of my cancer treatment, there has been many instances in my life where I catch myself thinking, “Is this what I want permanently or is this just a temporary side effect that is affecting me now which will change later?” To be honest, I still cannot really tell the difference.

In the past year where I have been coping with the difficulties of a long-distance relationship and relocation, it has dawned on me that I cannot trust myself to make long term decisions. All I can do is to live in the present, to be in the “now”. Thinking about the future just compounds anxiety which I am not able to cope for now.

When I find myself being anxious or worried about the future, I like to tune in to my favourite Buddhist teacher, Tara Brach. It sounds cheesy but sometimes her podcasts are exactly what I need to stay calm and not get swept into downward spiralling thoughts.

My favourite podcast by far is one called “No mud, no lotus”. In it she talks about the intrinsic link between the mud and the lotus. One does not exist without another. And same with life, there can be no blossom if there is no suffering. We all have our own mud. In fact, our lives are pretty much the mud and it is up to us if we recognise the lotus or not.

You can find Tara Brach’s podcasts in iTunes, or visit her website at http://www.tarabrach.com/index.html

Surviving Cancer

31 Mar

This is a great post from Livestrong – a video of Genae Girard, a breast cancer survivor on the various stages and coping mechanisms post-cancer.

When I look back at my cancer journey, it is very clear to me that the most difficult stages are the beginning (diagnosis) and the recovery (after treatment). Although there is not much emphasis on post-treatment care, I feel that it is imperative that every patient is duly prepared by the medical team about the challenges post-treatment, both physically and mentally. Being mentally prepared for the new normal will make the transition back to life a lot easier and less stressful.

D-Day

5 Mar

Two years ago today, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

After hearing the news, I was stunned beyond words. The first person I called at that time was my good friend Theresa. Afraid of scaring people with my loud and uncontrollable sobbing, I sat on a curb at a corner of an open-air car park, telling my friend I have cancer.

I still remember her first words, “Oh shit.” Yup, exactly.

Since then, life has taken a different path. As I cleared out my photo frames in the flat, I looked at old pictures of myself with longer hair, looking like a stranger. Life will never be the same again, and I’m not sure if I want to be the same person again too.

For this special day, we decided to commemorate it with a slice of good chocolate cake and a sparkler, courtesy of the restaurant. Two years on, I’m still here, and that’s surely something to celebrate!

The Cancer Survivor’s Companion

22 Feb

If you have been diagnosed with cancer in this day and age, chances are you might find yourself doing a whole load of speed reading. Reading about what causes cancer, what the treatment options are, what you are supposed to eat etc. The list goes on.

I read a whole lot, from Lance Armstrong to Susan Love. Just when I thought I am through with reading about cancer, I found a book in the bookshop one day that shouted, “Read me!”

The Cancer Survivor’s Companion – Practical ways to cope with your feelings after cancer, by Dr Frances Goodhart and Lucy Atkins is a brilliant book for survivors like me who have gone through treatment but yet still feel lost or at times sad, contrary to the “Carpe Diem” survivors who are relishing every waking minute.

There are chapters which deal with specific emotions, such as worries, depression and low mood and anger. Within these chapters are explanations or examples of how you are feeling and small exercises for you to get through these difficult emotions.

I have just started on my first chapter and it sure feels great that someone out there knows how I feel!

You can purchase your copy of The Cancer Survivor’s Companion here.