A secretary by profession, Pn Norlila’s life revolved around her work before she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (mBC) at the age of 45 years old. The mother of four noticed lumps in her breast that did not go away for months. Upon seeing the doctor and doing further tests, she learned the harsh truth that she had Stage 4 breast cancer that had spread to her bones. She was overwhelmed, stressed, scared, and lacked confidence to face the road ahead. Pn Norlila’s doctor had recommended chemotherapy as her course of treatment but she was scared and thought nothing could be done to change her reality. Her mind riddled with fear, Pn Norlila ultimately decided not to go ahead with treatment.
The power of community and individual advocacy in the face of a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. #UNPAUSE
The power of individual resilience and family support. #UNPAUSE
Embrace Treatment, It’s Never Too Late
She had to make the tough decision to resign from her job that she loved. For the next 1.5 years, Pn Norlila suffered. She fell sick often, experienced swelling and had difficulty breathing. Upon seeing the doctor and treating the fluid in her lungs, her doctor again recommended her to seek treatment for mBC. The realisation that she could not run away and had to face her reality became clear. It was the catalyst she needed to feel she was ready for treatment. She enrolled in an oral chemotherapy trial programme and began to experience improvements. Pn Norlila slept better, woke up feeling healthier and stronger, and could enjoy activities like cooking again. Through it all, Pn Norlila’s loved ones were her pillars of support. Her family never showed their sadness and maintained a strong front for Pn Norlila. Their words of encouragement fuelled her strength to fight the battle against her mBC. Previously, Pn Norlila’s knowledge of mBC has only been through the stories from extended relatives, which scared her due to the depression the patients went through. Now she does not compare her mBC journey with other patients as she understands that each individual mBC experience is different.
Pn Norlila shares that her will to embrace life with mBC stems from her family. Seeing her children grow up and being able to experience their milestones with them is what drives her. Though her children were quite young when she was first diagnosed with mBC, they have learned to become independent and are very helpful with household duties. Her third child has even picked up cooking and perfected the ikan sambal dish that Pn Norlila enjoys. She’s also had the pride and joy of seeing her two eldest sons graduate high school. With a renewed outlook to be more patient and approach challenges calmly, Pn Norlila knows that challenges are inevitable in life and has become more conscious of her choices. Her battle against mBC is not over and her treatment is still ongoing. If given the chance to change the past, Pn Norlila wishes she had known to seek treatment for the mBC as soon as possible.. She urges others to not repeat her mistake - act fast and do not wait. Further to that, mBC patients should also understand that it’s never too late to seek treatment. The importance of timely treatment coupled with regular health screenings, annual mammograms, eating well, and staying healthy are vital. Pn Norlila aspires to go back to her normal life, resume work and enjoy the simple things in life.BACK UP FOR MORE #UNPAUSE STORIES
Meet Pn Mashitoh | Silence the Noise, Cultivate a Positive Environment
Pn Mashitoh’s bold personality is complemented by her kind smile and friendly demeanour. Sister and caregiver to Cik Bushro, a metastatic breast cancer (mBC) patient, Pn Mashitoh exudes an infectious energy. Positive energy that has helped fuel her sister’s battle with Stage 4 breast cancer. Pn Mashitoh has played a key role in Cik Bushro’s mBC journey since she was diagnosed in 2019 – from encouraging her sister to see the doctor about symptoms experienced, being the primary spokesperson to the doctors during Cik Bushro’s consultation and treatment, to being actively involved in managing Cik Bushro’s wellbeing.
In fact, Pn Mashitoh was the first person to find out once her sister’s mBC diagnosis was confirmed. When the doctor informed Pn Mashitoh about the results, she surprised the doctor with her pragmatic reaction of calmly asking what comes next and if recovery was possible. Despite experiencing their mom battle cancer, this time it was different. At that time, the breast cancer had spread to Cik Bushro’s lungs and bones. Hearing that her sister would not survive another four months for a scan was heart-breaking and she broke down in private.
At the start, Pn Mashitoh did not share the full details of the diagnosis with Cik Bushro. She motivated herself and mustered the energy to do her best for her sister because she recognised it was important for Cik Bushro to focus on the doctor’s advice and to get the best treatment possible. She acknowledges that Dr Malwinder, Cik Bushro’s doctor, played a very important role in her sister’s journey. He advised that treatment will not just prolong her life but also provide a better quality of life.
