It was in 2011 that Stephanie Goh heard that a close friend of hers was diagnosed with breast cancer.
That was when she came with the idea of going for a check-up herself.
She added that at the time, her curiosity too, persuaded her to go for the test as she had felt a lump in her chest while showering.
“When I lift my arm while showering, I felt a lump on my left breast. It was very small and it just doesn’t feel right. It was painless, but it does not feel like it is part of my body,” said Stephanie.
Apart from that, she also experienced chest pain a couple of months back that was similar to soreness on the breast during menstruation.
Stephanie visited two different doctors to seek opinion. According to her, it was best to go for a second opinion and it is important to look for experienced doctors.
After her first visit to the doctor in December 2011, Stephanie went for a biopsy with a second doctor in January the following year. A week later, she received her biopsy result and was advised to go for a lumpectomy and get her lymph nodes check.
However, Stephanie told the doctor to postpone as she wanted to wait for her husband to come back from overseas.
Six weeks later, Stephanie underwent surgery to remove the lump. However, the procedure to check the lymph nodes need to be done by inserting a blue dye.
“And the doctor told me the risk that if the blue dye was unable to detect anything, he had to remove my lymph nodes which would result in water retention and other complications in life.”
She also mentioned that due to inadequate medical technology in Sarawak, her sister-in-law told her to visit a Singapore’s hospital for its radioactive facility.
Scared and anguished, Stephanie was introduced to CanHope, a non-profit cancer counselling support service which helped her with her appointments in Singapore.
“I did my lymph node surgery and came back shortly after.”
When she returned, she did her medical follow-up in Kuching and was asked to go for a 42-session radiotherapy. Despite the challenges, Stephanie remained positive throughout and was always seen shopping in between medical procedures.
Diagnosed with stage one breast cancer on the left, Stephanie revealed that the cancer was not due to her genetics.
Six years later, cancer relapse kept ringing in her ear.
“I kept wondering what if I have a second-time cancer? When I googled relapse, it meant cancer had moved on to the other breast. It must have gone through the liver, spread out and people always say, when there is a relapse, the cancer cells are stronger and more aggressive.”
Adding on to her worries, she also noticed a nipple dimpling on her right breast which prompted her to go for a medical check-up prior to her scheduled follow-up.
The doctor picked up three clusters of calcification on her right breast.
“Within the day, I did a biopsy. Afterwards, I sat in my car crying as I was extremely shocked to hear the bad news. I could not even drive back home.”
The first thing that went through her mind was to call her CanHope counsellor who counselled her throughout.
Albeit her positive energy, Stephanie shared, “You will always be crying, but you have to know how to pick yourself up as the journey is very scary. No matter how strong you are, you never want to die.”
Nonetheless, Stephanie picked herself up and through CanHope, returned to Singapore for a check-up as Sarawak did not offer ‘guided biopsy’ and also for surgery. There, she was advised to remove the whole breast to prevent future recurrence.
Stephanie conducted a mastectomy and reconstruction of the breast in December 2017 after she was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer on her right. With her husband as her pillar of strength, Stephanie underwent nine hours of surgery.
“After I woke up, the first thing I asked for was my lipstick and I was often told to slow down as I do not look like a patient,” she laughed.
However, the joyous mood after the operation was short-lived as the following day, she experienced a blood clot on her breast, “It was swollen and I was in deep pain.”
The next day she underwent surgery to drain the clogged artery, and nights afterwards she had difficulties sleeping due to the pain.
“I even need sleeping pills just to go to sleep. If you ask me now, I also have no idea how I managed to go through the pain at the time. I felt it to my bones.”
After enduring such hardship, Stephanie is grateful that she is still given the chance to see another day.
“My everyday motivation to live is my children. Every day I wake up, I thank God I am alive,” she said.
Asked for an advice for those going through the same experience, Stephanie said, “I always tell people if you can afford it, go for the best one. It is your life at stake!”
But the best reminder from her during times like these was to constantly be positive about it as the determination will push you forward.