Minding whose business?


“Thank goodness I wasn’t diagnosed at an older age or at a later stage; that made it easier for me to recover, but still I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way – a way I hope all young mothers would take heed of by looking out for their own health against breast cancer,” advises Susan.

Susan is a self-proclaimed “family CEO”, for the mere fact that she literally takes charge of everything at home. Twenty years into marriage, she hadn’t let a single day slip through her fingers without micro-managing every aspect, from housekeeping and grocery shopping, to schooling and extra-curricular line-ups for her two daughters. 

It’s been years since she was advised of her hyperplasia of the mammary glands, which came with reminders from doctors and relatives that she should watch her diet and lifestyle by eating better and exercising more. Yet, these warnings easily slipped her mind, let alone the “come-and-go” thought of taking breast self-examinations. 

The wake-up call came when Susan was diagnosed with Fibromatosis. This time, she took the doctor’s advice to commit to annual mammograms and ultrasound imaging. Five years on, the siren rang for real when Susan spotted unusual wrinkles on her breast. Again, she was so caught up with “family businesses” that seeing a breast specialist fell off her agenda for an entire year. Instead, her agenda ran from moving to a new apartment to taking care of a visiting sister from the U.S. In between, she also fretted over one daughter taking the HKCEE and the other entering a UK graduate school. 

In 2006, her annual ultrasound screening finally forced her to focus on what was happening in her breast as the screening indicated at the “8 o’clock position” a carcinoid tumour. 

The doctor’s confirmed diagnosis was stage 1 breast cancer. Being the positive woman she has always been, Susan was prepared to undergo surgery and remove the 1.9cm tumour right away. She also braced herself for chemotherapy and all its side-effects, wasting no time to even shop for a good-looking wig. 


Early detection for less pain


For Susan, 2007 could be remembered as “The Year of Chemotherapy”, and the memory isn’t pleasant at all. “It was an all-time low for me, with my white blood cell count dropping, my energy failing, and yet the nausea becoming increasingly strong as I got to the fourth and fifth doses. Being highly allergic to the medication and bed-bound all day long, I became so easily agitated and paranoid that I would put on my sunglasses under normal lighting at home; and I would jump at the sound of a dropping needle or a waft of a breeze above my head. Simply put, I’d rather lock myself up in a cabin than face the world.

“If only I had found out earlier, I wouldn’t have to go through the pain of chemotherapy at all. I also wondered - did my cancer develop way too quickly, or did the mammogram miss it?”


Despite the misgivings, Susan now understands that the best way to protect oneself is to take the doctor’s advice on regular breast examination.


Reset for a new life


After the therapy, Susan signed up for a Yi Jin Jing class (The Changing Tendons Exercise) organised by Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation, just for the sake of trying something new. To her amazement, it took only three lessons to get her weak legs lifting again. Encouraged by the power of exercise and the support of her friends, she took up another dance class at a community centre three times a week. On top of that, she went on a fasting routine and fed on liquids only for seven days each month – an experience she described as absolutely transforming. 

“Thank goodness I was diagnosed during my 40s, instead of at an older age or later stage, which made recovery much easier. Yet, I hope all young mothers would mark my words: do mind your health business over the businesses of your sons and daughters, and don’t wait till it’s too late to check for breast cancer. Don’t be afraid to see the doctor to ensure early detection and easy cure.”

In Susan’s words, the sickness didn’t defeat her at all, but rather, paved way to a new life full of encouragement from her counterparts, “life after cancer could even be better; I feel like I’m even healthier than before I got sick. To say the least, I’ve got a good grasp on the importance of eating and exercising well.” 


From Susan’s daughter Gillian: “Breast cancer is a family business!”


“Looking back at the time when Mom was sick and I was in the UK studying, I feel deeply that cancer shouldn’t be something someone should bear alone, family members need to be involved as well. During those days, I could have cared more about the feelings of my sister and father; although we had a helper to take care of Mom physically, they had to deal with her expectations and emotions which were a lot to bear. Thanks to the family support group set up by Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation, needs like these can be met.”