Survivor makes A Clean Breast of cancer

NGAPORE - She has fought cancer and been through the ordeal of insurance policies not covering her disease. And writer Theresa Tan, 45, doesn't wish those trials on anyone.

"There are these women who can't afford to pay for a mammogram, let alone treatment, should they have cancer," said the mother of three, who is cancer-free now.

Her experience has made her an ardent advocate for the breast cancer cause.

In her book, A Clean Breast, which will be launched today, she gives an intimate account of her battle and struggles against breast cancer.

She hopes this will help others diagnosed with cancer come to terms with their disease.

Part of the proceeds from her book will go towards a foundation she is setting up to help women who cannot afford a mammogram, ultrasound or treatment.

"When I was running the now defunct 'Women Make A Difference Singapore', we helped raise funds for the Molly Lee Appeal for the KK Women's and Children's Hospital Health Endowment Fund for women with gynaecological cancers," the former editor-in-chief of Elle magazine told The New Paper.

"We raised $66,000 and this amount helped eight women get treatment.

"When I wrote the book, I thought, 'Why not do the same for women who could ill-afford breast cancer screening?"

Her book started out as a thought.

Ms Tan wrote: "Every day, there is at least one poor woman in this world who discovers that weird lump in her breast, or who just knows in her heart something is not quite right with her body."

Every year, more than 1,400 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and it is one of the top causes for women's deaths in Singapore.

She said: "Many low-income women earn about $800 a month. A mammogram would cost an estimated $200. That is a quarter of their pay."

Ms Tan said she will be meeting the relevant authorities and hospitals over the next few weeks to start the ball rolling for the foundation.

Her own journey with cancer has been painful and arduous. Her mother went up against breast cancer three times before losing the battle nine years ago at the age of 64.

Then, two years ago, she was also diagnosed with it. Her first symptoms were shooting pains from within her right breast in June 2010. She was found to have Stage 0 breast cancer, which had formed in her milk ducts.

Within two weeks, Ms Tan had all the breast tissue in her right breast removed and reconstructed in a 13-hour operation.

Then came the clincher - she had three insurance policies, but no coverage.

"Often, the insurance aspect of breast cancer is not addressed.

"My publisher Chin Kar from Write Editions said a book is not a blog and that I should temper my language so I do not appear vindictive. I have dedicated a full chapter to that," she said.

The 223-page book, which costs $20, was completed earlier this year after a year of rewriting. It will be available in major bookstores by the first week of next month.

Added Ms Tan: "It is a strong legacy that I leave for women, their families and my own children."

juditht@sph.com.sg

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