Cancer survivor recounts her battle after helping sister through hers

Cancer survivor recounts her battle after helping sister through hers
Ms Cara Chew documented her chemotherapy sessions on social media, helping her befriend other patients worldwide.
Photo: Instagram/Smilesandcocktails

She was the main caregiver for her lymphoma-stricken younger sister when Ms Cara Chew, 32, was herself struck with the same disease in December 2015.

The news of her own illness came just two months after their father had undergone heart bypass surgery.

'I don't have time for this' was her first thought upon being diagnosed with diffused large B-cell lymphoma.

"I was more stressed than sad," she added.

Having to balance the role of caring for her sister and father while maintaining her job as a marketing manager simultaneously was hard on her.

To mark World Cancer Day, which occurs on Feb 4 annually, Ms Chew was encouraged by her friend, fellow lymphoma survivor Beng Harng, 38, to submit her story to Stomp via e-mail.

She was first featured on Stomp on Feb 1 as part of its campaign to raise awareness for cancer.

Not wanting to aggravate her father's condition post-surgery in the intensive care unit, she told him only about a week later. But thankfully, "he took it like a guy and urged us to move forward", she said.

(Final Cycle 6, Day 6) Today was just 1 of those rough days with the cancer fatigue, gastric, tight headedness, crampy arms from shoulders to fingers on both sides, phlebitis on my left chemo arm, constipation, flatulence, breathlessness all accumulating

After sharing her condition on her Facebook page, a high school senior from an international school in Beijing, where she studied at previously, sent her an encouraging message about other survivors and how they coped with cancer.

"That really got the positivity ball rolling and set the stage for my first chemotherapy session," Ms Chew added.

She continued to document all six cycles of her chemotherapy sessions extensively on Facebook, Instagram (@smilesandcocktails) and her blog.

Through these platforms, she befriended cancer patients worldwide, receiving and providing mutual support to them.

Her Christian faith also helped her pull through the ordeal. "I believe everything happens for a reason so I decided to have complete faith in God instead of worrying," she said.

This thought stayed with her throughout the chemo sessions, which involved oral and in-vitro medication, which she had to go for once every three weeks.

She was an exercise buff, visiting the gym at least thrice a week, but the chemo sessions tired her out easily.

Ms Chew, the oldest of three sisters, also suffered from bouts of memory loss.

Her youngest sister, Catherine, 26, had to stick post-it notes around the house to remind her to switch off all electrical appliances. She once forgot to switch off the stove after cooking.


Having taken care of her younger sister during chemo sessions helped allay Ms Chew's fears for her own chemotherapy.

"I was more prepared psychologically and emotionally for what was to come."

#Cancer #fatigue in this 1st week of Cycle 5 got me sunken deep into my bed for most of the day, reminiscing about my #awesome #boyfriend who visited me from London to accompany me for Cycle 3 #chemotherapy, wishing the bed was his hugs & snuggles. 😍 I w

#Cancer #fatigue in this 1st week of Cycle 5 got me sunken deep into my bed for most of the day, reminiscing about my #awesome #boyfriend who visited me from London to accompany me for Cycle 3 #chemotherapy, wishing the bed was his hugs & snuggles. 😍 I would liken this chronic fatigue to having 10 times the gravity pull on your body to the ground. Plus that body-aching feeling after an intense workout, but now lingering on every single joint & muscle all day & you know no protein shake or stretching can get rid of it. And when u wanna get up, you feel like that stone guy from #Fantastic4 & u wonder how he lifts himself up. Loll... πŸ˜‚ Having a soft mattress with really soft sheets really helps. And having the boyfriend call everyday from London sending #longdistance love also provides me with a tonne of internal fuzzy #strength. πŸ˜† Looking forward to 5 more weeks till no more chemo & in the meantime soaking in the #love & #positivevibes! And I cant wait to see my moumou again!!! @fidaki3 😘😘😘 It's either my head is too small or ur hands are too big! Loll #stepatatime #closetothefinishline #babysteps #soclose #rest #godisgreat #anemia #neutropenia #lowbloodcount #fightfatigue #beatfatigue #longdistance #longdistancerelationship #lovewithoutlimits #lovewithoutboundaries #lymphomies #thelymphomaclub #relationshipgoals #boyfriendgoals #couplegoals #positivity

A post shared by Recent Lymphoma Survivor (@smilesandcocktails) on

On having to lose her luscious locks from the chemo sessions, she said her Greek boyfriend provided assurance and encouragement to embrace her baldness.

"You're beautiful, don't ever think otherwise," he would tell her over the phone every night.

He would also wake up early or sleep late, due to the difference in time zones, to remind her of her medical appointments.

The experience has taught her to let go instead of always planning for everything.

"Sometimes, it's all right to drink coffee and do nothing for four hours. We're always so busy being productive and stressed in our society."

While she is glad to have been a caregiver, she noticed that people often ask only about the patient. Having been in both positions, she feels it is tougher being the latter.

"You don't understand what they're (cancer patients) going through but you have to attend to their every need," she said.

"It really takes a physical and emotional toll on you. It's a pity there isn't a World Caregiver Day. It sounds selfish but the irony is that you have to take care of your own health first before you can look after another's," said Ms Chew, who now practises taiji daily.

Remembering World Cancer Day with overnight relay

The inaugural Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) Relay For Life will take place on Feb 18 and 19, in line with World Cancer Day, which occurs globally on Feb 4 every year.

The overnight relay, which is organised by the SCS, aims to draw 9,000 participants. It will stretch over 17 hours, according to The Straits Times.

SCS chief executive officer Albert Ching said: "We are rallying Singaporeans to stand in solidarity with the cancer community at the SCS Relay For Life by walking to celebrate (cancer survivors), remember (loved ones lost) and fight back (against cancer)."

The relay will be held at the Bukit Gombak Stadium with celebrities Benjamin Kheng, Desmond Tan, Romeo Tan and Nick Shen attending the event. Singer Nathan Hartono will be performing.

Attendees can pledge their support for World Cancer Day via photo boards on social media.

This article was first published on Feb 4, 2017.
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