“Yolanda, I’m really sorry but you have cancer.”
I didn’t know how to react. My mind was a blank. The doctor continued explaining my report, but I just stared blankly at her. As I lay down for her to examine me, I noticed that tears were streaming down my face.
“Triple Negative Breast Cancer” was what the doctors called it. A rare form of breast cancer.
Anyone else would have called it their worst nightmare. And now it was mine.
It was August 2016. I was 28 years old, working as a music educator and happily in a relationship for more than a year. Howard and I were already discussing marriage and our future together. Life was really good and I had nothing to complain about.
I had discovered a pimple-sized lump underneath the skin on my right breast. I didn’t think too much of it until a month later, when I realised it had grown to the size of a grape. It might just be a simple cyst, I thought.
Two weeks later, I finally saw a doctor at the hospital to get it checked up and removed. The cyst had grown to be about 5cm in diameter. Cancer didn’t cross my mind. I was still convinced it was benign.
Walking out of the clinic after receiving my diagnosis, I felt as if my entire world was crumbling to pieces.
I’m too young to have cancer. I have a lot of things in life to accomplish. I still want to look pretty, to have fun, to go on holidays and eat delicious food. I still want to get married. With cancer, will I be able to? Will Howard accept me?
I was to undergo a full mastectomy of my right breast. They couldn’t save it because the tumour occupied more than 80% of the breast.
After my surgery, I saw that one side of my chest was heavily bandaged and flat. I braced myself for how it would look like after the bandages were removed. I asked myself every day in the hospital: When I see my body in the mirror, a huge scar across my chest – one breast no longer there – will I break down and cry?
Would this make me less of a female? I worried about how Howard would see me. Honestly, I feared how other people would look at me, more than how I’d see myself.
The next course of my treatment was chemotherapy. The initial side effects were severe nausea and headaches. I couldn’t eat or sleep well for the next few days. It got so bad that even drinking a sip of water would cause me to gag. I was like a living corpse.
One week after my first session, I realised my hair was falling out while I was in the shower. I stood staring at the clumps of fallen hair in shock.
I knew it was coming, but seeing it happen with my own eyes was another thing. Even gently combing my fingers through my hair would cause it to fall out relentlessly. When I woke up in the morning, my whole pillow would be covered with hair.
He revealed to me: This is your new crown. The crown of faith, strength and courage.
The pain of watching my hair fall off was far worse than having to see myself bald. It was like watching bits of yourself waste away to nothing. In the end, I plucked up the courage to visit the hairdresser to shave my head bald.
As I watched her take huge snips out of what little hair I had left, followed by the sound of the electric razor shaving my head, I had to fight extremely hard to hold back my tears.
Lord, lend me your strength. I do not want to cry here in public. Hold me tight and keep me strong.
But that night, during my quiet time with God, He revealed to me: This is your new crown. The crown of faith, strength and courage.
Then, as though my life hadn’t fallen apart quite enough, I was informed that chemotherapy would eventually cause me to lose my ovarian functions. That meant I would become infertile. I would also experience menopause at the age of 28.
How could this be? Just months ago, I had been talking to Howard about how many kids we wanted – and now I couldn’t even have children biologically. But thanks to modern medicine, there was a solution: Freezing my eggs in a storage unit for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in the future.
I had to undergo 14 days of injections to grow and ripen as many eggs as possible before the surgery to have the eggs extracted. I also had to take monthly jabs to protect my ovaries as much as possible in hopes that they might function normally even after my treatment.
“If you tell me this is going to be enough for the future, I’m trusting You and I’ll be contented. But if it is not enough, then give me what You think is best for me.”
But it was through this trial that I got to experience a miracle of God for the first time. On average, it is recommended to have 10 to 15 eggs ripened and frozen for IVF to be potentially successful. On the second last day of my injection cycle, I only had 6 eggs – a far cry away from what was considered to be a safe amount.