Pn Mashitoh made the decision to carefully curate the information and influences that surrounded Cik Bushro. She took away Cik Bushro’s mobile phone for the first few months as she did not want the wrong person to influence her sister, overwhelm her with information, or to get carried away with their advice. She has seen first-hand how some mutual friends had shared unsolicited advice and confused other friends who experienced health issues. Pn Mashitoh kept her sister busy by encouraging her to talk and focus on happy memories.
As an elder sister would typically be, Pn Mashitoh was protective over Cik Bushro. She only informed selected close friends, colleagues and relatives about her sister’s condition, and limited visitors due to the high risk of infection. She also knew the importance of surrounding Cik Bushro with positive influence, especially during the critical period. Though the rest of the family was shaken up, they all stepped up to support Cik Bushro.
Cik Bushro now lives in Pn Mashitoh’s home with their mother, and the family makes an effort to keep up a positive environment at home. Even Pn Mashitoh’s children no longer throw tantrums and know to manage their emotions around their aunt. Though sometimes Pn Mashitoh may be busy with work, she is thankful that her children are present to keep Cik Bushro company at home.
Their mother, a cancer survivor, has always been a strong, optimistic, and self-motivated person – a trait that has passed on to Pn Mashitoh and Cik Bushro. Pn Mashitoh admits this has made it easier for her to cope with the challenges they have been forced to face. Though undeniably strong inside, her sister has had difficult moments and needs constant reminders to stay positive, with a nudge in the right direction. On that end, Pn Mashitoh is very alert and takes initiative to check in with Cik Bushro to discuss her emotions and thoughts regularly.
Pn Mashitoh knows that whatever that is meant to happen, will happen. As a caregiver, she needs to be strong for her sister and family. She views this time as an opportunity for her to lead her family to be optimistic and know you can still enjoy life despite its challenges. Her sister’s mBC diagnosis does not mean this is the end. Life goes on and there is more to look forward to.
Meet Madam Wong | There is Hope for a Better Quality of Life
Those who meet Madam Wong for the first time would never be able to tell that she is a metastatic breast cancer patient. Quick on her feet and filled with quiet courage, no one would expect that Madam Wong was unable to walk on her own just a year ago. In September 2019, Madam Wong experienced excruciating back pain and her legs were numb. The mother of three went to the hospital and was told the unfortunate news that she had metastatic breast cancer, which had spread to her bones and lymph nodes. Her bone was pressing on a nerve that made it impossible for her to walk. During the critical stage, Madam Wong was unable to even lie down as the tumour was pressing on a nerve and she slept sitting in a chair.
When she first found out about the diagnosis, Madam Wong was in disbelief. The first thing that struck her mind was that she would not survive without treatment. She was told she had to undergo surgery to resolve the issue with the bone and nerve but had to wait for 2 weeks to heal before commencing radiotherapy treatment. Due to the severity of her tumour, Madam Wong chose to forgo the surgery and commenced treatment immediately, with 10 sessions of radiotherapy and oral chemotherapy. Regular scans showed that the tumour has shrunk a little and her condition is stabilising.
While she used to get tired easily, Madam Wong slowly regained energy in her legs and started to walk with a walking frame. In three months, she was starting to feel better and began to walk normally around Chinese New Year. Throughout her mBC journey, her family and friends gave her the courage to go on, and her cousin especially emphasised that she should get treatment. Eventually, Madam Wong rebuilt her strength, and was able to resume her gardening and baking that she enjoyed before her mBC diagnosis.
Her uncle, a Stage 4 lymphatic cancer survivor, shared his experience with Madam Wong, accompanied her to doctor appointments, helped her navigate the treatment information, and most importantly gave her the confidence to get better. Seeing him living well gave her hope that she could too. She found that hearing stories from other mBC patients while she was at the hospital helped her feel less isolated as well. Madam Wong was surprised with the treatment results and how quickly she got back on her feet. In fact, she doesn't mind people telling her she does not look like a mBC patient – what matters to her is how she sees herself and she is undeniably happy with her progress. She goes walking and exercises regularly to stay healthy and has even picked up meditation since the diagnosis based on her uncle’s recommendation.
Her kids motivate her to travel, which she did by going on short holidays with some friends. With the hope to eventually go back to work, Madam Wong practices the philosophy of enjoying life as much as she possibly can. She wants other mBC patients to not be afraid – do not think that you will always feel sick. Madam Wong never imagined her turnaround could be so quick with such improvements. Her journey and experience gave her hope that she can continue life in a positive light. Life does not have to stop because of mBC.