Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2021: Cindy Wong’s Inspiring Journey Part 1
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Singapore. As a brand founded by women for women, this is an issue that is extremely close to our hearts, and we wish to raise awareness about this illness especially among young women.
Breast Cancer is the #1 cancer killer of Singaporean women, and 1 in 11 women here will get Breast Cancer in their lifetimes, with numbers steadily on the rise. While it is more prevalent among older women, an increasing number of younger women are getting diagnosed with breast cancer. However, early detection and regular examinations can help save lives and breasts.
This month, we’re spotlighting Cindy Wong, a young educator who beat Breast Cancer at the age of 29. Read along as she shares her story in the hopes of spreading awareness about this illness.
Hi Cindy, please tell us a bit about yourself!
Hello! I’m Cindy and I’m an educator. I was diagnosed with Triple-negative Stage 1A Breast Cancer at the age of 29. I’m currently in remission and enjoying life!
What kind of person were you, leading up to your diagnosis? What was your impression of breast cancer?
I was a relatively healthy person if I can say so myself. I led an active lifestyle, doing regular yoga and having as balanced a diet as one has when they’re in their twenties. I was in a physically demanding job as a preschool educator – working with children really wears you out! So, I used to get back home quite exhausted and just crashed on most days. I didn’t have a regular self-care ritual because I usually was just too tired to keep it up.
My impression of cancer was probably influenced greatly by pop culture and mainstream media. I always had this preconceived notion that cancer only affected either really young people, as babies, or old people. Growing up, I also never saw any of my family members going for health check-ups until they were in their 40s. I never knew of anyone in my extended family getting breast cancer, so I figured I wouldn’t get it either.
How did you find out about your diagnosis? What made you get tested?
It was an ordinary weekday; my bf gave a cheeky squeeze on my breast to annoy me so I could wake up to attend lecture. He noticed something on it that was unusual.
I ignored it for a while because I just thought it was a bit of chest muscle. My boyfriend and my sister encouraged me to get it checked out. I mainly agreed because I love to wear low-cut tops and the lump was making me a little self-conscious.
3 days later, I got an appointment with a private doctor, and for vanity’s sake, I decided to go for a lumpectomy (removal of the tumour) right away even though I was offered a biopsy first. As a matter of procedure, they tested the lump and that was when I was diagnosed with Stage 1A Triple- negative Breast Cancer, which is one of the most aggressive types of Breast Cancer.
To make things worse, I also found out that the tumour was a grade 3 tumour, the most “evil” one of all to put it simply, and I was also BRCA 1 positive. You know, the genetic mutation that Angelina Jolie has.
It came as a complete shock to me as I was just 29! It was just so far removed from my reality, I had no family history of breast cancer, no one I knew had it – I never imagined it would happen to me.
What was your treatment process?
My treatment consisted of the lumpectomy, a margin clearance surgery that checked if the cancer cells had spread further than the tumour, and 12 cycles of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy.
I was enrolled in university at the time, so I had to stop school for a year to undergo treatment.
How did you feel going through your treatment process?
Chemotherapy was extremely tough and painful for me. One cycle meant 1 session of chemo each week for 2 weeks, followed by a 1-week break. I took a total of 6 months to finish all 12 cycles of my chemotherapy treatment.
One thing many people might not know is that chemotherapy looks very different for everyone. Not everyone is affected the same way. I’ve even seen people go for tennis after every session! I unfortunately got the typical side effects that we’re all familiar with.
I used to get extremely nauseated for the first few days after chemo, which meant that I could only drink cold formulated milk and kiwis. I lost all my hair – from my head, my eyebrows, my lashes, everything. My nails turned black, and I was very bloated the whole time. I was weak and tired, which made me extremely irritable and hard to be around.
I honestly hated every moment of my treatment. I can be candid about it, now that I’ve have come out on the other side, but I nearly gave up around the 8th cycle of my chemotherapy. I was getting horrible migraines and breathless just walking from the living room to the kitchen. It got too painful for me, and I started questioning the point of everything I was going through – my existence, the pain, the uncertainty etc., and stopped going for my chemotherapy sessions.
That was when I reflected on what my father told me when I was a teenager; something that has stuck with me till today – “You’ve got to love yourself. Nobody else can love you for you.” This was kind of an epiphany for me. I realised that I’d come so far and was so close to finishing – I needed to love myself enough to actually get through it.
After that, I resumed my treatment and managed to finish all 12 cycles. Since the cancer was detected and treated early at Stage 1A, I had the choice of keeping my natural breasts at the end of my chemotherapy. However, during my diagnosis, I tested positive for the BRCA gene, which meant that I was at a much greater risk of a recurrence of breast cancer and possibly ovarian cancer in the future.
I decided to go for a full mastectomy with reconstruction, as it greatly reduced the risk of my cancer returning. I put my health and my future first and also did a total hysterectomy as an additional preventative measure.
Read more of Cindy’s inspiring journey to recovery in Part 2 of our interview with her!
For Breast Cancer Awareness month, we have launched our signature Je Dors Collection in a precious Pressed Rose colour in all our classic styles (Full Set, Long Set, Short Set and Sleepshirt). For every purchase of a Je Dors Pressed Rose Pyjama set in October, we will be donating $5 to Singapore’s Breast Cancer Foundation, and you will get a free Pink Ribbon pin with your order.