Sooooo... today I'll be sharing something that I actually DON'T talk about. I have always wanted to make a stand about it or raise awareness but somehow or another I chickened out. Sounds super dramatic and it's really not, it's just me and I guess it's been my little secret for so long that it's hard for me to even start talking about it.
Anyway. I kinda feel it's important to do it and I should do it today because! Today is World Cancer Day and I... am a cancer survivor.
About 18 years ago, I was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma - or Kidney Cancer, in layman terms. Being 6, I barely understood what that meant or the implications of it and in fact, my parents tried to hide it from me for a while. My basic understanding of it was just that "there's something bad in your tummy and the doctor has to take it out", which I suppose isn't ~COMPLETELY~ wrong...
Me a couple months before my diagnosis
Me a couple months after my diagnosis
My memory of everything is honestly quite foggy by now, but I do remember how it all started.
I was still in kindergarten then and about half a year before anything happened, I started losing my appetite. I couldn't finish my meals that I normally could, and I always told my mum I was feeling full. Of course they just wrote it off as me being cheeky and wanting to play, and didn't pay much attention to it. I mean, it was quite a normal thing for most kids to do anyway.
Things started getting a bit more serious when I constantly complained of stomach aches, and they would bring me to the nearby GP, who would just say I had gastric flu and issued the standard antibiotics.
I think it went on a couple of times when finally, around September 1999 there was this one day I was in so much pain I couldn't walk. It was just a searing pain coming from the left side of my torso and all I could do was cry and roll on my bed.
My mum being the super mum she is, carried me to the GP. I wasn't even very small then! Probably almost 20kg. But she carried me all the way there, only for the doctor to once again write it off as gastric flu.
But my mum knew something was wrong, and I guess you can call it motherly instinct but this time she brought me to a Paediatric Clinic run by a church friend. I remember limping there because putting pressure on my left side made it so unbearable.
After a round of urine samples and blood tests, the paediatriction (I still remember her! Dr Tan Siew Pin hehe ☺️) told my mum that her hunch was right and that they should bring me to the hospital for a more thorough check up.
This part I can remember quite vividly - going to the hospital. I think I did an X-Ray, followed by that jelly scan thing that they normally do for pregnant ladies. I can still remember the cold jelly being spread over my tummy and the grown ups talking over me.
That night, my parents brought me home and the feeling was super solemn. I actually was feeling better and kinda back to my usual self... but I could tell something was wrong.
My mum was crying when she asked me if I knew what was going on and I shook my head no. That was when she told me that there was something bad inside and that the doctors would have to take it out. And that I would be having an operation in a couple of days.
(Christmas before I started losing my hair)
Now that I'm 24 I know a lot more than I did back then and honestly, it's a lot scarier than I ever thought it was. Renal Cell Carcinoma actually is a very rare cancer for children under 15. And apparently... I was the very first case of it in Singapore, which makes it all even scarier.
Anyway, by the time my cancer was detected, it was already at stage 3. It had spread through my left kidney and I basically only had a 10% chance of survival.
TBH I was still skipping to the hospital the next day, treating it like a holiday camp. Obviously not behaving like someone who yknow, had a high chance of DYING. I think I actually was even excited to be staying there for the next 10 days! The children's wards were cute and friendly and there was even a room for us to play so... that's all I cared about.
Well. A couple hours in and I realised this would be the LEAST FUN camp ever when they started sticking needles into my arm 😭😭😭
AND TIL TODAY I am deathly afraid of needles!! Even the last few times I was hospitalised with a high fever or food poisoning, the needles absolutely freaked me out. I mean, the actual insertion on the needle is actually not that painful but just the awful memories of the many times I had chemotherapy or blood tests. And when I was a kid it hurt a lot more! It's one of the things that's stuck with me all these years and I just can't shake it off... *shudders*
21 September 1999
(I actually asked my mum last night if she remembered when it happened and she IMMEDIATELY went "21st September 1999!" So I guess there are some things that never stop haunting you...)
The day of the operation, I had to change into the hospital gown. The one that's just tied up with strings and I couldn't wear my underwear... which made me uncomfortable. I actually didn't even realise how serious it was, I was still pretty zen about everything.
I know my mum was crying. I heard my dad cried too, and my mum said that it was one of the only times she's seen him cry.
They made me lie down on the hospital bed and the nurses started wheeling me down the hall... and I think that was when I started getting scared. My parents were next to me, walking and holding my hand but when I was pushed into the operation theatre, they couldn't come in. I was crying and said I wanted my mum, and thankfully my gugu who works as a nurse could be there to comfort me.
👧🏻: I want my mummy!
👩🏻: it's ok, we are here with you... it'll be over soon
👩🏻: come smell this! It smells like strawberries!
👧🏻: *sniffles* ok...
AND I WAS OUT. LIKE A LOG. Quite smart to make the anaesthetic thingy scented for kids aye.
According to my mum, the operation was almost 6 hours long. And it was a successful one!!! 🎉🎉🎉 I do remember drowsily waking up and my parents rushing over... and the first thing I said was that I had to pee. BUT *badumtss* they actually stuck a catheter up me and so my mum told me just to pee whenever I wanted.
I wish I could say the operation was the last of it but we've only just begun...
