She has chemotherapy weeks after baby’s birth
Madam Irmawati shares story of being diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant
Madam Irmawati, 40, was four years ago days from giving birth to her second daughter Nadhira when her doctor said she had Stage 4 breast cancer.
World Cancer Day falls on Sunday.
Madam Irmawati told The New Paper of her painful battles with it.
On Wednesday, the Indonesia-born permanent resident said: "I did not want to believe it, but the biopsy said it was there."
Madam Irmawati, who moved here after marrying a Singaporean, had noticed a lump in her right breast a few weeks before but was reluctant to have it checked.
She had wanted to wait till after her daughter was born.
When the pain became too much to bear, she went to the doctor.
She had initially rejected painkillers, fearing they would harm her unborn daughter.
She took morphine to treat her back pain only after being reassured by doctors it was safe.
While most mothers rested after delivery, Madam Irmawati underwent chemotherapy weeks after Nadhira was born.
She said: "I knew I had to do it for my children. They needed me around, and I had to get better for them."
Her treatment lasted about five months. She shaved her waist-long hair and asked her mother to come from Jakarta to help with housework and look after Nadhira and her sister, Putri Naifah, 16.
After three months of being cancer-free, she suffered a relapse and had to go through another round of chemotherapy.
Madam Irmawati said: "It is not physical pain that hurts the most. It is the psychological one, where you feel so bad about yourself, and it feels like it will not end."
Madam Irmawati completed her chemotherapy sessions two years ago and now has to see her doctor about once a month for her medication, and undergo check-ups.
To help with her medical costs, she has been receiving financial aid from the Singapore Cancer Society, and the Ministry of Social and Family Development's Social Service Offices.
She takes up odd jobs and works as a salesperson for a collagen product but admitted it can be tiring.
The unsteady stream of work means on average, she only brings home about $400 and has to pay rent of $250 and utilities.
Her husband works as a private-hire driver to help, but she told TNP she covers many of the household expenses.
Despite all this, Madam Irmawati remains positive.
She said: "It makes me so happy when people tell me I look well and I do not look like a cancer survivor.
"Cancer will always be a part me, but I am so thankful I can now do normal things. I can be there for my children. I am blessed."
Support for cancer patients is key
Cancer is a disease that impacts all areas of life, said Mr Albert Ching, chief executive officer of the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS), yesterday.
He told The New Paper: "SCS strives to help individuals cope with every step of the cancer journey and sends home the message that no one walks the cancer journey alone."
Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases here.
In 2016, it was responsible for 29.6 per cent of deaths in Singapore - a figure that has remained consistent over the past few years.
The number looks set to rise.
The Ministry of Health said the number of Singaporeans diagnosed with cancer is estimated to surge by 70 per cent in 2030, compared to 2013.
This means an estimated one in 180 Singaporeans will have cancer.
Two-time cancer survivor, Madam Irmawati, who has gone through multiple rounds of chemotherapy over the past four years, told TNP: "I made it thanks to the support from the people around me."
Mr Ching added that SCS provides support including cancer education, screening, financial assistance, support group service, psychosocial support and rehabilitation service.
It will be organising a 15-hour overnight relay on March 10 to celebrate cancer survivors and caregivers, remember those who have died from the disease and raise awareness and funds. - HARIZ BAHARUDIN