Losing both my breasts at 28, cancer has given me a new perspective on life
From Stories of Hope
Tammy Chen // October 30, 2020, 12:13 pm
All photos courtesy of Tammy Chen.
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Bridget Lee speaks to Tammy Chen, who shared about how a sudden double mastectomy made her realise what were the truly important things in life. Tammy’s story was also recently featured on AsiaOne.
August 21 was a normal day, filled with the usual activities. I went to see my doctor for a post-op consultation as I had gone for day surgery a week ago to remove three lumps in my right breast.
Honestly, I didn’t give it a second thought. The doctor would just check on my dressing. I would be fine… or so I thought.
Last December, I felt a lump on my right breast, so I went for an ultrasound check. At that time, I only needed to continue monitoring my body.
But the most prominent lump grew over the next eight months, so I was advised to remove all the lumps.
The day surgery scheduled in August was more of a preventive measure, so that the lumps would stop growing or turn aggressive. That is why when the news arrived, it came as a shock and I thought I had misheard.
I was diagnosed with mucinous carcinoma Grade 1 and 2, and ductal carcinoma in situ. In other words, I had breast cancer.
At first, I was shocked and then scared. I was worried about what was going to happen next.
How could that be? I exercise regularly and consider myself to be healthy. I also don’t have any family history of cancer.
The first two questions I asked my doctor were: “Will I die? Do I have to go through chemotherapy?”
I had to do multiple follow-up scans. There were also countless visits to doctors and a lot of decisions to be made.
Fortunately, I learnt that my cancer was detected at an early stage and the survival rate was very high. But I still decided to go for a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction as advised by my doctor.
There were a lot of uncertainties.
If the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, I would need to do chemotherapy. If my nipples were affected, I would also have to go through nipple reconstruction.
I didn’t know what to expect, as the biopsy test results would only come back after the surgery.
Surprisingly, I had peace and felt that everything was going to be okay. Other than the doctors, God was the only one I could put my trust in.
I could be brave because I believed that I was in good hands. Despite what had happened, I knew that God was still good.
I spent a lot of time listening to worship songs before I slept, and one of the songs that kept me going was “It is well“. I played this on an endless loop during the nights that were tough.
Although things were not within my control, I had faith that all was well because God was there with me.
Whatever the outcome was, I was sure I would be strong enough to handle to it. This was one of the verses from the Bible that comforted me.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
September 3 was the big day. My surgery took nine hours, but thankfully, it went smoothly.
During the eight days in the hospital, I had four tubes inserted into my body under my breasts to drain out the excess fluid. My breasts were bruised and swollen.
There was also a lot of discomfort, drowsiness and nausea for the first two days, so I stayed in bed, relying on the catheter and IV drips. I didn’t dare to move at all.
But I made progress every day, and started eating, going to the bathroom and showering with the drainage bags. Eventually, I got better and was finally discharged.
It was such a big relief to learn that I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy and that my recurrence score was low.
It was difficult to go through all of this without my parents who are based in China. However, I’ve been really blessed to be loved and supported by the people around me. My sister stayed in the hospital with me, while my friends took turns to visit and my cell group prayed for me.
All these little moments gave me the assurance that God is with me. My experience also made me realise that relationships are very important. In a way, it has shifted my perspective.
Before my cancer, I’ve never thought about falling sick or the idea of death because of my age.
Work was my main priority. As a result, I neglected a lot of friendships and relationships because I didn’t spend much time on them.
But now that I’m able to continue living, I’ve changed the way I look at life.
Opinions of how people will look at me, or if my potential partner will mind what I’ve been through, are less important now that I’m clear about my priorities in life.
God taught me that the most valuable thing in life is not money nor time.
Losing both breasts – and even if I had to lose my hair and eyebrows – does not make me less of a woman. These are just my outward appearance. At the end of the day, our health should come first.
God also spoke to me through Psalm 139:14, reminding me that my identity is ultimately found in Him.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
It’s been over a month since the surgery and all the wounds are healing well. I have to take hormone therapy medication for the next five years to prevent the cancer cells from growing. Thankfully, I’m not experiencing any side effects at the moment.
I’m also back to work as a financial consultant. Things are different, but in a good way. I’m setting aside time to take care of myself – physically, mentally and spiritually. The biggest lessons God taught me are very precious.
He taught me how to be brave in the midst of the storm, put up a good fight, and take care of myself and the people around me.
He taught me that I can rely on Him and that every breath is a gift from Him.
He taught me that the most valuable thing in life is not money nor time – it’s the relationship I have with Him and the ones I build with people.
If you’re reading this, I hope you will receive this gift of knowing Jesus too.
This article was first published on Stories of Hope and has been republished with permission.