AI LING’S STORY
“I didn’t understand what I felt and I don’t know how to describe the feeling. Thinking back, it was really five disastrous and scary months.”
The day in March 2017 when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer was the day time stood still for me. I became lost. I was in a daze. I just couldn’t understand exactly what was going on.
I was hardly myself. I used to be the joker among my friends, always teasing them and making them laugh. So when I shared the news with them, none of them could believe it. When they found out I was serious, some of them broke down.
I felt a tremendous weight in my heart thinking about my two young children, both of whom are in primary school and a lot of things that have not being accomplished. For days after, all I did was lie in bed mostly lost in thought with fear.
It’s one thing being diagnosed with cancer, but another to learn that it was related to the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common viral infection among sexually active adults. This virus causes more than 99 percent of cervical cancer cases but I couldn’t help but wonder – how did I contract it? After all, my husband and I have been faithfully married for 16 years.
It felt like one blow after another. Before this, I had never heard of HPV and when I did, I had this misconception that you would only get this virus if you have a lot of sexual partners. Turns out that’s not true at all.
As I was to begin chemotherapy, that’s when real fear set in. One of my biggest fears is the pain needles cause and the side effects of chemotherapy. And I also was skeptical about how effective it would be. Each week repeated itself. I had to take a blood test to determine my well-being. I would cry in pain every time they injected the needle in for chemotherapy. Treatment would last around three to four hours and I could sometimes be in hospital for more than half a day.
I started losing my hair and started reacting severely to the weekly treatments. I had total hair loss after the third session of chemotherapy. Then I started losing my appetite. Every day I felt nauseated and felt like my head was heavy and burning. I had sleepless nights and I tended to be forgetful a lot.
Then, things started to look up. The same doctor who diagnosed me with cancer said the tumour was beginning to shrink.
But my hope was short-lived – the tumour was bleeding and while still undergoing chemotherapy, I had to start daily routine radiotherapy treatments for more than a month. At this time, the ups and downs began taking its toll on me. I was very upset. I didn’t understand what I felt and I really don’t know how to describe the feeling. Thinking back, it was really five tormented, disastrous and scary months.
After having gone through all the treatment courses, I was eventually told that the tumour was gone. A glimmer of hope appeared and I was flooded with joy and happiness – something I hadn’t felt throughout my treatments. I spent the day with my family, siblings and some close friends, breaking the news and having a mini celebration for all their love and support.
While I was in remission, I had to go for regular medical reviews during which I was told that I had to undergo a radical hysterectomy which may have complications. My heart sank but I pulled myself together as I had faith that this would be the final one that I would be going through. It was a blessing that my surgery went smoothly.
“So my message to women is to go for regular health screenings, and I highly encourage them to speak with their doctors to find out more about HPV and how it can be prevented because what I’ve been through is not worth it at all.”
Despite overcoming cancer, the fear of relapse is always at the back of my mind and I think I’m never going to be 100 percent happy. I continue to suffer regularly from side effects such as tummy upset, fatigue, forgetfulness, dizziness and other discomforts. On top of that, the treatment triggered an early menopause.
My daughter saw me suffer over those months and I didn’t want her to experience what I did. So I told her about HPV and how it could be prevented with vaccination. Like all kids, she was afraid of the injection but she eventually gave in and said yes because she wanted to be protected.
So my message to women is to go for regular health screenings, and I highly encourage them to speak with their doctors to find out more about HPV and how it can be prevented because what I’ve been through is not worth it at all.