No regrets: Removing her breast to fight cancer once and for all

Ms Karen Chia is a feisty mother of three who was quite determined to beat breast cancer once and for all.
PHOTO: No regrets: Removing her breast to fight cancer once and for all

SINGAPORE - Ms Karen Chia is a feisty mother of three who was quite determined to beat breast cancer once and for all.

And that meant removing her other breast, which was cancer-free.

She has no regrets about her decision, which was made after she was carefully counselled by doctors and nurses at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS).

The 38-year-old teacher said age played a big factor in her decision.

She has no immediate family history of breast cancer and yet she was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer last year.

It came as a shock as she and her friends were making plans for a trip to mark their 40th birthdays and no one saw breast cancer on the horizon for any of them. Her plans were immediately scuttled and it became a time of self-reflection.

"I thought if it could happen to me before I turn 40, there could be a chance that it could happen to me again. I did not want to keep thinking in the years ahead whether it would also happen to the other breast," she told Mind Your Body.

Her top priority was to stay alive for as long as possible to be with her three children aged seven, eight and 10.

She also felt that succumbing to cancer at a young age despite having done everything right - she does not drink or smoke and had breastfed all three children - may mean that her body is "susceptible to growths".

"When I discovered the lump on the left breast, there was a similar lump on the right breast, which turned out to be a fibroid," she said.

When surgeons removed her left breast last November, the size of the tumour turned out to be larger than what they had expected and the lymph nodes were also involved.

"So, even in hindsight, I think it was the right decision," she said.

Another factor in her decision was the recovery period from surgery and the effects of chemotherapy that she is now undergoing.

"I might as well recover from surgery once, rather than twice, and I would not want to have to undergo chemotherapy a second time, which would be the case if the cancer occurs in the other breast," she said.

Hearing that a friend of her mother's, who removed a breast 10 years ago and was again diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast, reinforced in her mind that she was doing the right thing.

It also felt important to her to have her body "balanced".

She is in the middle of breast reconstruction and will finish the process after completing chemotherapy in a few months.

"I thought if I was going to get breast cancer, I might as well come out of it with a new set of breasts. You've got to be positive," she said.

Ms Tan Poh Hoon, 44, who had her breasts removed last September, felt just as strongly about making sure that breast cancer does not strike her again.

"To me, my breasts are not that necessary. But I won't go through the torture of surgery and treatment again," said the sales executive for a printing company. She is single and is taking a break from work while undergoing chemotherapy.

She, too, has no family history of breast cancer and underwent counselling at NCCS after being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in her right breast.

"My mind was made up. No matter how low the risk of cancer appearing in the other breast is, there is still a risk," she said.

"At around that time, my friend's aunt who had one breast removed a few years ago found cancer in the other breast and was undergoing chemotherapy again. I did not want to have the possibility of that happening to me in the future."

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