“As the lotus rises on its stalk unsoiled by the mud and water, so the wise one speaks of peace and is unstained by the opinions of the world.” – Buddha
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we celebrate all who have devoted themselves to the cause and inspired with their courage, spirit and strength.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women worldwide. Along with the challenges that come with most cancer treatments, breast cancer patients also grapple with the possibility of losing their breast or part of it. The journey from diagnosis to recovery is an extremely emotional one for affected women, hitting at the very heart of femininity, as we have come to believe.
As part of our Pinktober campaign, we team up with Breast Cancer Foundation to bring you the stories of four wonderful women who not only fought and triumphed over breast cancer but also volunteer as BCF Befrienders, supporting other women along their recovery journey.
Together, they show us that even in one’s darkest moments, life still finds a way.
Dr. Piloo Chacha, in her 70s and originally from India, moved to Singapore in 1967. She worked with Ministry of Health, specialising in primary maternal and child care. 28 years ago, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, underwent mastectomy and has been cancer-free ever since.
When and how were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed in 1990. I was having dinner with my husband and suddenly felt funny, there was some pain and then I felt a lump. I am a medical doctor myself, and being a doctor I teach my patients how to feel their breasts for lumps. The next day, I got the biopsy done, and it turned out to be cancerous. I used to have regular mammograms, but had missed them for 2 years. It was diagnosed as stage 2, DCIS.
How did you feel upon learning of the diagnosis? How did you tell your family and friends?
Of course it was very shocking. The first thought you have is “you’re not going to survive, you’re going to die”. That’s what everyone thinks and that’s what Google tells you too. I don’t have children so my concern was my husband would be alone. However, with the support from friends and family, husband, everybody, I got over those fears. My husband was the first one to know, but I did not inform my mother. It was very unfortunate that she passed away in India when I was getting discharged from the hospital, after the operation. I couldn’t go for the funeral, but I am glad she passed away peacefully.
I also have a family history of cancer. My brother died at 49 from stomach cancer, then my older brother died of brain cancer three years ago. My aunt also had thyroid cancer.
Did having a family history of cancer prepare you in any way?
No, not at all. You take it as it comes.
What treatments did you go through?
I went through chemotherapy for 9 months. I did radiotherapy on the back because it was suspected that there were some lesions, but they were not sure. These were after my right mastectomy.
How was the treatment and recovery process?
The treatment was all right, I think I was quite lucky. I just felt a bit nauseous and lethargic, but otherwise it was fine. The hair loss was upsetting though, but people were quite encouraging. I remember my hair was starting to grow back, but I still went out wearing a headscarf. One of my ang moh neighbours saw me and said “Piloo, you are looking lovely, no need to wear anything”. That really boosted my spirits. Nowadays there are so many women who photograph their bald heads, and I wish I had done that too.
How did you stay positive?
People kept telling me to meditate. Just think positive, not to give up. I think prayers also help you – your faith in your religion helps.
Where are you on your journey with cancer?
I am cured completely, for 28 years, after making the difficult decision to remove the whole breast the day after the diagnosis; I knew it was for the better. This was a long time ago. Now, there is so much advanced technology. People have chemotherapy for only 3-4 months, and I had mine for 9.
How did you become a Breast Cancer Foundation Befriender?
I was introduced by a friend. I used to do some volunteering, so she recommended joining Breast Cancer Foundation. I attended yoga and tai chi there regularly. I have been a Befriender for 10-12 years. I go fortnightly to hospitals to see the patients. When we come, they feel assured after seeing us. We go when they call us, as some patients prefer keeping to themselves.
“You take it as it comes”
How has having breast cancer changed your life or your outlook in life?
One has to be aware now, of anything that happens to you. Some lifestyle changes come with cancer, it’s better to go for exercise, and take things easy. I go for yearly full-body check-ups.
What advice would you give to breast cancer patients or women in general?
I would tell them to be positive, and encourage them to have a healthy lifestyle, to exercise. Go for regular check-ups and mammograms.
To learn about breast cancer, or to support the breast cancer awareness cause, visit www.bcf.org.sg.
Dr Piloo wears Banyan Tree x Lucinda Law Lotus Wrap, designed in commemoration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 15% proceeds go to Breast Cancer Foundation, in support of breast cancer awareness, and women and families affected by breast cancer. For more information, visit essentials.banyantree.com/collections/lotus/products/lotus-wrap
Words by Doreen Tan and Durva Simone Bose
Photography by Serena Lilianto
Styling by Applelyn Teo
Hair and makeup by Joey Chan