Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Breast cancer: Not just a disease for older women

SINGAPORE — Wendy New believes a routine vaccination three years ago saved her life. Not that it prevented her from catching diseases, but that it led to her discovering she had breast cancer.

Ms Wendy New discovered she had breast cancer during a routine vaccination three years ago.

Ms Wendy New discovered she had breast cancer during a routine vaccination three years ago.

Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

  • One in six breast cancer cases in Singapore were diagnosed in women under age 45
  • Younger women tend to develop more aggressive forms of breast cancer
  • Women should start doing monthly breast self-examinations from age 20

 

SINGAPORE — Wendy New believes a routine vaccination three years ago saved her life. Not that it prevented her from catching diseases, but that it led to her discovering she had breast cancer.

The jab, which was for a trip to Cambodia, had triggered a reaction that caused a lump to swell in her left breast. A diagnosis confirmed that the lump was cancerous. But at age 39, she was in denial.

“It was a shock. I was healthy, I exercised,” said Ms New, now 42, an educator. “I didn’t know how to react to it.”

One in six breast cancer cases in Singapore are diagnosed in women under age 45 and it is one of the most common cancers in women aged 15 to 34, according to a paper published by the Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) in August.

From 2013 to 2017, nearly six cases of breast cancer were diagnosed every day and figures from the Singapore Cancer Registry show that these numbers have climbed more than threefold over the past five decades.

It also is the leading cause of cancer death among women here.

But not enough women are doing self-examinations. In a survey commissioned by BCF in 2017, only 62 per cent of women said they have ever done it.

For breast cancer awareness month, which began on Oct 1, BCF wants women to know that they should start doing monthly breast self-examination from the age of 20.

Mammograms should be done once a year when they hit 40 years old, followed by once every two years when they hit 50 years old.

Although breast cancer is less common in younger women, those who do develop it tend to get more aggressive forms of the disease. These include the HER2+ subtypes which spread quicker if untreated, and triple-negative breast cancer which has limited treatment options.

THE DIAGNOSIS

By the time Ms New was diagnosed, the breast cancer was already at Stage 3 and had spread. Even after 12 sessions of chemotherapy, several of her lymph nodes were still infected. Her doctor had to surgically remove 44 of them.

Ms Vivienne Wong, 35, was diagnosed three years ago with breast cancer that was also of a more aggressive nature.

She first discovered a small bump near her right armpit while she was in the shower. For four months, she procrastinated getting it checked.

“To get (breast cancer) in your 20s and 30s is still really rare right? I mean how often are you the exception to anything?” the freelance singer, emcee and copywriter recalled thinking.

Because her cancer grew so fast, her doctor urged her to get a mastectomy immediately, which involved removing her entire right breast.

“That was one of the most devastating moments,” Ms Wong said. Even though she got it reconstructed, it was not the same to her. “It’s dead inside. It’s numb, it’s really just a prosthetic in my chest.”

Ms New had opted not to undergo a mastectomy. She recalled how a close male friend had urged her to do it because it was a simple process of cutting off “a piece of meat”.

“People don’t know how to react to cancer patients,” Ms New said. “They don’t need your advice, they just need someone to be there to listen to them. They don’t need you to understand exactly what they are going through, because you wouldn’t.”

Ms Vivienne Wong was diagnosed three years ago with breast cancer that was also of a more aggressive nature. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

LOOKING BACK

Ms Wong and Ms New described excruciating experiences going through their months of treatments. The nausea, the persistent stabbing sensations, the loss of taste and countless other side effects took a heavy toll on their physical and mental health.

But they want women to know that there are often enough good days when they can get back to work and return to some semblance of normality.

“I would have a nice wig, put on makeup, I would wear all my evening dresses and it would be a kind of morale booster to look at myself and go, ‘I look normal’,” said Ms Wong.

Through programmes organised by BCF, they received professional guidance from psychiatrists and doctors to help them take back control of their lives. More importantly, they found a support network of women undergoing similar experiences.

Ms Wong and Ms New have both completed most of their treatments and are now on long-term hormonal therapy.

Looking back, Ms Wong said if given a choice, she would relieve the entire ordeal again.

“There is value in what I've been through, in helping to make other people going through this feel better, feel encouraged,” she said.

“I just feel that I’ve been blessed with the chance to live again and live differently.”

Related topics

breast cancer cancer Health

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.