How my story begins: I basically had abdominal pain (especially during my period). I even went to the hospital to get CT scans due to the pain and my past medical history with cysts in my ovaries. The doctors in Singapore & Qatar didn’t diagnose me and just gave me pain medicine. The pain increased and I felt sharp stabbing pains when I was passing my stools. I went to a different gynecologist in Qatar and a CT scan showed cysts and fibrosis. As the CA125 blood test is high, the gynecologist had to refer me to the government hospital as they are not allowed to provide treatment if there’s a possibility of cancer.
My husband and I wanted a second opinion and went to a different hospital. The Gynecologist was from the United Kingdom and we felt most comfortable with her. The doctor took her time to listen to my previous medical history, she addressed the pain I was having and the frequent urine infections. She manage to squeeze my case file during her upcoming multidisciplinary meeting. They reviewed my CT scans again and redid another CA125 blood test. When we went for the follow-up, my doctor diagnosed me with stage 4 endometriosis. The CA125 blood test was lower than before which showed a range of endometriosis when reviewing the CT scans. The endometriosis tissue was on my left urinary tube and my kidney was enlarged hence the frequent UTI. The tissue was also on my bowel tube which is why I felt the sharp stabbing pain when I passed my stools during my period. My doctor advised me to get a surgery done as soon as possible with two other specialists which she didn't have in her practice.
We took her advice and went ahead with the consultation with a gynecologic oncologist in the UK. We had to do it via Zoom due to COVID. The oncologist said there were no signs of cancer as per what was told. He then referred me to another specialist gynecologist for endometriosis. I had also seen a bowel specialist and a urologist. We began planning for my surgery to remove the endometriosis tissue with three specialists. I was given a Prostap injection to stop my period and to shrink the endometriosis tissue. An MRI was done as well to compare.
After six months, and a week before the surgery, the second MRI results showed significant growth from 2 to 4 cm in my cervix. My surgery had to be canceled and I was referred to the first oncologist I spoke to on Zoom. He did a biopsy which was extremely painful and he couldn’t get a good piece of sample. He scheduled me for a cone biopsy where I was to be sedated. During the first biopsy, he confirmed there were cancerous cells which put me and my husband in shock. The cone biopsy confirmed the stage and grade. I was diagnosed with HPV-associated adenocarcinoma grade 2 possibly of lymphovascular invasion.
Life before my diagnosis: I was an ex Qatar Airways cabin crew member before I was diagnosed. I was flying for five and a half years. I had to live a healthy lifestyle so I was mentally and physically fit for my flight. I had three doses of Cervarix vaccine when I joined the company as it was recommended. Even after I resigned in August 2016, I never skipped my pap smear since I received reminders from my insurance company. My pap smears had no evidence of abnormalities. I had quit smoking since I had surgery for a cyst in my ovary and appendicitis in February 2010. I also drink alcohol on special occasions only. I got into exercising and hired a personal trainer to lose some weight and got my body toned. When I achieved my goal weight, I saw the difference. I was a very happy and positive person in general. My husband fell in love with me because of my independence, confidence, and positivity.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt like my world was just going to crumble. My first thought was a death sentence in my head. I was very confused about how I got HPV. I had never heard about this virus until now. I always had my pap smear and I was up-to-date on my vaccination. I have done everything right. I also got tested for hepatitis & HIV since I was a cabin crew. We have a high-risk job and are prone to getting infections from passengers. I was healthy and didn’t know I could get HPV. I just couldn’t wrap my head around this and I felt embarrassed. I felt like I was an unfaithful wife to my husband but that was far from the truth. I have been faithful to him ever since we started dating each other. I trusted him fully as well. We both loved each other very much and we had no secrets. We spent so much time together in Qatar and in the UK where his family is living. We didn’t have sex because I was afraid to pass HPV onto him. It took me a month to accept my fate. My husband and in-laws have been very supportive. My oncologist whom I was referred to near our home in Derby, UK was very reassuring that I could recover fast with the planned treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Telling my family and friends: I didn’t inform my family in Singapore because I hadn't been close to them ever since I was a child. The people that knew about my diagnosis were my husband and my in-laws. I’m a freelance makeup artist and I’m very open to my followers with my life so I decided to share my story. It was brief and I posted the first day I had my radiotherapy and chemotherapy. I feel like breast cancer awareness is spread around more but no one talks about gynecologic cancers. Endometriosis is a serious medical condition that no one really talks about. I get a lot of love from my followers and friends for my recovery.
