She didn't let cancer kill her dreams

She was looking forward to a great career as a nurse.

Then cancer suddenly reared its ugly head in Miss Haziqah Idris' life last year.

But the spunky 22-year-old refused to give up and faced the disease head on with the help of family, friends and medical staff at the National Cancer Centre (NCC).

Today Miss Haziqah, a staff nurse at the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), is cancer-free, back at work, and actively preparing for her exams for her Bachelor of Nursing programme at SIM Global Education (SIM GE).

Interestingly, nursing did not cross her mind when she started her diploma studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

"I wanted to study early childhood education or psychology. But after discussing the options with my parents, they thought studying nursing would be a good choice as I was too talkative and they thought I would love interacting with people," said Miss Haziqah, the second of three children.

Her older brother is a police officer and her younger brother will be sitting for his O levels this year.



During the mandatory clinical attachment sessions that were part of her nursing course, Miss Haziqah began to understand what nursing was all about.

"I also felt satisfied whenever I attended to a patient, especially an elderly one, who came to hospital feeling ill, and left the hospital after thanking me for appreciating him and taking care of him," she said.

After obtaining her Diploma in Health Science (Nursing), Miss Haziqah joined the NHCS, and later enrolled in the Bachelor of Nursing programme awarded by the University of Sydney at SIM GE.

"I chose SIM GE because they focused on research and their programmes effectively combined nursing theory and nursing practice," she said.

Although it was stressful, she was getting used to juggling work and studies until February last year.

That month, she started coughing.

"I was coughing continuously. I visited the doctor several times and was even prescribed antibiotics, but they did not seem to work.

"Then one of the doctors referred me to hospital to have an X-ray. The X-ray showed multiple nodules in my lungs," she said.

After the nodules were discovered, Miss Haziqah had a mediastinoscopy done. This is a procedure where tissue is surgically removed from the lungs for analysis.

Having faith

Having faith

In April last year, she and her parents learnt the diagnosis - Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma.

This is a type of cancer originating from the white blood cells or lymphocytes. They are usually found in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver and bone marrow.

Miss Haziqah said: "My parents were shocked at the news as there is no history of cancer in my family. But my mother is not a person who crumbles easily and she decided to be strong for me.

"She told me that God would not give me anything I could not handle. So I decided to be strong, for her and for myself too."

Miss Haziqah learnt that the disease had spread to her lungs and liver.

But she was determined to fight the disease, and her research showed that the survival rate of patients with Hodgkin's was over 80 per cent.

Armed with this knowledge and determination as well as her's and her mother's iron will, with the help of senior consultant Richard Quek of the NCC, she started on a six-cycle chemotherapy regimen.

Each four-week cycle comprised three consecutive days' treatment with Beacopp, a chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma, on the first week, followed by one day of treatment with Beacopp the second week and then two weeks' rest between cycles.

After every two cycles, a scan would be done to check on the effectiveness of the treatment. Miss Haziqah had to stop work and put her studies on hold during this time.

Nurses treated her like a friend

Treated like a friend, not a patient

She said: "My mother took no-pay leave for the duration of my treatment to look after me. I opted to have my chemotherapy sessions in the mornings.

"So I would wake up at 7 am each day, bathe and then reach NCC by 9am to start the chemotherapy cycle.

"While I was undergoingmy treatment, my friends and relatives sometimes visited me, or I would spend the time watching TV. By the time the treatment was over, it was about 5pm.

"The treatment left me feeling very tired each day. Before the treatment, I usually took 30 minutes to shower. During the treatment, I usually found it hard to get up every morning and took about 45minutes to shower.

"I also lost 6 to 8 kg during this time." The treatment also caused her to lose her hair, and she eventually asked her father to shave her head bald.

"After he shaved my head, my father said I had no hair now. But I playfully said I still had my eyebrows and eyelashes," she said with a grin.

Miss Haziqah's sources of inspiration during this time were her mother, Internet and accounts of lymphoma, other cancer survivors and the other patients she met at NCC while she underwent her treatment.

She said: "Throughout my hospitalisation and treatment, I wasn't treated like a patient but a friend to the nurses there.

Seeing how patient they were with the cancer patients, gave me the strength and courage to be like them and made me look forward to recovery.

"I believed that a positive attitude was all I needed. A positive mindset would makeme feel better and negativity would only make me feel worse. If I could beat cancer, I was sure I could surpass anything else.



"During my first hospitalisation, my nurse manager and director of nursing came to my ward to ask about my progress and gave words of encouragement. My SIM course coordinator was very concerned about my health and also called me constantly to ask about my progress.

"The frequent calls from the senior nursing managers and nurse clinicians, and their words of encouragement motivated me to stay positive and look forward to coming back to work.

"When I could not drop by the school to submit some documents, my SIM course coordinator helped in informing my lecturers of my condition and helped me in every way to ensure that I did not lose hope in studying."

Just before her birthday in May last year, Miss Haziqah's colleagues at NHCS surprised her with a giant birthday card, where they all wrote their wishes for her to get well soon.

"I was very touched by this gesture, and that made me very excited to return to work as soon as possible," she said.

Last August, after six cycles of treatment, Miss Haziqah and her family were relieved to hear that there were no signs of cancer cells in her body.

She returned to work in January and her studies a month later. Her exams for her Bachelor of Nursing programme is this month.

Miss Haziqah, who plans to be a nurse educator, said: "Before my illness, I did not spend much time explaining treatment options with the patients I came into contact with. Since becoming a patient myself, I have become more empathetic and spend more time to explain the treatment regimens to the patients."

Advice to others

Her relationship with her family has also become closer.

"Now my family acts like my nutritionists and dieticians, too. When we are together, my mother will often order a healthy food choice, but I sometimes tell her that I am okay and can choose my own food now," she said with a smile.

This is her advice to adult learners:

Manage time well.

"If you do not know how to manage your time between your studies, work, social life, etc, you will feel very pressurised," said Miss Haziqah.

If you face setbacks, make friends.

"If you face setbacks like what I went through, making friends can help you through these times. Don't give up, don't lose hope, follow your passion and live your dream," she added.

This article was first published in The New Paper .