Ms. Tassanee P. (Khun Bow) is a wife, mother of two, and an esteemed employee at a successful multinational company. For many years, Khun Bow dedicated herself to her job, but by doing so, she forgot to take care of her own health. During her annual check-up, for which she was seven months late, Khun Bow received the bad news that she had breast cancer.
“I missed my annual checkup, because I was distracted by work. I thought what I was doing was so important, but now looking back, it wasn’t important at all.”
A few years ago, my personal doctor recommended that I get screened for breast cancer with Dr. Wichai. After undergoing a mammogram and an ultrasound, we discovered that I had four or five very small tumours around my breasts. Dr. Wichai scheduled appointments with me every six months for two years to monitor the situation. I was on time for every appointment until Dr. Wichai changed our meetings to yearly check-ups. In the second year, I was distracted by work and, instead of seeing Dr. Wichai in January, I kept postponing the appointment. I thought nothing of it, sure it would not be a big deal. In August, I finally had a mammogram and an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed some abnormalities on a new tumor (1.5 cm in size) in my right breast. Dr. Wichai suggested a biopsy and I immediately agreed because I trust him. Even though I was a bit frightened, Dr. Wichai and his assistants took great care of me and gave me a thorough explanation of the procedure.
After the biopsy, just as I feared, Dr. Wichai informed me that I had breast cancer. Immediately, I thought “why me?” Instead of wallowing in self pity, I tried to accept the situation. I thought of my children and my family. Dr. Wichai gave me encouragement and we began planning on how we should proceed. I reminded myself that I was not the only one in the world with breast cancer and that whatever happened, I could get through it.
Dr. Wichai explained to me that the surgery approach was Breast Conserving Surgery; removing part of the breast tissue but not the entire breast with Sentinel Lymph Node Dissection. The surgery would start with the injection of radioactive substance near the tumor to locate the position of sentinel lymph node. Then, a pathologist would remove the nodes and check for the presence of cancer cells. If cancer was found, the additional lymph nodes would be removed. The surgery would be one centimetre in diameter around the lump and it would be tested to see if the cancer has spread. If it had spread, he would expand for another centimetre. This process could only be done three times. Otherwise, my entire breast would have to be removed. Before the surgery, I had moments when I felt down, but I did not try to hide it. I talked to Dr. Wichai about all my worries. After the surgery was completed, Dr. Wichai informed us that everything went smoothly. I only required one surgery even though the test showed that the cancer had spread to the lymph node. I have to give immense thanks to Dr. Wichai. Because of his expertise and knowledge, I did not have to get my entire lymph node removed, only just a few part. My quality of life has not suffered greatly. More importantly, Dr. Wichai is incredibly professional and takes great care of me. There is no awkwardness between us and I trust him as though he is a member of my own family.
“Whenever I feel bad during chemotherapy, I dream of when I’ll get better and the day I’ll be completely cured.”
Dr. Wichai recommended that I receive chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Wirote. Dr. Wirote is a very straightforward person, like myself. We get along well. I told him that I did not want chemotherapy to destroy my life. I learned from other experienced people how tough it is, but I wanted to continue living as normally as possible, especially in regards to my work and my family life. He gave me advice accordingly. I have to undergo chemotherapy eight times. Dr. Wirote told me beforehand that I would probably lose my hair and that I should start preparing myself now. So I went out and bought these incredible wigs! Sure enough, fourteen days after my first chemotherapy, I began to lose some of my hair. The next day, I went to a hairdresser and shaved it all off.
The first time my husband saw me in my new wig, he told me how beautiful I looked. I am so glad that he’s been so supportive and encouraging. I like to joke with him that my goal is to become the world’s most beautiful woman with cancer!
The first week after chemo is always the most difficult. I suffer from tiredness and severe stomach pain. There are times when I will have to stay overnight at the hospital. However, all the doctors and nurses are incredibly kind and they take great care of me. When I have a particularly difficult day, I remind myself that so many women are going through what I am going through. Even though it is difficult now, I am doing something good for myself. I dream of the day when I’ll get better.
“Having breast cancer does not always have to be a losing battle. If we embrace the situation, we can find that life is still beautiful”.
Having cancer does not mean that I cannot enjoy life. I have learned to realize my own limits. If I am tired, I rest. I try to not overdo things, to eat healthy foods, and to exercise whenever I can. I think part of the reason I am able to look so healthy during chemo is because I was exercising regularly before I was diagnosed. I boxed, and played tennis and badminton. After my diagnosis, I tried to be social and not shut myself off from the people who care about me. I still work whenever I am strong enough to do so and I have taken up many hobbies such as pop-dancing and playing piano. Finding something to do makes me feel like I am not worthless and that I am still capable of getting things done.
I always remind myself that I am in the hands of very good and experienced doctors; I am receiving treatment at an amazing hospital.
Since I was diagnosed, I have learned to take care of my own health and always have hope. Having breast cancer does not always have to be a losing battle. If we embrace the situation, we can find that life is still beautiful. One of my favourite sayings is, “Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be”. I try to live in the moment and enjoy it because I believe that the future will reflect the present. When we embrace a situation with love and positivity, the suffering lessens.
I am looking forward to the future.
After 8 months undergoing 8 sessions of chemotherapy every 3 weeks and 20 sessions of radiotherapy, Khun Bow is now back at work full time. For the next five years she will continue to receive hormonal treatments and daily anti-hormone medicine. She is under the care of her doctor and has regular follow ups to monitor her progress.
What Khun Bow has been learning during this period and would like to share are:
- Positive thinking or Optimism is the key to get through all the problems in our life. Essentially, keeping an open- mind and accepting the fact helps us effectively handle obstacles and be at peace with unexpected situation. Patience is key.
- No one knows you better than you know yourself. Don’t be reluctant to ask questions or tell the doctors what you have observed about yourself. Communication between doctor and patient is important, because they need to know exactly how you are feeling in order to provide the best care.
- Work-Life Balance. Look after yourself well by eating nutritious foods (the five food groups), getting good sleep, and exercise regularly.