In July of 2006, I was told that I had breast cancer. The two most dreaded words hit me like a rogue wave without warning, leaving me floundering in tears and deep despair. Despite sixteen years of yearly mammograms and six-monthly ultra-sound scans, I was not spared. The first person I thought of was my mother. I remembered our conversation when she told me she had breast cancer twenty five years ago. I asked her, “What are you going to do, Mum?”
She replied, “I am glad you asked what I am going to do, and not what I want you to do for me.”
I knew then I had to take control and not play the damsel in distress card. I consulted my doctor on my options and accepted the fact that the barrage of tests and scans, surgery and chemotherapy and everything that came with it was only the beginning. Fear gripped my heart but hope cleared my mind. It was the early detection of breast cancer that gave me a very good chance of fighting it. There was nothing I or anyone could do to change it and I was not ready to look death in the eye yet.
Finding myself in a place I didn’t want to be with thoughts I didn’t want to think, I refused to give in to self-pity and take the aggrieved party stance. Not asking too many questions and not considering too many options helped. I did what I had to do. Like Mum. I started my treatment at the Sarawak General Hospital six weeks after surgery and after the first of eight cycles of chemotherapy, I was even telling myself it was not as bad as I expected. In fact the first two lines of the song I wrote to the tune of “When I’m 64” were written in the evening after chemo number one, waiting for nausea to start but nothing happened. The staff at the Radio Therapy Unit were excellent – caring, efficient and very friendly. As each session of chemotherapy approached, I told myself, “I want to get well. I will beat this and I will live my life.”
I was blessed to be able to go through the treatment without much discomfort or many side effects. My sense of humour, positive attitude and an undeniably stubborn streak were my strongest allies. Good friends and neighbours were very generous with offers of help, ranging from transport to concoctions of soups reputed to ensure a healthy blood count just before the next chemotherapy. I continued teaching, kept up with all my emceeing at weddings and charity events and I did not put anything on the back burner. My wicked sense of humour sometimes left people very confused. An acquaintance once asked me which hairdresser I went to and how much I paid to have my lovely head of curls done. She did not know I had completed chemotherapy and my hair grew out in beautiful tight curls. I told her nonchalantly, “Oh I got it for free! At SGH,” and she was speechless.
Life is not over until it is over, and I see things differently now that I have been given a second chance. Breast cancer is not a taboo subject to be kept behind closed doors. I survived it and when I talk about it, I come away feeling good. I survived the storm that forever changed my life for the better. I look forward to a family Christmas this year when Mum comes for a visit from Melbourne. She will be one month shy of her eighty-fifth birthday.
Vivien Ng is an English Language teacher and has been for 37 years. She is passionate about teaching and her indomitable wit and sense of humour keeps her students’ attention. Vivien is also a freelance emcee and presenter for weddings, corporate functions and charity events. Her leisure hours are spent reading and strumming her guitar in her garden. Her cat and a dog who “adopted” her last year are her constant companions.