"From the mud of adversity
grows the lotus of joy." —Carolyn Marsden
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.
Amy Neary, in her late 40s, moved to Singapore from the US 15 years ago. In 2014, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and HER2+, and is now 6 months from remission. She opens up on her journey and tells us why life after cancer is better than ever before.
When and how were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed four and a half years ago with stage 3 breast cancer, on my son’s 4th birthday. On the urging of a friend who had just been diagnosed, I went for a mammogram having skipped the previous year. She saved my life, and I am very grateful to her.
How did you feel upon learning about the diagnosis?
It was a bit of a shock in the beginning, and once that passed, a lot of other emotions came along – anger, frustration, “why me”, resentment. My husband was the first person I had called. Together, we decided to do a post on Facebook. At first I was really against it, but my husband thought “People have been through this before and have the knowledge. Why start from scratch?” Some of our best recommendations on doctors had been from there.
It’s been tough, but I've made a lot of changes for the better. Those who know me know that I say life after cancer is actually better – it sounds crazy but it is true.
How has having breast cancer changed you?
Well, there are three things that cancer has taught me. First, it showed me how fragile life can be. It made me realise the importance of how I live my life, rather than how long. The second thing that cancer helped me with is to re-prioritise my life. I was a workaholic, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I would let it take over a large amount of my time. Now, I take the time to be with my family, to exercise and rebuild my health. Thirdly, it helped show me what true friendship meant. As some friends went by the wayside, others stepped up and stayed through the hard parts of the journey. It taught me to lean on others for help, which for me, was a hard thing to do.
Where are you right now in your journey with cancer?
I am six months away from official remission, which gives me the same number of odds as all of you. (laughs) Now that I'm done with mastectomy, reconstructive surgeries and treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, and biotherapy), I’m focusing on reducing the risk of recurrence. I want to make sure that the lifestyle changes I’ve made are for the better.
What are some of the lifestyle changes you’ve made?
I make sure to eat healthy, exercise and sleep better. I also meditate and practise yoga to manage my stress.
Did these lifestyle changes lead you to Breast Cancer Foundation?
Breast Cancer Foundation has been a fundamental pillar for me. It has been a great network of support. The kindness of others, even complete strangers at a support group, helps you on your journey. This is why I want to do the same and be there for newly diagnosed women on their journeys, to help reduce some of the fear of the unknown.
As a Befriender, I visit them in hospitals, or talk to them over the phone or social media. I also do other activities with Breast Cancer Foundation to raise awareness about early detection including corporate awareness talks.
“Cancer made me realise the importance of how I live my life, rather than how long.”
What advice would you give to breast cancer patients or women in general?
For women with cancer - you need a new language and mindset, because there is a new ‘normal’ that comes with the diagnosis. You’re not alone. Others have been on this journey, and have plenty of knowledge. Your support network will be your biggest asset to help you get through this journey. And using my own example, take this as a growth opportunity. Make positive changes to your life, so that you can also experience life after breast cancer to be as good or better than before.
To women in general, don’t think it can’t happen to you. I didn’t think it could happen to me, I was only 44 when I was diagnosed, no family history. Take steps to reduce the risk by performing monthly self-examinations, as well as annual mammograms, and just make sure you’re leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
To learn about breast cancer, or to support the breast cancer awareness cause, visit www.bcf.org.sg.
Amy 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