Don't wait: 36-year-old cervical cancer survivor shares how a simple check-up turned out to be a blessing in disguise

PHOTO: Lillian Tan

Lilian Tan, a full-time homemaker and part-time wellness coach, had ordered herself a full body health screening as a birthday gift last October, and was hoping to celebrate but an abnormal test result was what came back.

Further checks with a gynaecologist confirmed that she had cervical cancer.

Her first thought? "Eh si buey (will I die from it)? What is the mortality rate like?" shared the 36-year-old. Coming from a "very blunt Hokkien family", her parents also asked her, "eh si buey?"

"They are very direct, but I know they were just showing concern," recounted Tan, adding that her family was her strongest support.

"Some of them just couldn't believe how positive I was!"

But it was that sort of positivity which brought her through the darker times till date.

"It was really a blessing in disguise," she said.

First stroke of luck — an early detection

2018 and 2019 were the high points of Tan's health and fitness journey after the birth of her twins in 2016.

Lillian with her twin boys. PHOTO: Lillian Tan

"I was the fittest I had ever been in my life, and I had zero signs (of having cancer), but I don't know what came over me and gave me a wake-up call to book myself in for a full-body health screening," shared the ex-SQ girl.

The results, which came back to her in November, revealed that there were some abnormalities. With her Pap test results in hand, Tan found herself a gynaecologist, Dr Yang, and an oncologist Dr Chia, to carry out more examinations — a second Pap test, HPV test, colposcopy, and a cone biopsy because Tan's HPV test came out positive for certain virus strains which are considered high risk.

Through the months of tests, re-tests and getting the diagnosis of stage 1B1 of cervical cancer, Tan still displayed no signs nor symptoms of cancer and no deterioration in her health — common for cervical cancer patients.

Second stroke of luck — her ovaries are saved

Tan was first sent for a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to check if other parts of the body had active cancerous cells. Thankfully, the cancer cells had not spread.

Upon discussion with Dr Chia on future family planning and with Tan not intending to have more kids, Tan's uterus, fallopian tubes and the lymph nodes near her cervix were removed. However, her ovaries were spared.

"Dr Chia kept my ovaries because if she had taken them out, I would have had to go through menopause (at a relatively young age of 36 years old)."

Third stroke of luck — speedy recovery

Lillian after her surgery. PHOTO: Lillian Tan

Despite Tan's oncologist warning her that her surgery would be no walk in the park and that she may need to still carry a urinary catheter bag through the upcoming Chinese New Year period this year, Tan surprised many with her speedy recovery.

Four days after she was discharged, Tan managed to heal enough to go without the "pee bag".

PHOTO: Lillian Tan

"I was really worried about getting a UTI (urinary tract infection) because Dr Chia mentioned about the risk if my urine flowed backwards," shared Tan.

Her recovery process at home, however, was not easy on the mother-of-two.

"Being constantly worried about my kids jumping on me, wearing compression socks 24/7, carrying a urinary catheter bag wherever I go, and having a swollen and raw wound were the most painful parts (of the recovery process)."

PHOTO: Lillian Tan

"Look after your own body!"

Now an advocate for being responsible for one's health, Tan admits to nagging at family and friends to go for regular check-ups.

For many, however, carving time out or forking money for a test is still a huge deterrence.

"I hear a lot of excuses from women I know, and I am like ok, look at me — what if I went later and my cancer was a lot worse?

"Don't wait till any of your friends or you go through it (getting diagnosed with cancer) to know that checks are necessary!" Tan emphasised.

While most women go for a Pap test once every three years between the ages of 25 and 29, and a HPV test once every five years for those aged 30 to 69 years old, Tan now gets checked once every three months.

Those looking to get tested will be glad to know that the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS)'s clinic at Bishan offers cervical screenings (Pap test/HPV test) at no cost for all Singaporean and PR women aged 25 to 69 years old. Call 1800 727 3333 to make an appointment, or click on this form (bit.ly/WGCAM20ScreeningReg) to indicate your interest.

Don't wait.

SCS Clinic @ Bishan is located at Junction 8 Office Tower, 9 Bishan Place, #06-05, Singapore 579837, and can be reached at 1800 727 3333.

This article is brought to you in partnership with Singapore Cancer Society.