49 year old June Chai, Cervical Cancer Survivor
“You look good”, these three words have been generously showered on Madam Chai far too often by friends and strangers alike. In the flesh, Madam Chai strikes a sprightly sassy figure. Sporting a chic short crop trendily dyed a bright hue of brown complemented with hot pink lipstick a la K-pop style, Madam Chai’s presence immediately lifted our spirits as she cheerfully greeted us with the twist sign. It is no wonder compliments come to her aplenty as her outlook and her demeanour immediately take years off her 49 years of age.
“Call me June”, she says, as she shares with us
her story of independence, courage and strength.
June (bottom row, extreme right) and her close-knit family
Born in Kuala Lumpur, June is the middle child and only daughter of her family of five. Her family later moved to Johor Bahru where they still currently reside, excluding June, who moved to Singapore solo over 20 years ago. An accountant by trade, June joined an electronics company upon her move to Singapore until she was let-off after a company-wide retrenchment exercise after 18 years of employment. An optimist at heart, June decided to take things in her stride and seized the opportunity to switch career paths to something less stressful, especially since she was getting ahead in years.
June then took up a part-time job selling leather bags at Far East Plaza for a year or so before deciding to return to the corporate world to continue her learning curve. Her next move was to the food and beverage industry, specialising in customer service doing cold calls, where she presently works at.
June (second from left) and her girl pals on a cycling excursion
Flashback to 2004 and June reminisced how the years had been kind to her at age 39. She had a stable job, a wide circle of friends that she enjoyed shopping with during her spare time, and a close-knit family that she crossed borders to visit regularly. June was also on the lookout for love, the one whom she could share the rest of her life with.
A Test of Strength
The year was about to come to a close when June discovered something was amiss with her body. She was experiencing continuous menstrual flow for four months and counting. Initially, June thought it was simply due to hormonal imbalance so she self-medicated with Chinese medication and went about her daily lifestyle.
June posing with her favourite floral and fauna
However, as time passed, June started feeling more fatigue than usual and the bleeding persisted. It was then that June decided to seek medical advice at a hospital and a scan uncovered a 2.5cm growth in her cervix. Tissue sampling was done and June was then served the bad news – a diagnosis of Stage I Cervical Cancer. The news came as a shock to June, who was apart from her family and hapless in a neighbouring country. But June was not one to cower from reality. She knew that time was ticking and the growth had to be removed immediately. br/>
The Route to Recovery
She wasted no time and proceeded with surgery to get her growth removed before embarking on four cycles of chemotherapy and five cycles of radiation therapy that lasted over a span of five months.
To June, the treatment process was bearable, but despite her optimistic outlook on life, some aspects of the side effects were beyond her control. June’s temperament became more moody and the fatigue took a strain on her, making her feel overwhelmed at work.
June (bottom row, second from right) and her group of supportive colleagues
But June is glad to have found support from her friends and colleagues during this period. Her colleagues helped ease her work load by shouldering some of her duties and she is extremely thankful to her landlord who went above and beyond to care for her, such as cooking her favourite dishes for her meals.
June also constantly felt nauseous and lacked appetite, but strong-willed in nature, she knew that her body would collapse without food so she forced herself to eat and resolved herself to keep her food in. Anti-vomiting pills prescribed by the doctor helped too, she said.
June with her cleanly shaved head
The hair loss followed. This wasn’t easy for the image-conscious June. Initially, her hair would drop in clumps and a little tug would send waifs of hair falling on the ground causing her scalp to look patchy and uneven. However, determined not to let this get the better of her, June made the bold move of shaving her head with her brother’s help. June chuckled as she joked about how this led to the discovery that her natural hair was actually curly.
Look Good Feel Better
With her new look, June found joy accessorising with fashionable scarves and hats, as well as donning wigs. She personally recommends the wigs sold at Lucky Plaza or Far East Plaza as the hair quality is comparable to real hair. She beamed with glee as she shared how nobody, friend or stranger, could tell she was wearing a wig.
The wig was her confidence-booster, and a key to her secret. Initially conscious of others knowing about her condition, June has now opened her heart to sharing her story, especially if it means helping others in the same boat.
Since the day June was diagnosed, she gave herself the upper hand by always been one-step ahead of the disease. Upon her diagnosis, she prepped herself both physically and mentally – she bought a wig and comfortable clothes to prepare for her recuperation and recovery process. Although her friends and family initially took the news of her diagnosis hard, they were more at ease knowing her optimistic state of mind.
One of June's solo bridal shots, one item off her bucket list
There is no denying the strength of this woman, who empowered herself through the experience rather than let it overpower her. June giggled as she shared of how the experience jostled her to live her life to the fullest, so she went about fulfilling her lifelong wish – to don a wedding gown and get bridal shots taken, even though it meant doing it alone.
Today, June is still single, but she hasn’t given up on life, or love. Still on the lookout for the one, June revolves her free time with her friends and family, doing what she loves to do, shopping, eating and her all-time favourite activity, taking photos of floral and fauna.
June today, glowing with confidence and joy
To fellow women, this is what the woman of steel has to say:
“If you find something amiss with your body, get checked immediately. Don’t keep fearing the inevitable as every second counts. With today’s medical advancements, early detection can save your life. Don’t delay seeking a medical opinion as every second wasted is a chance wasted. If you’re really diagnosed, face up to it as life still has to go on. Go about your life with a positive spirit and grow stronger from the experience.
The side effects may be tough, but bear with it. If you can’t consume solid foods, try drinking fresh milk or eating chocolate or bird’s nest. Just don’t starve yourself. You need to give yourself an energy boost in order to get through the disease and get better.”
To find out more about Cervical Cancer, click here.