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Speaking about cancer and me

Last Sunday, I was invited to speak at the MSD Blogger’s Workshop on the issue of cancer awareness. Other than myself, Dr Tho Lye Mun was also on hand to share a bit about cancer to eight bloggers and social media personalities who attended.

Those of you who have followed my blog and column over the years will know that cancer is a cause very close to my heart. In the past, I have been involved with Dato’ Yasmin Yusuff’s Relay for Life Celebrity contingent (alongside actress Sharifah Sofia – far right in the image above) to fundraise for the National Cancer Society of Malaysia. Earlier this year, I ran my first 10k run in a couple of years in aid of Cancer Research UK.

While Dr Tho spoke a lot about cancer in general from a medical perspective, focusing specifically on lung cancer, melanoma and the newish treatment known as immunotherapy, I spoke from a more emotional perspective.

Not many people know but I had a cancer scare myself many years ago, when I had just entered my young adulthood. It turned out to be something else which was sorted quickly, but that time between it being suspected as cancer – and the surgery I underwent to do a biopsy, and the eventual fixing of the condition – was scary.

However, that incident had made me extra sensitive to people I knew who had been affected by the disease. During my session, I shared the stories of three people who were affected differently.

One of my aunts only discovered cancer very late because she was afraid of visiting the doctor. And while she lived for a few years after being initially diagnosed, she eventually succumbed. Another aunt had successfully battled breast cancer and had an extended life, until it returned many years later and took her in 2016. The last story I shared was that of my father’s who was cancer-free when he passed away last year, but was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago.

The reason I shared those stories was to emphasise the importance of cancer awareness and early detection – my father discovered his really early on and as such, a surgery to remove his prostate was successful. To our knowledge, the cancer never spread.

I was very surprised to discover through Dr Tho’s session that 1 in 6 Malaysian is bound to have cancer in their lifetime. While that number was so jarring, the bigger revelation was that it was worse in other more developed countries.

I just can’t imagine it being worse anywhere else – after all, I’ve had so many people in my life who are battling, succumbed to and beaten the disease. I mentioned in my talk that very few of us these days can say that we don’t know someone who has cancer or whose life has been impacted by it.

But that point was also to emphasise that cancer also affects the people around those with the disease.

In the past year and a half alone, I have lost several friends to the many different types of cancer and it has been heartbreaking to say the least.

I’m glad that I got the opportunity to share my stories, and for the other bloggers to be able to share it with their readers as well. But it really wasn’t my stories that are important – most of us have one or two to share and there was even a blogger at the workshop who was the primary caregiver of her mother who had cancer.

It really is about getting the word out there – that cancer may be part of our modern day lives, but that early detection can really save lives and advancement in medicine – such as with immunotherapy – can not just extend lives but also improve quality of lives so that we all have many more memories to create with our loved ones.

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