SHE WAS ALSO CONFUSED AS TO WHY HER WAISTLINE WAS EXPANDING WHEN SHE WAS FOLLOWING A RIGOROUS EXERCISE REGIME. ON THE DAY BEFORE HER SON’S FOURTH BIRTHDAY, SHE HAD SOME TESTS CARRIED OUT TO FIND OUT IF HER DIET WAS TO BLAME. TEN HOURS LATER HER WORLD WAS
“It’s the stuff of nightmares,” Ross-tse says of that day in June 2010. “One day you’re happily planning your child’s birthday party and the next you’re looking death in the face. Cancer really is the silent killer. I had no inkling as to what was going on inside me. I assumed I was tired because of all the exercise I was doing, and it was mainly vanity at my changing body shape that drove me to the doctor. But I’ll never forget the look on the radiologist’s face when she was performing a standard ultrasound on my tummy—she stopped still and said she needed to call the head of radiology immediately. That was when I knew something was wrong.”
The head of radiology identified a large mass on Ross-tse’s liver—hence her expanding waistline—and sent her for MRI and CT scans as well as numerous blood tests, at which point Ross-tse’s husband, Nissim, arrived to support his wife. She had been at the hospital since 7am but it wasn’t until 5pm that her doctor finally uttered the word they had dreaded hearing all day. “As soon as I heard him say ‘cancer’, I felt my knees buckle and my whole body go cold,” says Ross-tse. “And then I turned to Nissim and saw his face was wet with tears.”
Ross-tse went back into hospital the next day for an eight-hour operation, during which two-thirds of her liver was removed. With her children Zara and Zach just six and four at the time, Ross-tse was determined to keep the atmosphere as calm as possible. So despite their own fears, she asked her parents and close friends, including Su Lee Chen, to celebrate Zach’s birthday with him and 20 of his kindergarten friends. “My children were very young and there wasn’t enough time to explain the severity of the situation to them,” says Ross-tse. “I’m so grateful to my family and friends for putting their own worries aside and helping my kids get through that difficult day. As I was wheeled into the operating theatre I kept saying to myself, ‘It’s my son’s birthday. I can’t die today and leave him with that legacy’.”
The post-operative period was a tense time for Ross-tse and her family and friends as they waited to hear if the surgeons had managed to remove all the cancerous cells from her liver and, more importantly, whether the cancer had spread to other parts of her body. As with many liver cancer patients, Ross-tse was unable to have chemotherapy because her liver was too weak to process the powerful drugs that would flood her body. This meant that if the cancer had spread, her chances of survival would be slim to none.
“About three days after the operation, I was lying on my hospital bed with my husband and parents around me, and the doctor came in to tell us the cancer was still stage one, meaning it hadn’t spread anywhere else in my body. Our nurse actually burst into tears, quickly followed by my mother and me. Other than the births of my children, I think it was probably the happiest moment of my life.”
A relieved Ross-tse then turned her focus to the recovery process so her damaged liver could regenerate itself. The first few months were hard. She was constantly exhausted and needed to monitor her diet very closely to ensure she was only eating chemical-free, fat-