Did you know that Cancer Survivors Month falls in June every year?
Cancer Survivors Month is a celebration of those who have survived cancer, while also serving as an inspiration to others who are going through their cancer journey.
According to Globocan 2020, there are over 128,000 patients who passed the five-year survival rate in Malaysia prevalent five-year cancer patients in Malaysia, but over the years, many have overcome their cancer and are living their best lives.
In fact, studies have shown that those who detected their colorectal cancer early have a five-year survival rate of 67.9%. That's why it's important to have regular checkups, in order to detect any health potential issues before they become a problem.
In conjunction with Cancer Survivors Month, we collaborated with AIA and spoke to a cancer survivor who shared her inspiring story:
Meet Dr Choo Mei Sze, a Youth Ambassador for the National Cancer Society of Malaysia, an entrepreneur, and a speaker. She is also a colorectal cancer survivor.
Dr Choo was diagnosed with colorectal cancer back in 2014, when the doctors found a malignant tumour in her colon.
Speaking to SAYS, she shared that she had always led a healthy lifestyle, and never expected that she would be hit with a serious illness.
In the lead up to her diagnosis, Dr Choo had minor symptoms such as the occasional diarrhoea and feeling fatigued after meals, but she attributed those symptoms to stress, in addition to her constant travelling to the US for her PhD.
"I was having symptoms like diarrhoea once a month. I was also losing weight though I was already very thin at that time. I lost about 1-2kg then, but I attributed that to stress," said Dr Choo.
When her diarrhoea became persistent, Dr Choo consulted two different general practitioners, both of which prescribed her medicine that did not work.
After three consecutive weeks of having diarrhoea, her father decided that it was time to take her to a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specialises in digestive health
The gastroenterologist first attributed her condition to H. Pylori, a type of invasive bacteria that lives in the stomach. But her father insisted on having a colonoscopy done to be certain of the cause of her persistent diarrhoea. That's when they discovered that there was a tumour in her colon.
Suspecting that the tumour may be malignant, her doctor conducted a biopsy, in which the results confirmed that the tumour was indeed cancerous.
Upon receiving the news, Dr Choo shared that she was in shock and disbelief, and simply couldn't register anything her doctor said after that.
"The doctor came in looking very worried. And I couldn't register anything else he said when I heard the word 'biopsy.' I was shocked. From H. Pylori and nothing, to possibly having cancer."
When asked about what were the available options to treat her cancer, Dr Choo shared that there was only one sure option – surgery.
Five days later, she underwent her surgery, which removed most of her rectum and 12cm of her colon.
The surgery was successful, but Dr Choo's battle was far from over
Little did she know that she had to wear a colostomy bag (an external plastic bag that collects faecal matters from the digestive system) for two months.
"When I woke up from sedation, there was something sticking out of my body, which was my intestine in a bag. So, in the hospital, it was still manageable because the nurses would help me change [the bag].
"I couldn't eat or drink anything because my tummy made noises. And basically, [I did] not move much, so that was still okay."
"But when I checked out, that's when it became serious. I had to change the bag on my own and tend to the wound by myself. That was the most difficult part. I couldn't change the bag for the first two weeks because my intestines were swollen."
At that time, Dr Choo's boyfriend (now husband) and her mother were there to help her out, but it was still challenging for all of them.
"It was very gross. Because you can't control what comes out. You cannot even control the sound."
To make things worse, the bag's adhesive did not stick to her stomach because she had rashes all over her skin. As a result, she would often wake up in the morning to a stained bed.
After her recovery from the first surgery, Dr Choo went through her second surgery to rejoin what was left of her rectum and colon
"That itself was another challenge. After the surgery, I had to readjust to new bowel movements, where I went to the toilet almost 20 times a day for over a year."
"So, I hardly went out. Or if I [did] go out, I went to places that had clean toilets."
Dr Choo shared that today, she still goes to the toilet about five times a day, a significant improvement from when she was recovering from her second surgery.
Now, she continues to lead a healthy lifestyle by being extremely careful with what she eats and working out five times a week.
"I would say I was living a healthy lifestyle before this, but I lead an even healthier life now. I also meditate every day to help me calm my mind."
When asked about what kept her going during her battle with cancer, Dr Choo shared that it was her motto, plus her loved ones who helped her power through
During her recovery from the first surgery, an incident with her boyfriend made her realise that in order to overcome her obstacle, she needed to accept her fate.
"I had an incident with my boyfriend. He tried to change the bag. By the third time, the faeces were on his hands and then he touched his nose. It was really gross. And the smell was really bad."
"That night, I remember crying and by the next day, I told myself, 'I'm gonna be stronger than I was yesterday.' And that motto helped me through the colossally bad period."
Dr Choo also shared that when it came to financial concerns, her insurance policy helped her greatly
As a cancer survivor, Dr Choo shared that her insurance policy is still beneficial and helpful, as she still needs to go for checkups every year, which racks her medical bills to up to RM15,000 a year.
"I cannot stress how important critical illness and medical protection is. I tell this to everyone I meet, especially younger people who don't have insurance. I stress the importance of it because you don't know what could happen in the future."
Since her recovery, Dr Choo has been living each day as it comes
She truly appreciates the people who support and care about her, and makes the effort to be grateful for everything around her, including the smallest things such as going out for a walk.
Married with no kids, Dr Choo also spends a lot of her time leading cancer support groups and organising talks for cancer patients.
Making it her mission to raise awareness on health and cancer, Dr Choo also gives speeches in universities and support groups, and has even represented the country in events overseas.
When the first Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented back in March last year, Dr Choo spearheaded her online talk show, Talking 'Life' with Mei Sze, where she conducted Q&A sessions with her followers. As time went by, she began to interview experts on various topics based on the theme of the month.
When asked to share her advice with everyone, Dr Choo said that acceptance is key.
"To everyone who is going through very difficult stages in their journey, [know that] acceptance is key. If you don't accept it or if you keep fighting it and asking 'Why me?', it will never help you get better. Accepting what you have helps you get better."
So, taking charge of your future is important. You may not know what the future holds, therefore it's never too early to be prepared for it.
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Find out more about AIA's Total Health Solution here
You can also find out more about Dr Choo Mei Sze by following her on Facebook and Instagram.
The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care.