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A cancer diagnosis is never easy to hear.

The moment you get the news from the doctor, your life tumbles head over heels and your perspective shifts. Priorities change and suddenly, you are confronted with questions of mortality that you never thought you had.

These two Singaporeans were diagnosed with cancer. And they recovered. Only to relapse again.

How could they have kept going, through the roller coaster of emotions?

Here are their stories:

Eddie’s story: “I was hit by cancer, not once, not twice, but three times”

He speaks with a bright smile, recounting his life in the past five years.

65-year-old Eddie Low talks animatedly; his sentences peppered with a dose of wry humour.

Listening to him, you could never tell he had cancer — three times to be exact.

Just before speaking to The Pride in Jan 2023, Eddie had just completed his last chemotherapy session for liver cancer. It’s a relapse, he explains, from his first brush with the disease in 2017.

These days, working from home as a full-time church worker, Eddie eats well and exercises, keeping himself “accountable for a meaningful and purposeful life”, in his words.

His main pastimes? Church, reading and watching football.

Eddies laughs: “My favourite football club is Liverpool because like they say, ‘You’ll never walk alone!’”

Life for Eddie is better now, but it was not always this stable.

Struck by cancer(s)

Singapore Cancer Society
Eddie (left) shares his cancer journey with an old schoolmate who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Image source: Eddie Low

In 2017, during a routine health check-up, Eddie was diagnosed with early stage lung cancer.

He adds: “My liver was also suspicious, so I insisted on a diagnosis even though my doctor advised me to proceed with my lung treatment first.”

The results came back — it wasn’t just the lungs. Eddie had cancer in his liver too.

“From one, it became two. I thought ‘What’s happening?’ Fear and worry came into play.”

He went through surgery for both cancers, but as he tried to recover from his ordeal, he was hit by more bad news.

Just a year later, in 2018, his lungs relapsed. And Eddie got an extra diagnosis to boot — this time, it was prostate cancer. He had to stop working due to his condition.

He went through radiation and chemotherapy but barely eight months later, he was hit with another relapse. This time, it was a 5cm tumour on his liver.

Dealing with this constant rollercoaster of bad news preyed on his mind, recounts Eddie.

There are times when Eddie marvels at his “bad luck”.

“If people get multiple cancers, it’s because it had spread from one primary source. But no, I got three primary cancers,” he says with an amused smile.

Coming to terms

Eddie (far left) at a meet-up with fellow cancer survivors. Image source: Eddie Low

It took Eddie months before he came to terms with his diagnoses and years before he could speak about his cancer battle in the reassured way that he talks about it now.

His cancers may have come in threes, but so did his support — Eddie found strength from his family, his church and from within the cancer community.

“I surrounded myself with people who are good for my mental wellbeing and kept the clarity of mind to deal with whatever happens.”

An important step in his journey was accepting the situation he was in — not to give in to despair, but having a healthy understanding of what to expect.

He attributes this peace of mind to his faith — Eddie is a staunch Catholic — and his main caregiver, his wife Angela.

He also prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.

Eddie says: “When you’re diagnosed (with such bad news), what can you do apart from trying to overcome it?”

He actively keeps his wife and daughter updated about his diagnoses, and they support him by simply being there for him. His wife takes care of his needs and accompanies him to his hospital visits.

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Apart from his family, Eddie often meets fellow cancer survivors. He says: “Seeing them do well keeps me hopeful.”

These friends come from all walks of life, introduced by mutual acquaintances, through cancer support groups that he found on Facebook — they even have a group chat where they arrange meet-ups at coffee shops or restaurants.

Eddie is also a beneficiary at Singapore Cancer Society (SCS).

At SCS, Eddie benefits from programmes like therapy to cope with the side effects of chemotherapy, mindfulness sessions to strengthen his mental health, counselling sessions for him and his wife to overcome their fear and anxiety as well as nutrition sessions where he learns how to eat right and well.

He is in a better place now after a year of recovery. He jokes: “The expiry date has extended so every day is a blessing!”

He advises cancer patients to “deal with [their diagnosis] bravely because worrying alone cannot do anything” and to not keep to themselves.

He reiterates that support is necessary.

