Singapore mum Mavis Leong was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and was in remission for six years, until she was re-diagnosed with the illness in 2018.
As a single mum of two, the stress she faced was unimaginable, especially when she had to stop working to focus on recovery.
We ask Mavis, who currently works as Financial Services Consultant with AIA Singapore, about her battle with cancer and the challenges she faced along the way.
Two time breast cancer survivor: Journey of a single mum in Singapore
When did you first suspect that something was wrong? What were the symptoms?
“I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2012 and only found out that something was wrong after a routine medical check-up.
“My mother was previously diagnosed with cervical cancer, but no one in my family had breast cancer even though there is a history of breast lumps.
“Fortunately for me, the cancer was diagnosed at stage 1.5. My family took the news well and my children always encouraged me to be strong and they would always check in on how I was feeling.”
Where did you undergo treatment and what did it involve?
“I did a surgery to remove the tumour at Gleneagles Hospital.
“After the surgery, I had to go through 20 days of radiotherapy. There were no serious side effects, except for some bleeding when I ran for a long distance, which was caused by the hormone therapy pill (tamoxifen) I was taking, that thickens the cervix wall.
“I still go for follow up check-ups with my breast specialist and oncologist once every six to nine months.”
Who did you turn to for support, apart from family?
“I turned to the Singapore Cancer Society for support in 2012 and have continued to be a volunteer there since. I made many friends who could relate with my experience and they gave me valuable advice. One important thing I learnt was that cancer is not a “death sentence”, but just another setback in life to help us become stronger.
“Especially with my divorce in 2011, it really showed me how powerful it is to stay positive and focus on what you have, not what you have lost.”
How did you deal with the illness as a single mum of 2, in terms of finances and emotional turmoil?
“My children, Nicholas and Alicia, were my pillars of strength and main source of motivation. I only cried once, after my first radiotherapy session, then I focused on recovering by going for treatments and ensuring that I was well-rested and eating healthily.
“Having gone through cancer twice myself, I cannot emphasise how important having adequate coverage is to financially protect yourself against unexpected and unfortunate events.
“In 2012 alone, I claimed about $538,000 from eight policies with critical illness (CI) benefit, and it really helped when I had to stop working for a while.”
How has cancer changed you in terms of diet and lifestyle?
“I exercise four times a week and eat healthier meals, and avoid fried food as it is extremely bad for the body.
“I believe that the experience of overcoming cancer has given me an even more positive attitude and mindset, and has reminded me to not take good things and loved ones for granted. I am also learning to turn to God for peace more often.”
What advice would you like to give other mums?
“Be positive, cry when you need, and talk to someone who has gone through a similar experience. It is good for healing.”
Thank you, Mavis, for sharing your journey with us. It has inspired us to stay positive, no matter what life throws at us.