For Breast Can­cer Aware­ness this month, we ex­plore the re­la­tion­ship strain be­tween hus­band and wife when faced with this dis­ease

Marie Claire (Malaysia) - - Contents -

With easy to fol­low mul­ti­me­dia breast can­cer aware­ness campaigns ev­ery­where, women have been pay­ing closer at­ten­tion to the im­por­tance of early de­tec­tion. For Fara Aida, it was in­stinct. Her voice fell to a whis­per when I asked her about the first time she dis­cov­ered she had breast can­cer. “You know your body. I had fever, coughs, and a sore throat. I was grow­ing thin­ner,” Fara says. “That was when I de­cided to go for a checkup.” She went to a hos­pi­tal for a di­ag­no­sis and first opin­ion – the doc­tors dis­cov­ered a cyst. By Daphne Ng

“It took me a few months to break the news to my mother,” Fara re­calls. “Moth­ers will al­ways worry about their chil­dren. I wanted to break the news to her prop­erly – give her prepa­ra­tion and time to cool down. I didn’t want her to worry.” Un­der­stand­ably, her mother was anx­ious, and it took Fara some­time to re­as­sure her. “It’s how you ex­plain your sit­u­a­tion to them. Take as long as you need to think about it: from one week to a month, or even longer, as long as you re­main level-headed.”

With fam­ily also comes well-meant ad­vice, but more of­ten

than not, it does more harm than help. For two years, Fara strayed from what the doc­tor ad­vised. “She was scared when the doc­tor rec­om­mended chemo­ther­apy. It was prob­a­bly the way the doc­tor broke the news,” Fara’s hus­band Redza says. “The doc­tor of the first hos­pi­tal they vis­ited spooked her with vivid de­scrip­tions of chemo­ther­apy. She was ter­ri­fied,” he re­calls the mo­ment Fara broke down. “She came back from the di­ag­no­sis – I had just came back from work, and she started cry­ing and talk­ing about how she did not want to un­dergo chemo­ther­apy.”

That was when their dis­agree­ments started. Redza was in­sis­tent that Fara un­dergo chemo­ther­apy, but Fara, after lis­ten­ing to one too many hor­ror sto­ries, felt strongly against the treat­ment. Instead, she turned to herbal reme­dies. Redza played the part of a sup­port­ing spouse by fi­nally ac­cept­ing her de­ci­sion. He pro­vided her with the moral sup­port she needed, but deep down in­side, he was wor­ried. “Ev­ery day I was liv­ing in fear – the fear of wak­ing up and not sure if I’d find my wife…” Redza trails off. “It’s an eerie feel­ing. I never want ex­pe­ri­ence that with Fara again. Ours was not a normal life.”

“Fara can be very ded­i­cated to some­thing once she sets her mind on it.” says Redza who thinks that as a spouse, he needs to act as a hu­man strain to fil­ter all the in­for­ma­tion or ad­vice given to the both of them re­gard­ing can­cer. He also be­lieves in ed­u­cat­ing one­self as much as pos­si­ble – con­stant read­ing and re­search­ing helped. The cou­ple poured over books and ar­ti­cles about herbal medicine. It came to a point when Redza felt him­self swayed to be­lieve in the won­ders of herbal medicine.

However in the span of those two years, the can­cer hit stage four. “The fever lapsed, but the tu­mours were still grow­ing,” says Fara. When she dis­cov­ered the tu­mours were spread­ing to her back, she de­cided to make a change. They vis­ited Dr Azura Rozila Ah­mad of Bea­con In­ter­na­tional Spe­cial­ist Cen­ter. This time around, Fara had her mind set on clin­i­cal treat­ment. She took a PET scan. Sur­pris­ingly, the lumps were all sur­face wounds – and it had only spread to a small part in her lungs. “If the lump is can­cer­ous, it shows up in the PET scan as an orange cyst,” Fara ex­plains. It wasn’t too se­ri­ous. Whether it was the herbal medicine or her pos­i­tive out­look, Fara con­sid­ers her­self lucky.

Chemo­ther­apy re­mains one of the most com­mon post­di­ag­nose treat­ments. Fara took a month to pre­pare for the big step to­wards chemo­ther­apy. She re­ceived her fair share of ad­vice from fam­ily mem­bers and friends about the side ef­fects of chemo­ther­apy, which only served to con­fused, frus­trated, and de­mor­alised her. “Don’t lis­ten to the in­ex­pe­ri­enced. Lis­ten to your­self. You’re the pa­tient, you’re the one suf­fer­ing, you’re the one mak­ing the choice about your body.” Dur­ing chemo­ther­apy, she says the best thing to do is to fo­cus on the treat­ment. In a way, it’s like rip­ping off a band aid. “Don’t think about it. Don’t dwell too much on what it’s going to be like, how weak your body is going to be. Fo­cus on do­ing things that you en­joy.”

Thanks to wide­spread film and tele­vi­sion, the com­mon side ef­fects of chemo­ther­apy are known to many – par­tic­u­larly the per­sis­tent feel­ing of be­ing phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally, and men­tally ex­hausted. This was not the case for Fara. “After her first chemo ses­sion, she asked me to bring her out to the mall for shop­ping,” Redza re­calls as Fara cracks a smile. “Just last week, we went to Port Dick­son for pad­dle board­ing!” Redza pulls up a photo he snapped of Fara – all smiles dressed in a wet­suit, next to a pad­dle board planted head-first in the sand on the beach. You would never have guessed she was un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy. I learn that she is an ac­tive out­door en­thu­si­ast –her favourite past times in­clude kayak­ing, swim­ming, hik­ing, and yoga.

To date, Fara has com­pleted her sev­enth chemo­ther­apy ses­sion. The cou­ple has big­ger plans for their pad­dle board­ing jour­ney. “We’re going to pad­dle board from Marang to Ka­pas,” Redza says, re­fer­ring to the town and is­land in Tereng­ganu. “I’m going to film it, up­load it onto YouTube – we want to be an in­spi­ra­tion to can­cer pa­tients and sur­vivors.”

Oc­to­ber is Breast Can­cer Aware­ness Month. Visit our web­site www.marieclaire.com.my for an in­ter­view with on­col­o­gist Dr Azura Rozila Ah­mad of Bea­con In­ter­na­tional Spe­cial­ist Cen­ter as she shares her point of view and dis­pels com­mon mis­con­cep­tions about chemo­ther­apy.

She started cry­ing and talk­ing about how she did not want to un­dergo chemo­ther­apy. Ev­ery day I was liv­ing in fear – the fear of wak­ing up and not sure if I’d find my wife…

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