“Many are lost after their diagnosis and they need to be pointed to where they can receive support.”

Mallika’s story: “My relapse was heartbreaking”

Mallika’s story: “My relapse was heartbreaking”
Malika with her artwork after one of the art therapy sessions at SCS. Image source: Mallika Periasamy

The Pride also spoke to another cancer survivor who actively participates in SCS activities.

Mallika Periasamy, 51, is a freelance mathematics and science tutor for primary and secondary school students. In her free time, she reads — mostly online articles — engages in Facebook interest groups and listens to music.

“I’m also a bathroom singer!” she tells me excitedly.

Mallika hasn’t always been this cheerful.

In August 2021, she was diagnosed with cancer in her right breast.

At first, it didn’t seem serious. The doctors had caught it early; her breast cancer was at Stage 0. All she had to do was undergo a lumpectomy — a simple procedure to remove the lump.

But after her surgery, her doctor told her that tests on the removed breast tissue showed that her cancer had progressed to Stage 1.

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The news was an unexpected development for Mallika.

“I was a bit shocked. I had just recovered from surgery and they told me I had to go for a second one.”

This time, she had to decide if she wanted to undergo a lumpectomy or mastectomy — a procedure where the affected breast would be removed entirely.

“It was a tough decision. I only had a weekend to decide and I felt that a single mastectomy would leave me feeling unbalanced.”

Eventually, she decided to go through with the mastectomy, which required weeks of preparation and radiation therapy.

After her operation, Mallika was unable to lift her right arm and needed family members to help her in basic tasks like eating and showering. She also had a bottle attached to her side to drain excess fluid from the wound.

It made doing tasks inconvenient but she tried to be as independent as possible.

“Only those die die cannot do, then I let my family help me,” she laughs.

She also went on daily walks with her husband, 60-year-old Nalayiram
Image source: Mallika Periasamy

Within a week of her operation, Mallika was back to doing housework — she preferred it to physiotherapy exercises, which she found boring. She also went on daily walks with her husband, 60-year-old Nalayiram.

“We usually go for a short 15-minute walk after dinner when there are fewer people around because I was embarrassed to be walking around with the bottle!”

She also got used to a prosthetic breast and made adjustments to her dressing so that she would be comfortable wearing it.

Double whammy

Double whammy
Mallika at one of SCS’ events. Image source: Mallika Periasamy

But in February 2022, during chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, doctors found a lump on her right ear.

Mallika was diagnosed with Stage 3 throat cancer. It was a relapse from 30 years ago.

She admits: “It was more heartbreaking because I was given an expiry date. I felt a bit lost.”

It was a struggle after her surgery. For months, Mallika lost her sense of taste and her tongue turned black from radiation therapy. She is also now partially deaf in her right ear.

As the sole breadwinner of her family, she worried about potentially losing her voice, which would be disastrous.

Describing the experience as full of uncertainty and fear, she says: “Without my voice, I can’t teach, I can’t support my family.”

After her surgery, she tried singing to ‘test’ out her voice and found that she was unable to vocalise her words. Her doctor assigned a speech therapist to her and fortunately, she was able to find her voice once again.

Resuming work is still tricky as she has to juggle hospital visits and tutoring sessions.

Despite everything, Mallika remains positive. She is currently undergoing hormonal therapy for breast cancer.

For cancer patients, her advice is simple: “Life is short. Just live life to the fullest!”

And to family and friends of cancer patients, Mallika advises: “Give them some space, just be there and ask them what help they need. They can’t run the battle alone.”

Relay For Life

Singapore Cancer Society provides care services to needy cancer patients through its welfare, hospice home care, cancer treatment subsidy and rehabilitation support programmes.

SCS also provides free cancer screening services and promotes cancer awareness and prevention through its public education and community outreach programmes.

As part of its fund-raising efforts, SCS is organising the Singapore Cancer Society-TalkMed Relay For Life.

Mallika will be participating in RFL for the first time this year while Eddie has to stay on the sidelines due to his condition.

However, he is cheering for the event: “It is a good rally call to bring cancer patients, caregivers and volunteers together to celebrate life and remember loved ones who may have lost their battles.”

Registration closes on March 3.

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