(Still playing with my dolls and insisting on wearing a dress even when I was at home... some things never change)
Chemotherapy started, and I started losing my hair. I really tried to make my hair strands last as long as possible but they all started coming off ☹️☹️ every morning a few strands on my pillow, dropping hair all around the house... when finally we decided to shave it off. My sis and dad helped me do it! Trimming and shaving me head.
While it was fine back then, I really never want to be bald again. Not even for hair for hope. Losing it once makes you not want to ever lose it again I guess?
Chemotherapy went on for the next 15 months from daily to weekly, biweekly to monthly and finally quarterly trips. On top of the pain of needles and having drugs coursing through my body, they left me tired and constantly nauseous.
I mean I was sick but I would still kick up a FUSS every single time a nurse came for a blood test, and I would cry for a long, long, loooooooong time until I exhausted myself before they could get the needle into my arm.
Lol there was one time a student doctor had to poke a needle into my hand for some medication and for the life of him he COULD NOT get it right!!!!!!! In fact he poked it in and took it out multiple times. Tiny me got PISSED OFF and kicked him and hollered lmao #sassysince93
Not so funny when they had to sedate me after that tho...
Life After Cancer
I think the main reason why I even wanted to share all this is because everyone knows about cancer but it's rarely talked about. I always hear people saying their aunt had it or a distant relative but you don't normally hear about it from the person who did have it. And childhood cancer even less so!
While I will readily admit it was a difficult time for me, it was even harder on my family, especially my mum. She would be there for me, day and night. And for the 10 days I was in the hospital, she slept on a mattress next to me on the floor. She cried so much and worried so much but always managed to make me smile.
It wasn't just the 10 days, it was something that flipped her otherwise smooth sailing life upside down.
My dad has always been a pretty serious guy, but he one day came home with his head shaved because he wanted to accompany me. I still remember the day he came home and showed it to me and I couldn't stop giggling
My sister had to change from a rather prestigious primary school to a neighbourhood one, just so it could be more convenient for our family. For a couple of years there she was known as "the sister of the girl with cancer" and honestly... that's not fun for anyone.
I think we were also very very blessed with friends and family who rallied round to take care of me, who drove me to and from the hospital when I had chemotherapy sessions, who would try and cook healthy meals for me and who supported my parents.
There was this particular Rapunzel Barbie (1997 edition!) I wanted soooo badly when I was a little girl and when my mum asked me what I wanted before I went for the operation, I said I wanted this.
She was too busy and exhausted with taking care of me so she passed on the job to my aunt... who scoured high and low and went to all the departmental stores just to find it.
She couldn't find it anywhere and she finally talked to the store manager (I think it was metro??) who told her the doll was no longer being sold for quite some time now. She told him how she was supposed to get it for her niece who had cancer but that it was ok, she'll find something else for me.
The next day she got a call from the shop, saying that they checked their storeroom and they found my Barbie! And they wanted to give it to me and not for a single cent!
My Barbie has probably long been thrown away but I had so many fun times braiding and combing her hair until it was all matted. I'll never forget that story though.
x x x x x
It took me so long to finally be able to talk about it and a lot of it was because I didn't want it to be like a pity party, I didn't want people to feel sorry for me or look at me differently. Throughout primary school I had the stigma of "the girl with cancer" hanging around me.
(My first day of school! I suppose wearing a headscarf for the whole of primary one did make me kinda look like an alien)
On my first day of school, the principal brought me up to the stage to tell everyone to take care and look out for me. When I won a colouring contest 2 years later and collected my prize on stage, she reminded everyone again that I once had cancer. In primary 6 when I had an award to collect she again brought it up.
Primary school was fun but most people treated me either as if I was fragile or they befriended me out of pity. My teachers took extra care of me and I was branded the Teachers pet.
I honestly don't look back on my primary school life very fondly, which is why when I left for secondary school I knew I wanted things to be different and I just wanted to be treated like a normal person. I didn't tell many people other than my closest friends, and when I moved on to poly even less people knew about it. I've finally gotten to a point where I've left it so far behind I honestly sometimes forget I've ever had cancer... which is kinda what I've always wanted.
But I think although I was happy keeping it my secret for over 10 years, it's important to share it because if I can give someone hope, or if I can help make sense of it then that's something worth doing. As much as I didn't want to talk about it, the other half of me really thought it would be a blessing. In fact last night, I had it all typed out in my drafts but I just DID NOT have the courage to press publish for so long.
I just want to end off this post by saying that while cancer was something I spent years recovering from, it doesn't really have any effect on how I live my life now. I still have a weak stamina and I guess I still worry that one day I might not be able to have children (chemotherapy might lower the chances), but other than that I think if anything it's taught me to take everything one day at a time.
I am still careful with what I eat and drink because now I only have one kidney! But I definitely let myself indulge every now and then. I think my take on life is a lot more like - life is short, enjoy it while you can. It's so... unpredictable and I just don't want to live it with regrets 😊😊
Sooo... ya! This is me (literally) today, happy and healthy and thankful for being alive.
It wasn't easy talking about it but I'm really super glad I did because it's a huge weight off my chest. Thank you for all the support and sweet comments too! I'm grateful for this community and for all the kind words and love ❤️❤️ thank you thank you thank youuuu everyone!!!
Saturday, 4 Feb 2017
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