Breast Cancer Awareness Month ― A fighter’s experience

A group photo with the women from Sarawak Breast Cancer Support Group.

In a report by the Malaysian National Cancer Registry published in 2016, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Malaysia. Diagnosed with the cancer in 2017, Fauziah Kassim details her agonising journey and how she coped with the struggles.

Battling her inner self

Among the ten most common cancers in Malaysia, breast cancer ranks the highest. It is known to affect 1 in 30 Malaysian females.

Posing for a photo with her fifth child during the private interview with New Sarawak Tribune.

According to the Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer occurs when the cells in the lobules (milk-producing glands) or the ducts become abnormal and divide uncontrollably. These abnormal cells will then invade the surrounding breast tissue and may eventually spread via blood vessels and lymphatic channels to the lymph nodes, lungs, bones, brain and liver.

In a report by Malaysian National Cancer Registry published in 2016, from 2007 to 2011, breast cancer contributed 18,206 cases. It is more common in females aged between 45 to 69 years old.

Meanwhile, 43 percent of patients only knew about it at the later stage, where the outcome is less positive and treatment is more complicated. National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) president Dr Saunthan Somasundaram added that when breast cancer is diagnosed at stage one and stage two, the survival rate is high, at 90 percent and 70 percent respectively.

Hence, early screening either through regular mammogram or via self-examination at home is advisable to avoid mortality risk in breast cancer.

Sharing her journey with New Sarawak Tribune, Fauziah Kassim revealed that she was diagnosed with stage three cancer in September 2017. “I was busy with my online business and doesn’t think much about my health. One day, when I took a shower, I felt a lump on my right breast but I don’t feel any pain so I thought it was nothing.”

However, her instinct took her to visit the family doctor who recommended her to go for a mammogram test at the hospital. From the result, Fauziah found out that she has a 10-millimetre lump.

The doctor then wrote a recommendation letter to the hospital for her patient to conduct a biopsy test on the lump. When the results came out, it was stated as just a tumour. “I told the doctor to schedule the operation to remove the tumour after Raya, since it was almost the fasting month then,” the 55-year-old shared.

Celebrating Raya in a merry mood, Fauziah revealed that it was during that festive period that the lump grew larger, to the point she could not close her underarm.

Wheeling in for her mastectomy surgery.

“I referred to the doctor again and she told me to immediately visit the hospital for another biopsy. After four days, the result came out and I immediately asked the doctor to tell me straight to the point. ‘Is it cancer?’” expressed Fauziah.

The mother of five said she had only one thought in mind when the doctor gave her the news, “Will my husband find another woman if I did mastectomy?”

Nonetheless, with much encouragement and support from her husband and children, Fauziah went through the operation, and along came more surprises afterwards. “After my mastectomy, the doctor called me back and asked me to go through chemotherapy,” said Fauziah.

Unbeknownst to her at the time, chemotherapy and radiotherapy were the standard for post-surgery care. “I was surprised that I needed to go through the process. I thought the removal surgery was the end. I told the doctor that I don’t want to go for the process as I was very scared.”

Fauziah Kassim shared that she is the first and only one in her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Fauziah then remembered a traumatic memory from a decade ago when she accompanied her cousin-in-law to chemotherapy sessions after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“After two times of chemotherapy sessions, my cousin-in-law didn’t make it, so I was traumatised. How can I not be? On the first day of my session, I ran away from the Radiotherapy Unit (RTU) because it brought me back memories. I was with her at the same place ten years ago and she died in front of my eyes!”

She also disclosed that she did not eat anything before her first chemotherapy session, “On the first day I couldn’t eat before my session. I also felt like a pregnant woman. Only worse! I felt nauseous, got a headache, and with every bite, I felt like vomitting.

“I also had a hard time swallowing as my mouth and throat were full of ulcers. My body felt very warm after the session that but despite feeling weak, I pushed myself to take showers three to four times a day.” Fauziah then shared that she felt the post-chemotherapy side effects up to 12 days after.

“And when the doctor injected the Neupogen inside three times (due to the lack of white blood cells), it is not my body that was in pain but rather my bones. And at that moment, I couldn’t even get up,” she shared.

Describing her sessions as a horrible experience, Fauziah conceded that it changed her behaviour towards family members. “I was battling with my inner self. I felt displeased with everything and I scolded everyone. I even tell them that their cookings were bad, and everything was tasteless.”

Recalling the moment, the cheerful Fauziah said she was not alone in fighting her battle as she had her family with her throughout. “My mother came down here from Singapore, and my husband and children shaved themselves bald to show me that I am not alone. They are my pillars of strength and together they made me a stronger person.”

A bald photo with her son.

Recently, Fauziah adopted her fifth child during the movement control order (MCO). She added that her new daughter is like a therapy for her. “I have high blood pressure. Despite the sleepless nights taking care of her, my blood pressure is now at a normal level. Even my doctor was surprised,” she added.

And with all the support she gets, Fauziah managed to brave through her journey up until today with the spirit of staying ‘together’, which coincides with this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month theme.