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Cancer Information

Issue 20 - The "Jolie Effect"

Issue 20 - The "Jolie Effect"

Mdm Chua Gim Beng with her husband and primary caregiver 

Madam Chua Gim Beng is a simple woman. Easily content and one who takes comfort in the stability of the constant, Madam Chua is not one to rock the boat or enjoys having her boat shaken. The nature of her personality is evident in her life, as Madam Chua, who turns 60 this April, has worked in the Banking & Finance industry for 19 years of her life, and is happily married to her husband for the past 18 years and counting. 

Life for Madam Chua was simple. She worked, and when she was not working, she found joy in simple pleasures such as going for long walks, karaoke and taking short trips with her husband. Her all-time favourite past-time? Like most Singaporeans, she enjoyed indulging in good food, especially sashimi, bacon, steak, durian and bakkwa (a Chinese salty-sweet dried meat jerky).

Gim Beng with her husband of 19 years

The couple, who have no kids, enjoyed quality time bonding over music, exercise and their love for food, constantly igniting the spark of their relationship. Madam Chua let us in on a little fun fact of their relationship – introduced by a mutual friend, the couple instantly connected when they met, and six months later, albeit hurried, they tied the knot. They were like salt and pepper, opposites in nature, but complemented each other perfectly, and her best friend became her partner for life.

It was the perfect simple life Madam Chua had envisioned to lead, but little did she know, her life was about to be overturned. It was early 2010, Madam Chua was 53 and started experiencing bodily discomfort; stomach bloating, having to go to the toilet more frequently than usual and increased fatigue. There was also slight swelling in her abdomen as well as on and off sharp pains below her naval. 

In April, Madam Chua went for her quarterly health check-up with her General Practitioner and two days later, she received a call informing her that she would be referred to the hospital. After two consultation sessions at the hospital, Madam Chua was confirmed to be diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer.

Gim Beng during her younger days

Upon hearing the news, Madam Chua, who was accompanied by her husband and sister, almost fell out of her chair. Her mind went a complete blank. Her diagnosis was hard to swallow. But after the shock registered, Madam Chua maintained her composure and proceeded with the next line of treatment – surgery. In July, she underwent a total hysterectomy, which involved the removal of her uterus. During the surgery, it was found that Madam Chua’s cancer had spread, and some of her lymph nodes were removed as well.

It was Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer. The next step for Madam Chua was to undergo chemotherapy.  During this time, Madam Chua kept her spirits up with constant encouragement from her husband and family. She started researching online about cancer statistics, googling for stories on how some patients beat the odds, and the positive trends and numbers gave her hope. But there were times when Madam Chua encountered emotional setbacks, and after a good cry, she made sure to pick herself up and move on. 

After six cycles of 18 chemotherapy treatments, Madam Chua's cancer markers finally became normal and she thought she would be able to resume her life as it was. However, her happiness was short-lived, as in 2013, she suffered a relapse and had to undergo a second surgery. Thereafter, Madam Chua found herself living with cancer over the years. It was a vicious cycle, she would complete her chemotherapy treatment and her cancer markers would go back to normal. But half a year past treatment, her cancer markers would once again escalate, bringing her back to square one.

Nutritious homecooked meals by Gim Beng's husband

The side-effects of treatment also took a toll on her. She had lost her hair, shed close to 15kg, and experienced nausea and increased fatigue. It was an emotional time for Madam Chua, but her husband and sister kept her going with their unwavering support. They took turns to accompany her for her medical appointments, her sister constantly bought nutritional food for her and her husband took it upon himself to perform bulk of the household chores, and cooked healthy dishes for her consumption. Her personal favourites are his fried rice and stir-fried fish.

It was 2015 when the doctor recommended she get tested for the BRCA gene mutation and the results turned out positive. Now, Madam Chua continues with her oral chemotherapy treatment and comes back for her monthly review, and while she is hopeful of a recovery, she also worries about her family, especially her two sisters and nieces, whom she strongly advocates to get tested for the BRCA gene mutation.

Gim Beng's newfound hobby - colouring, which she finds therapeutic

While Madam Chua continues to battle with cancer, life goes on. She still goes on walks that are less strenuous for her body and she has picked up a new hobby, colouring, which she finds therapeutic and uplifting as bright colours perk her spirits. She also enjoys preparing her own meals, making it a point to boil soup for herself at least once a week. To keep her mind active, she also plans her meals in advance.

Gim Beng's healthy steamed egg, which she prepared herself

For the sake of her health, Madam Chua has traded the sinful food options to healthier alternatives, and now opts for steamed and stir-fried dishes cooked with olive or coconut oil. To counter her loss of appetite, she regularly tunes in to food and cooking programmes to whet her appetite.

To other cancer patients especially those who have been diagnosed with the BRCA gene mutation, this is what Madam Chua has to say: 

"Ultimately, to win the fight against cancer, you must have mind over body. It is very important to have a very strong mind. While it is a plus to have really good caregivers, at the end of the day, it is about the patient himself/herself. Do not miss any scheduled medical appointments and try keeping your mind active by taking up a hobby. Try not to stay stationary for long and exercise for at least half an hour every day. 

A lot of people tend to shy away from genetic testing due to fear, but eliminate that fear of thinking you may get cancer. Family members should encourage each other to get tested out of love and concern for each other as it will either provide you with peace of mind, or give you more time to beat the disease." 

For more information about Ovarian Cancer, click here. 

For more information about BRCA Gene Testing, check out our Cancer Risk Assessment and Genetics Clinic here.