Unveiling My Battle: Cancer's Unexpected Pitch in My Life's Journey

Unveiling My Battle: Cancer's Unexpected Pitch in My Life's Journey

Navigating life in my middle years has felt like dodging a barrage of unwelcome labels: divorcee, job-hopper, and, most recently, cancer patient. It was last October when the stark reality hit me—my 49th birthday was spent lying on a scanner table, feeling the icy sensation of a radioactive tracer coursing through my veins. The deafening cacophony of the machine drowned out my thoughts as it revealed the unwelcome truth: cancer had taken residence in my body, marking October not just as Breast Cancer Awareness month, but as the onset of my own battle.

The subsequent weeks blurred together in a whirlwind of tears, confusion, and disbelief. Yet, amidst the chaos, my seasoned self, accustomed to grappling with high-functioning anxiety, swiftly made medical decisions. A two-hour lumpectomy, five days of grueling radiotherapy treatments, and a long-term regimen of Tamoxifen became my new reality—a daunting path, even for someone familiar with life's curveballs like uterine fibroids and insomnia.

But life, as resilient as ever, continued its march forward. With the turn of the new year, I found myself transitioning into the role of caregiver, both to myself and to my aspirations. I bid farewell to a promising career at the Agency for Integrated Care, a role that held deep significance as it allowed me to apply my passion for gerontology, honed through a hard-earned Master’s degree. The celebrations of Chinese New Year were muted, dampened not only by the shadow of cancer but also by the dietary restrictions it imposed.

Post-cancer life came with its own set of directives from oncologists: exercise more, indulge in less fatty fare, and, perhaps most challengingly, cultivate a mindset of positivity. Physically, I was altered—easily fatigued, emotionally fragile. Yet, through the guidance and support of the Singapore Cancer Society, I embarked on a journey of rehabilitation and emotional healing.

As I navigate this uncharted terrain, I am reminded that life's journey is often strewn with unexpected obstacles. But with each hurdle, I find strength anew, determined to embrace whatever lies ahead with resilience and unwavering courage.

Twice a week, I immersed myself in the "Strength Training ABC" sessions tailored specifically for survivors like me—those navigating life after breast cancer. These sessions, coupled with invaluable diet and nutritional consultations, formed the cornerstone of my journey towards rebuilding not just my body, but my spirit as well. The compassionate care extended by the multi-disciplinary team at the Singapore Cancer Society was nothing short of transformative. From the warm greetings of the receptionists to the expertise of the exercise trainers, social workers, counsellors, dieticians, and doctors, each played a vital role in nurturing my physical and emotional well-being, infusing me with a renewed sense of vitality.

As my strength grew, so did my resolve to reclaim my professional identity. Transitioning from a 23-year career as a corporate storyteller to the realm of social services was a daunting leap, yet one that I embraced wholeheartedly. My journey in this new sector has been enriched by diverse experiences—from working with individuals living with autism and multiple disabilities to serving seniors and, presently, supporting caregivers of loved ones grappling with mental health challenges and dementia.

Yet, despite finding fulfillment in my work, a shadow looms over my professional interactions—a silent secret that I guard closely. While my colleagues at Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL) share their own journeys of caregiving and recovery, I remain a silent observer, concealing the truth of my battle with cancer. It's not that I wish to deceive or mislead; rather, I yearn to be seen for my abilities and contributions, not defined by my health struggles.

In grappling with this internal conflict, I sought solace in therapy sessions at the Singapore Cancer Society, delving deep into the complexities of my decision to keep my diagnosis private. Ultimately, I unearthed the root of my reluctance—the desire to shield my loved ones from unnecessary worry and to evade the well-intentioned but suffocating veil of pity.

Yet, even as I maintain this cloak of secrecy, I can't shake the feeling of being an outsider in a community of caregivers and survivors. The juxtaposition of my hidden truth against the candid openness of my colleagues serves as a constant reminder of the delicate balance between vulnerability and self-preservation.

So, as I navigate the intricacies of work and healing, I find myself straddling two worlds—one defined by resilience and empowerment, the other shrouded in silence and secrecy. And while I may continue to grapple with the discomfort of being an "imposter," I draw strength from the unwavering support of my inner circle, knowing that in their eyes, my worth transcends any label or diagnosis.

Amidst the bustling corridors of Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL), I find myself surrounded by colleagues whose battles with mental health challenges are as varied as they are profound. From anxiety disorders to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, and even schizophrenia, each individual carries their own narrative of resilience and recovery. Some have bravely shared their journeys, recounting past struggles with suicide attempts—an eloquent testament to the strength that lies within vulnerability.

As the head of communications, I am tasked with amplifying the voices of these unsung heroes, encouraging them to step into the spotlight and advocate for mental health awareness and caregiving. It's a role I embrace wholeheartedly, even as I grapple with the irony of my own silence. The launch of CAL 4 Mental Wellness, an initiative aimed at destigmatizing mental health and honoring the resilience of caregivers, served as a poignant reminder of the incongruity between my public persona and private truth.

Yet, amidst this internal conflict, a beacon of clarity emerged—a simple invitation to commemorate Cancer Survivors’ Day. As I stood among fellow survivors on June 1st, basking in the presence of esteemed guests like President Tharman Shanmugaratnam, I felt a stirring within me—a realization that my journey was far from over.

In the quiet moments that followed, I found solace in the guidance of counseling and the unwavering support of CAL. With each session, I shed the weight of guilt and uncertainty, embracing the truth that my cancer diagnosis does not define me. It is merely a chapter in my story—one that has endowed me with a newfound sense of purpose and perspective.

Now, eight months on, I stand at the precipice of a new beginning—a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Cancer, once viewed as a harbinger of despair, has become a catalyst for growth—a gentle nudge urging me to live life with intention and joy. And so, I embark on this journey with renewed vigor, eager to embrace the boundless possibilities that lie ahead.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ryp Yong is a seasoned gerontologist and the current head of communications at Caregivers Alliance Limited.

As I reflect on my journey, I am reminded of the profound truth that adversity has the power to transform us—if we allow it. Cancer, with all its fearsome reputation, has become a catalyst for profound growth and self-discovery. It has taught me resilience in the face of uncertainty, courage in the shadow of fear, and gratitude for the simple moments that make life beautiful.

As I step into the light, ready to embrace my truth and live authentically, I am filled with a sense of purpose and possibility. My journey, though marked by challenges, has become a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the boundless capacity for renewal.

And so, I move forward with a heart full of gratitude and a spirit buoyed by hope, eager to embrace each new day as a gift and each new challenge as an opportunity for growth. For in the end, it is not the trials we face that define us, but the strength with which we rise to meet them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ryp Yong is a seasoned gerontologist and the current head of communications at Caregivers Alliance Limited.