I prayed to God and asked Him, “Lord, I only have 6 eggs. If you tell me this is going to be enough for the future, I’m trusting You and I’ll be contented. But if You think it is not enough, then give me what You think is best for me.”
He was silent. But the day after my injection cycle ended, I entered the operating theatre with a heart set on trusting Him and went through the procedure.
The surgery was supposed to last at least two hours, but within 40 minutes, the doctor had managed to extract 10 eggs and ended earlier than expected. God had answered my prayer in His own way and showed me that He heard my cries.
In the initial discovery of my cancer, I questioned God so much about why I had to go through this suffering. Why does this have to happen to me when everything was going fine? Why now? Why me? Why, God, why?
I felt like everything had been taken from me. I had lost my hair. Lost my natural ability to have children. I had even begun to experience lingering numbness in my fingers and toes. I’d heard of patients who lost their sense of touch because of chemotherapy and were ultimately unable to even hold a pencil. Being a piano teacher, I couldn’t have this happening to me.
It wasn’t that I was angry with God. I was just really sad.
I came to Him on my knees, crying and questioning Him; it was so difficult to fully surrender myself to Him. Then, one day, I heard Him for the first time, loud and clear, “My child, I need you to do this. You are not alone, for I will be with you.”
I believe what it says in Isaiah 40, that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Jesus is for me.
Finally I could say that I wasn’t afraid to die. I told Him that If I were to not make it through surgery or cancer, I was no longer afraid, because I knew He’d be there on the other side waiting for me.
In May 2017, I finally completed my chemotherapy treatment and was declared cancer-free.
I was more than ready to head back to work – back to a normal life. There were medical bills from the treatment and future reviews that I had to pay and save up for. Becoming a cancer patient meant that I was no longer able to buy insurance. That means I have no fall-back plan should I ever become ill again. And I have no guarantee that I won’t have another relapse of cancer.
One week before I returned to work, I was told that my contract with the company had been terminated because they deemed my health condition to be a liability. They offered me a part-time contract instead, and as I was financially desperate at the time – I took it up.
The confusion resurfaced in my heart. I thought the trials were finally over … How could I lose my full-time job as well, God?
Then, in early September, I went for my quarterly review at the hospital and was told that I now have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when you develop fragile bones, with an increased chance of fracture. It is more commonly seen in older women as a side effect of menopause, but as my ovaries had stopped functioning because of chemotherapy, I am experiencing it too.
Now I have to be extra careful with my physical movements and try to maintain a healthy weight. I currently only weigh 39kg. You can’t tell by looking at my size, but that reveals how hollow my bones are because of the osteoporosis.
Besides this discovery, two really tiny white spots were also found in my remaining breast from a mammogram and ultrasound scan. Not again.
The doctor tells me that I need to go for more scans, and if there is cause for suspicion, she will have to do another biopsy to determine if it is cancerous.
God, please don’t let me go through this again. I don’t think I can do it. I thought it was over already?
I have struggled and wrestled with God. I have yelled and cried in front of Him.
But again and again, I choose to surrender. He knows best. He knows my heart through and through.
The scar across my chest is a beautiful reminder of the time when God was there by my side to fight the battle for me. It is also a reminder of the moment that I chose not to give in – but to keep the faith and fight. It represents who I used to be – someone who treasured her outward appearances – and who I am now. A warrior.
At this time of writing, one of the spots has miraculously disappeared. The doctors have no idea what the remaining spot is and because it is too tiny, they can’t do anything about it right now. The only thing we can do is continue to pray and wait.
Please, remember me in your prayers.
Despite all the uncertainties, I choose to trust in God’s promises and in His providence. I trusted Him once and He didn’t fail me.
I’ll trust Him again no matter what.
The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yolanda now actively speaks to lend her support to fellow cancer fighters around her. If you know anyone who is going through the same situation and needs a companion for encouragement, drop her an email at email@example.com.