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Stories of Inner Strength

Stories of
Inner Strength

Carol's Story

Lifted up by faith to emerge stronger from TNBC

As a dedicated grandmother to five little ones, Carol Liew couldn’t let her diagnosis of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer stop her from spending time with them. It was the thought of watching them grow up, supported by her deep faith that lifted her through her challenging journey. She has now been in remission for one and a half years.

Carol Liew
1. How did you feel when you found out you had cancer?

When I was told about my breast cancer, I was in shock and afraid for my future. I was told by my breast surgeon that there were a few types of breast cancer and she mentioned the triple negative type, which she hoped I wouldn’t have. When the result was out, she told me it was TNBC and advised me to go through chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments even though the tumour was out together with the removal of four lymph nodes too and that there was no sign of the cancer spreading. I remember tears welling up in my eyes but I think it was more of feeling thankful that the cancer did not spread.

2. How did your family and friends react to your diagnosis?

They were shocked and in disbelief because they didn’t expect it. Before this happened, I was fine. There was no indication that I was not well. My grandkids knew I was sick because I was going for treatment to see the doctor, but they didn’t know that it was cancer because I felt that they were a bit too young.

3. How did you prepare for treatment?

As I’m a Catholic, I prayed a lot (more than I used to) and was mentally prepared. The first thing that came into my mind was my loss of hair! Most women care for their hair and I’m no exception. It’s easy to say - don’t worry your hair will grow back, but to be the one going through it is a daunting experience! I’ve seen bald headed women who looked good but I looked terrible.

Carol Liew
4. Tell us about your treatment journey.

I discovered a lump on my right breast in November 2021 and saw my gynaecologist who then sent me for a mammogram which I missed during the circuit breaker. I’d been going for mammogram checks every two to three years but missed the check during the pandemic. My gynae said the lump was of uneven shape and she was worried for me. Everything happened so fast. After the mammogram result, within that week I had surgery to remove the malignant tumour and it was Triple Negative breast cancer stage one. Four lymph nodes were removed too. I went through several more tests including ultrasound, MRI, PET Scan, heart and liver scans before starting chemotherapy treatment. I then continued radiotherapy at the National Cancer Centre as it was too expensive for me to continue with treatments at a private hospital.

5. How did you manage the financial aspects of treatment?

I had to switch from private hospital care to the National Cancer Centre for my treatments because both my husband and I are retirees and we no longer enjoy medical expenses coverage. When I got a referral from the breast surgeon to NCC via the polyclinic, my appointment was put on fast track and my chemo sessions started within a month. I am grateful for that.

Carol Liew
Quote I’m basically a strong person with resilience to physical pain, so when I was diagnosed with TNBC, I accepted it as another challenge in my life. Quote
6. What challenges did you face?

I contracted shingles due to my low immunity and had to stop chemo for a couple of weeks. My legs were weak and wobbly and I fell a few times and had a fracture on my right foot where I had to use a walking frame and subsequently wore a walking boot for three months. I also had a cough which lasted for three months and once I coughed out bloody phlegm and I was a bit scared. I went for an X-ray to check and luckily my lungs were ok.

7. It takes strength and resilience to fight TNBC. What gave you this inner strength?

I’m basically a strong person with resilience to physical pain, hard work and stress, so when I was diagnosed with TNBC, I accepted it as another challenge in my life but only this time it’s a matter of life and death.

8. How did you stay positive throughout this time?

Through my daily prayers and my faith. And going about my usual routines despite undergoing chemotherapy which made me weak and tired. I just needed to feel and behave normally and I didn’t want to stay home to rest or lie down on my bed which would have made me feel more sick and like an invalid. I remember resting in the car and catching short naps when my husband drove us to fetch our grandkids from school or drop them off for classes. I wanted to continue doing stuff I used to do before my cancer journey. Being with my grandkids made me want to live and to be able to watch them grow up. Many of my friends commented that I had a positive attitude and they sometimes forgot that I was going for chemo treatments because I behaved and looked normal, except for the headscarf that I wore when I lost all my hair.

Carol Liew
9. Who or what was the biggest source of support for you?

I truly believe God and my Catholic beliefs gave me support. And of course my husband who was my personal butler and pillar of strength. He was with me throughout my cancer journey and still is. Not forgetting my loved ones and some close friends who prayed for and with me and always checked on me for updates and gave me words of encouragement. And those who would go out with me or celebrate birthdays and spend time together. I remember those who sent me get well floral baskets of fruits, books, birds nest, essence of chicken and even fresh fish for cooking after my surgery.

10. How has your lifestyle changed since you’ve been in remission?

My lifestyle is about the same except that I try to include super foods in my diet whenever possible. I also try to spend more time with loved ones, go out with friends more often when I’m free because I always tell them that life is short.

11. Are you still able to do the things you did before?

Yes, I’m able to do everything except that my legs are still rather weak and the numbness I’m feeling in my hands and feet are still bad. I have to be extra careful when carrying food trays with hot food and drinks! The number of things I dropped during the past 1.5 years exceeded more than the number of things I’ve dropped before my cancer.

Carol Liew
12. What’s your advice to women facing TNBC?

Being told that you have cancer is indeed scary. All sorts of negative images raced through my mind when it happened to me. But please do whatever it takes to make yourself feel well again. Think of your family and loved ones who would want you to get well.

Quote Being diagnosed with TNBC was the darkest moment of my life! But having a strong willpower to not let the darkness overpower me, I saw light returning. For those fighting TNBC or other cancers, do not lose hope but instead live life to the fullest. Quote
13. How do you feel you’ve emerged stronger from TNBC?

I used to tell my younger ex colleagues that I’ve been there, done that when they would grumble about work or having to work late. This TNBC journey is another to add on to my list! I’m still going through my life not knowing if cancer will occur again. I just have to pray and diligently continue with mammograms, see my oncologist and radiotherapy doctors every three months and to take care of myself and live life to the fullest!

Share your ‘I Can’ story

Have you been diagnosed with TNBC and chose to forge ahead on your own terms? Do you have a loved one who turned to face TNBC head-on? As a caregiver, do you have tips and stories of encouragement for other caregivers?

Share your story to help empower others living with TNBC.

Remember that there is power in the community, others with a TNBC diagnosis could feel supported and inspired by understanding how you are taking on TNBC.

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