Issue 17 - I Am Hope

 

55 year old Amy Yeo, living with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer

 

55 year old Amy Yeo calls herself the “poster girl” for chemotherapy. Fresh-faced and radiating a natural glow, Amy exudes an aura of confidence and cheerfulness that one would least expect from a person afflicted with cancer, much less someone suffering from Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer, and who has undergone continuous chemotherapy treatment over a period of three years. But Amy is living proof that there is life with cancer, and this is her story.


Amy (in red), on one of many overseas trips with her colleagues

Bubbly and extroverted, Amy has always loved meeting and interacting with people. That is one of the reasons why she enjoys her nature of work in the travel industry, an industry she has worked in for the past 30 years. The job has expanded her horizons and sights of the different cultures and places around the world, and to date, Amy has already left her footprint on over 43 countries around the globe. Her favourite country? It would have to be the United States and the amusement parks it has to offer, all of which spell f-u-n to Amy, which is part of her DNA.

Amy with her husband of 21 years

It is also work that brought Amy together with her husband, Mr Yeh. During an external course organised by her company at the Singapore Institute of Management, Amy found herself in the same discussion group as her would-be husband. Mr Yeh cheekily added that while he was there to study, Amy was there to look for him. As fate would have it, love blossomed and the couple has since been happily married for 21 years and counting.

 

The Big "C"

 

Enjoying good food is one of Amy’s hobbies

Amy’s life was content. She had a good job, and a good husband. However, life was about to send a curveball her way. In 2003, Amy was taking a shower when she felt a big and hard lump on the side of her left breast. Immediately, she was filled with dread and fear that the lump signified “the big C”. Despite how Amy tried her best to ignore the lump, out of worry, her husband insisted she consult a doctor and showed up at her workplace unannounced to bring her there personally.

Bubbly and extroverted, Amy has also shone through with her cheerful and outgoing personality

At the hospital, Amy underwent a mammogram and ultrasound. The mammogram was all-clear, but just when Amy thought her fears were allayed, the ultrasound confirmed a breast cancer diagnosis. Amy then underwent an operation to remove the lump for further tests, and the test results found her afflicted with very aggressive Stage 2A Breast Cancer. Upon hearing the news, Amy was in shock. Why her? She did not smoke or drink, and was relatively stress-free. The rest of the consultation felt like a dream. Amy remained dazed as her husband took control of the situation and discussed her diagnosis with the doctor.

Amy’s husband, her pillar of support through the years

The next two years went by in a flurry. Amy underwent a treatment programme that comprised chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormonal therapy pills. During this period, Amy continued to live life normally. She continued to work and travel, but at a slower pace with her boss’s understanding. Through it all, the image-conscious Amy never let the treatment or its side effects get to her, and she made the effort to maintain her appearance to look good. Interestingly, Amy’s eyebrows and eyelashes stayed on despite chemotherapy, a miracle she attributes to prayer.

 

During her course of treatment, Amy’s husband formed her pillar of support, undertaking the household chores, preparing healthy home-cooked dishes and juices for her, and was exceptionally patient in dealing with her mood swings.


The Cancer is Back

Amy also made the effort to adjust her diet; she cut-out red meat even though she loved steak, and avoided sugar in all forms. Her efforts paid-off, and five years later, Amy achieved remission. Fighting the disease was one of life’s biggest challenges, but Amy had overcome this hurdle and she was looking forward to sunny days ahead.


One of Amy’s friends who visited her when she was warded in the hospital

The years passed, and Amy was once again living life comfortably, the days with cancer now history. However, fast forward to 2013, when Amy performed her yearly health check-up and got the shock of her life. The cancer was back, and it was back with a vengeance. Cancer cells were detected in her liver and bones, particularly her spine and pelvic area, and Amy was now diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer.


Amy was dumbfounded. How? When? Why? were the three main questions flooding her mind. She had been living a healthy lifestyle and previous check-ups were all-clear. Furthermore, there were absolutely no symptoms, so how did the cancer silently erupt into a full-blown cancer? Fear and trepidation followed, Amy could not and did not want to relive her treatment days. It was a part of her life she had pushed to the back of her mind and yet now, it was slowly creeping back to haunt her.


When the reality finally set-in, Amy braced and conditioned herself for treatment once more. She was determined to survive this again. Amy started on chemotherapy yet again, but this time round, the cancer cells fought more aggressively, and the drugs did not prove effective.


I Am Hope

Amy was then offered the option of embarking on a clinical trial. She was reluctant at first, as her impression of clinical trials from hearsay was that she would be a “guinea pig” or “test subject”. However, after she heard her Oncologist’s explanation, Amy decided to give it a shot. She underwent her first clinical trial and found the side effects to be manageable. However, just when Amy thought there was hope, 14 months into the trial, new cancer cells were discovered.

 

Despite her cancer diagnosis, Amy makes it a point to still look good

But Amy did not lose hope. She enrolled herself in another clinical trial. Her previous experience had cleared her doubts about clinical trials and if anything, she preferred being on a clinical trial since there was closer one-to-one monitoring of her condition, and also, since medication on the trial was free, it helped to ease her financial load. This time, the trial only lasted for three months and Amy was enrolled in another trial in February this year. However, four months into the trial, due to a lack of progress, Amy’s trial ceased and since June, she has started on a new chemotherapy drug.

 

Despite all that she has been through, Amy believes that she will be healed eventually. She has strong faith in her religion and believes that her condition has helped open doors for her to share her journey and bring hope to other cancer patients. Despite her diagnosis, Amy’s outlook and personality shines through and she is truly an embodiment of hope. She continues to work, and is still on a lookout for suitable clinical trials that she can participate in.


Living with cancer for 13 years now, Amy remains hopeful about new clinical trials and believes that she will be healed eventually


To other cancer patients, this is what Amy has to say:

 

“When you are told you have cancer, don’t immediately assume it’s a death sentence. Many at times, people are quick to think it’s the end before hearing the doctor out. Always know that there is hope, and that you can overcome it. It is all about your mind and willpower. I have undergone three years of continuous chemotherapy, and it is important to learn how to manage the side effects properly. If you have no appetite, try to substitute full meals with smaller and more regular meals, or juices, just as long as you get enough nutrition to boost your immune system.

 

It is okay to feel down, I have gone through times when I have felt disheartened as well, as long as you know how to pull yourself up after that. Do things that can uplift your spirit. For me, I listen to music and watch comedies.

 

Try to take things easy and do things that you like. I personally travel and shop. I believe that if you’re happy, your cells will be happy too and this will help in your healing and recovery.  If you get tired, don’t forget to rest. Ultimately, you know what is best for yourself so reflect on what your wants and needs so as to make yourself happy.”



To find out more about Breast Cancer, click here.