My treatment: I had a course of four cycles of chemotherapy (cisplatin), 25 cycles of external radiotherapy, and four cycles of brachytherapy. My oncologist and team of nurses were amazing from private and NHS. They made me feel very comfortable throughout my treatment.
I managed to squeeze in personal training before my treatment started. During treatment when I felt good, I had friends to walk with me. I was eating a lot when I felt nauseous. With the early menopause symptoms, my diet has changed drastically as I crave a lot of sweets like chocolates and cake so I didn’t lose weight but gained back what I had worked hard losing for two years before treatment.
My brachytherapy was uncomfortable but bearable and I had lots of pain medicine where I managed to sleep for days at a time. I was neutropenic after my third chemotherapy and I got GCSF injections to boost my white cells before my brachytherapy. I’m very happy to have a wonderful oncologist and their team had taken good care of me during and after my treatment.
How I felt after treatment: After my treatment, I felt such a relief to know that the tumor was not there and the MRI confirms it. Every follow-up still stresses me out and makes me anxious in thinking what if the tumor comes back and it’s spreading? I also feel a bit of depression as I don’t feel strong like I did before. I get tired from just walking. I did yoga and don’t feel like I have the strength to hold my body when doing certain positions. I gained weight and my clothes have started to get tighter. I continued doing my charity work helping stray cats in Qatar. I noticed I got really negative about it all. I just don’t feel like myself most of the time even with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Getting back to having sexual intercourse with my husband was very delicate. He was afraid he would hurt me and I was afraid of getting hurt from the tissue scarring from radiotherapy. I don’t like using the dilator.
What was most difficult for me: The most difficult thing for me is that I don’t feel like myself. I feel like I lost a lot that no one can understand besides me or my teal sisters (I joined a private Facebook group). I want to get back to my healthy diet and exercise but haven’t been consistent. I feel I can’t commit to a full-time job even for freelance work. I have my follow-up appointments to monitor my health so they can make sure I don't have a reoccurrence.
What I did to help myself: As I’m reaching 40 years old, I decided to book a personal photoshoot. I decided to just embrace my age and the body change. I still feel self-conscious about it since nowadays you see a lot of filters and body editing from influencers. I want to be as real as possible. I go around to get myself recognized as a makeup artist and I love and enjoy doing it. I participated in markets and did face painting for children. They bring me joy as their innocence really made me smile. I have no children of my own and I did not preserve my eggs. My husband and I rescued a kitten which we adopted before I got diagnosed. Whatever I earned, I gave back to help more sick animals on the streets and do TNR on stray cats.
My life after cancer: I’m living day to day as if it’s my last day. I’m very grateful to get to spend more time with my husband and my in-laws. I made new friends. I will travel when the borders open. I still try to pursue my career in makeup artistry. I still do my charity work with TNR of the stray cats in Qatar.
Where I am today: I’m currently NED and grateful to be clear. I’m trying to get back into shape, taking vitamins, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to control my menopause symptoms. I’m trying to stay as positive as possible, planning trips for holidays by myself and with my husband if he has the time off.
What I want other women to know: I want other women to know that they are not alone. Never ignore your symptoms and the gut feeling you have if there’s something wrong. Getting a medical check-up, like a pap smear, is important. Get your kids vaccinated against HPV. Find a gynecologist that listens to you and understands your symptoms and don’t give up until you get a proper diagnosis.
How I will try to help others: I help others by sharing my experiences and journey. I even gave my appointment for a free women's health check-up to my step sister. She was scared to get a pap smear done knowing what I had gone through but I reassured her that it was better to find out sooner rather than later. I was lucky to find out at stage 1. I didn’t ignore my pain and I went to so many different gynecologists until I found the gynecologist that I felt most comfortable with and who understood my history.
Any additional information you'd like to share: My husband and I are fine with not having any children of our own. After rescuing kittens and nursing them back to health, if we do feel like we want a child, we would be open to adoption as we know there are so many children that need a loving home. We love our adopted cat, Belle, and we have an Instagram account for her. She’s our current baby.