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Stage 3 breast cancer kicked her out of her comfort zone: 'I am bolder and more willing to live my life well'

When Gemma Foo first found out she had breast cancer in February 2018, the first thing that came to her mind was this heartbreaking thought: “Did I work too hard?”

Next, a barrage of questions: “Why me? What stage is it? My kids are still young. I’m an only child. Who will take care of my kids and parents? Will I be able to survive? Do I need chemo? Will chemo work?”

Then she pulled herself together, shook it off, and did what she always does – solve the problem.

“TIME WAS OF THE ESSENCE”

It was just months after her cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer, that Foo, then 41, felt a lump in her left breast. The general practitioner (GP) she visited immediately sent her for a mammogram and a breast ultrasound.

The tests revealed an irregular lump and a biopsy confirmed that it was cancer. After reeling from the shock, Foo decided: “My goal is to get well. So, I’ll focus on that and do whatever I need to do.”

Another cancer warrior who inspired her: A pint-sized, always perfectly groomed elderly woman, Lin Laoshi (Teacher Lin). The 80-something former Chinese teacher had taught her in primary school and in recent years, Foo and her primary school mates would meet the kindly teacher for regular meals.

Lin Laoshi told Foo about her first breast cancer diagnosis when she was 51 years old – and how she beat it twice. “Knowing that she managed to recover well, and is still healthy and fit in her eighties, was a great source of comfort to me,” Foo said.

Foo also had an outpouring of love from her friends. While recuperating after surgery, she was surprised to find her primary school classmates – some of whom she hadn’t met since they were 12 – trooping into her hospital room, bearing gifts. “We had a mini party. It wasn’t the best time to party but I felt very well-loved.”

CANCER MADE HER BRAVER AND BOLDER

Over the last five years, Foo found herself embracing a peculiar paradigm shift after having cancer.

She had never found the time to exercise before. But her chemotherapy and radiation treatments caused her to wake up with frozen fingers, stiff joints and water retention.

To aid her recovery, she started exercising regularly to improve her blood circulation. She also took small but nutritious and easily digestible meals, and juiced vegetables and fruits.

She also finally committed to taking a nine-month religious course to become a Catholic.

Since her chemotherapy sessions were at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, a stone’s throw away from the Church of St Alphonsus (popularly known as Novena Church), she took that as a sign that she should make the time for its weekly classes. She’d also drop by the church to pray before her chemo session.

She met other cancer patients at the church programme, including a lymphoma patient in his seventies. “I was inspired by him because he had recovered from two relapses. He was so jovial and active, that he gave me hope,” recounted Foo.

For instance, she now reaches out to old friends regularly and recently attended a reunion with her secondary schoolmates whom she had not met for 10 years. “Chatting about our old teachers and learning that they are well and have grandkids – these little things make me happy.”

Despite having breast cancer, Foo considers her current life an improvement over her old one. She is now better equipped to manage her water retention, joint pain and stiffness. “I feel healthier, more active, more focused. I enjoy a better quality of life. My lifestyle has changed – for the better.”

She also finds that she doesn’t get upset as easily as before. “I’m more patient. I can let go of an issue or tolerate it. As long as the end goal is reached, it doesn’t need to be done my way. My husband says I have mellowed a lot,” laughed Foo.

 “Overall, I like the more chillax new me.”

CNA Women is a section on CNA Lifestyle that seeks to inform, empower and inspire the modern woman. If you have women-related news, issues and ideas to share with us, email CNAWomen [at] mediacorp.com.sg.

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