Maggie's in the News - Survivor counts her blessings

The Standard - Carain Yeung 03-01-2017

Cancer has made one survivor think twice about her priorities - never ignore your health.

"After chemotherapy, my eyebrows are still not growing very well," said Wan Lai-hing, a volunteer at Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre who waged a two- year battle against breast cancer.

"See my brows? I learned how to draw it in a workshop [at the center]."

Wan or "Wan Hing" (warm), as her friends call her, is all cheerful and passionate now.

But she said she was so devastated when she was diagnosed with HER2- positive breast cancer - one of the most malignant types.

"It was August 2, 2013. A very memorable day," she said. At that time, she thought to herself: "Why is Jesus playing such a big joke on me?"

The next thing she knew, she was told she had to undergo mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which were alien terms to her.

"My doctor told me 'radiotherapy is radiotherapy. Chemotherapy involves the injection of chemicals into your body to fight cancer.' But this is a very incomplete answer," Wan said, adding she was clueless about what was ahead of her.

Wan was close to retirement when she was diagnosed. And not being able to take care of herself was her biggest fear.

Her husband had not yet retired, and the couple initially kept the news from their son and daughter-in-law in Australia, fearing that they would worry too much. She only told them about her condition after she had surgery.

Chemotherapy was the toughest part of the journey, Wan said, adding she was lucky to be showered with love and care by her friends and family. They were the "angels" in her life who "took care of chores and prayed" for her.

She said surviving breast cancer made her reset her priorities and let go of certain fears.

Earlier in her childhood education career, in which she worked her way up to an executive position, Wan had almost never taken sick leave.

"We want to achieve higher, or we have certain goals in our career path. But as we dash toward our goals, we also have to take good care of our body," Wan said, hoping her advice would reach other career-driven women.

"What I have learned is also to keep a positive outlook in life. Everyone here at Maggie's is very positive," she said.

Wan said she feels blessed that sharing her experience lights up the lives of other patients at Maggie's, the same way the experiences of other volunteers once helped her with her worries and questions about cancer treatments.

Cancer isn't scary at all if you get the right help, she has told cancer patients.

She said her views about death also changed.

"Death used to be terrifying to me. Now I think it doesn't matter how long you live, but if you make the most out of it."