Interview With: A Cancer Survivor – Fay Lim

Fay Lim
33, Stay-at-Home Mom

Barely 30 years old and out-of-the-blue, Fay was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Diffused Large B Cell Lymphoma, or commonly known as NHL. NHL is a type of cancer of the B cells responsible for producing antibodies – without which, the body’s immune system loses its defense against germs (bacteria and viruses). This e-interview looks into Fay’s struggle with cancer and how it has changed her.

How did you find out you had cancer?
Three years ago. In June 2009, I started experiencing back pains. After consultation with two orthopaedics and a MRI scan, they discovered I had slip disc. But this was a red herring. Not long after, my immobility became more apparent. I could not sit on the floor with my legs folded, I could not bend over to wash my face or put on my clothes, and I even started using a walking stick!  One night in August, I was in such excruciating pain that I was admitted to A&E. Seven days and many tests later, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 NHL. They did not waste any time and treated me with chemotherapy the next day.

What was your initial reaction?
Initially, I was speechless. And lost. I had so many questions in my mind. I thought about death, whether it would it be painful, how would my loved ones take it and why did this happen to someone young like me. But after it all sunk in, I started to read up on the type of cancer I had, the treatment options available, types of ‘cancer-fighting’ foods, and how other survivors battled cancer.

I also moved to my parents’ home because more people meant more help. We took many precautions in cleanliness and hygiene to prevent me from catching an infection; as it would cause a delay in my chemotherapy treatment, and have given the cancer cells a chance to multiply.

What was your course of treatment like? And for how long?
6 cycles of chemotherapy. This is a cocktail of sorts (which consist of 5 chemotherapy drugs administrated over 6 hours each time, with a two-week rest in between each cycle). I’ve also had a stem cell harvest, one high-dose chemotherapy (which consist of 3 chemotherapy drugs administrated over 5 days at high doses) and stem cell transplant. In addition to all that, I had 2 biopsies, 4 lumbar punctures and 3 line insertions. All within a period of about 6 months!

What challenges did you face during this time?
Fatigue, poor appetite, giddiness, numbness in my hands and feet, headaches, and stomach bloatedness, amongst other things. Emotionally, I felt very down and alone. I had many fears. I went through a period of many ‘what-if’s. I became very anxious about many things. I would think about an impending injection for days ahead, and anxiety would build up from there. At times, I had nightmares days before a treatment.

How did you overcome those setbacks?
There are good days and bad days. On good days, I’d lay awake at night not wanting the day to end. On bad days, I’d hope that the next day would be a good day.

How has this affected your lifestyle?
Zero lifestyle! Before I got cancer, I played badminton once-a-week, swam and took regular walks. With cancer, I hardly went out. Due to the side effects of weakness, fatigue, nauseas and headaches, I had to stop work. I became very cautious about eating out. My doctor told me that food I ate must be cooked very well and not raw, because there was a risk of infection while undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Some days though, I would take short walks at night.

Why walk at night?
(giggles) Because it was cooler! Especially once you start losing hair (one of the things that happens when undergoing chemo), you lose so much heat on your head!

How are things different for you today?
I am more thankful to be alive to celebrate special days like Christmas, Chinese New Year and my birthday! Material possessions and earthly achievement are the last things on my mind in the face of death. These days, I focus more on my relationships with family, good friends and God.

What would you say is your biggest adjustment you have made since being diagnosed with cancer?
First, I try not to make future plans more than a year away. Second, I eat a lot more vegetables, drink fruit juices and take health supplements. Third, I try to lead a relatively stress-free life as much as I can.

What is the status of your illness now?
My cancer has been in remission for almost 3 years. I still maintain my twice-a-year checkups and scans. And I do not take any medication.

What is your advise to someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer?
Seek an experienced oncologist. Be knowledgeable about your condition, the chemotherapy drugs and protocols, and read up about side effects. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to doctors and nurses. Read up on how to lower the likelihood and probability of having cancer and/or a relapse. Take time to reflect on life and death matters. Spend quality time with family. Be diligent about following up and sorting out insurance claims (‘cos it’s a full time job!).

How is life for you now?
I am thankful. I feel that I have been granted a second chance. I gave birth to a baby girl last year and am currently a stay-at-home mom.

Do you practice eco-living habits? If so, how?
I buy as much organic and natural foods as I can afford. I have been trying to cut down on GMO products such as soybean and corn. Currently, I am using Dr. Hauschka skincare products for my face, and A’kin products for my body. As a mom, I don’t mind hand-me-downs!

If there’s just ONE thing to do in your everyday life to save the planet, what would it be?
Stop using disposable diapers…but it is just too hard!

Thanks Fay 

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