Breast Cancer. We’ve heard about it countless times, with its pink ribbon symbol as a sign of solidarity with the breast cancer patients who were and are in the battle, fighting courageously. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve spoken to a survivor from the Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF), Roslina Manaf, a brave mother of 3, who spent two years battling Breast Cancer since 2015.
Q: Could you introduce yourself and share with us your experience as a breast cancer survivor? How many treatments have you undergone and how has breast cancer changed your life, down to the little details of your daily routines?
A : I’m Roslina Manaf. A wife, mother of 3 teenagers and had a career of 21 years in Human Resources before I resigned in 2017 to focus on coaching and sharing Low Carb Lifestyle. I was diagnosed with breast cancer (Her2-Positive, Stage 1, Grade 3) back in 2015.
Roslina shared her breast cancer journey with us:
- 2015 – Roslina was diagnosed with Her2+ Breast Cancer (Stage 1, Grade 3)
- 12th December 2015 – Roslina underwent a Lumpectomy to remove a tumour from her right breast at Pantai Hospital.
- January 2016 – April 2016 - Roslina went through a few Chemotherapy sessions to treat her breast cancer.
- April 2016 - Roslina had radiation therapy too, a treatment that uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.
- June 2016 - Roslina went through a Hormone Therapy for breast cancer patients called Herceptin; an intravenous drug that is part of a chemotherapy regimen that’s used to prevent breast cancer from recurring.
- 2017 – Healing Year
Q: What helped you to stay positive throughout your entire cancer journey? What were your challenges during your battle?
A : Chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy took about a year to complete. I’m truly grateful to have had doctors and caregivers who were supportive and compassionate throughout my journey. Subsequent scans showed that I was in remission. 2021 is my 5th year of remission.
Back then, I served as a Geo Market Human Resources Manager for an Oil & Gas company. My responsibilities included managing projects and people. Having to cope with the inability to express my thoughts clearly (Chemo brain) was truly heartbreaking, I also suffered from bronchitis and incontinence.
On days when I was too weak to even walk, my husband supported me during our strolls around the neighbourhood together. Daily walks were not easy due to body weakness and fatigue, but I was determined to regain my strength.
My biggest supporter was my family who gave me the courage to keep me going.
Q: Breast cancer often carries negative connotations from society as it’s always deemed as a deadly disease in which the patients would always hear sympathetic tones from other people that will then bring their spirits down. What do you think about these connotations?
A : If previously we were too busy with work, our priority will certainly change once we are diagnosed with cancer. Being given the gift of a second chance at life has inspired me to make every single day count and I’m sure it’s the same for other cancer patients and survivors. We learn to live with very little but a more meaningful life.
I think breast cancer survivors are not asking for sympathy, instead, they’re seeking to be understood. We can have cancer but still be contributing members of a company or society. It’s important that companies are not afraid to hire employees who are in cancer remission.
During my treatments, I kept my circle of family and friends very small as I wanted to focus on getting better. There were many people who meant well but I found myself feeling very sensitive thus fragile, emotionally. I’d rather focus my energy on rebuilding strength than entertaining society's expectations of how I should behave.
Q: As a breast cancer survivor, what message of hope would you like to share to those patients who are currently battling breast cancer?
A : Breast cancer is not an end but rather a new beginning of self-discovery. The key to recovery is not only taking care of ourselves physically but, safeguarding our mental health too. Allow yourself time to grieve and then take action. ‘Ikhtiar’ (Make efforts) as much as you can by doing research, talking to other survivors and then taking action based on what you know. Then, ‘tawakkal’ (trusting in God's plan) by making prayers and letting the burden lift off your shoulders, spiritually.
After that, whatever the outcome might be, ‘Redha’ (the act of accepting everything that has happened wholeheartedly). Accept and believe that it is the best for us and there’s a blessing for everything that had happened to us.
Q: We always see breast cancer self-check exam guides all over the internet, even in the newspaper and magazines, but there are still those who refuse to self-check, maybe because they’re afraid that they might have breast cancer. Or maybe they did notice changes but refused to get checked because of the same reason. What would you like to tell these ladies?
A : I found out I had breast cancer stage 1 during a yearly medical check-up. I was lucky to have discovered it early. Unfortunately, I was told that many people discovered they had cancer during Stage 2 or 3. Early intervention saves lives. Ignorant is never bliss. If we feel pain or some abnormalities on our breasts, please get a checkup immediately. Acknowledging it is the first step to treatment.
Q: The Star made an article back in May 2021 about the new breast cancer treatment that possibly could double the chances of survival for advanced cancer patients. How do you think this will affect breast cancer patients in the coming future?
A : I am grateful and thankful for the new treatment and I know this will certainly bring a lot of hope to people. I hope the treatment is less abrasive, cheaper, more targeted and has fewer side effects; thus reducing the fear of going through cancer treatment. I remember one of my fears of undergoing chemotherapy was losing hair. It is such a strong physical side effect that it’s almost synonymous with all chemo patients.
Q: To have cancer is already daunting, but to deal with the fact that your loved one has breast cancer, is super heartbreaking. What would you like to tell the caretakers so they can help assist the patient for a smoother breast cancer treatment journey?
A : The caretakers and caregivers are the unsung heroes. I am deeply indebted to all the nurses, doctors and my family who in their own way have helped ease my wellness journey. They were kind, supportive but never intrusive and were very detrimental in my recovery.
Sometimes, support can come in many forms, it can be something as simple as letting me know that the house and children are well taken care of. As mothers, we worry about our children and family, so to have family coming in and helping to support us during this period is very crucial.
It’s important to limit visitors to let ourselves rest. During the treatment and recovery process, we will be tired, very sensitive and some might fall into depression. Find ways to cheer them up. As for myself, I watched a lot of comedy and happy shows to uplift my spirits.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer is very terrifying and it’s indeed one hell of a journey. To our brave fighters who are still fighting the disease, we wish you nothing but a whole load of strength and encouragement the universe has to offer. You got this.
As for our loved ones whose beautiful souls are lost from breast cancer, we’re sending you all of our love and we would like to thank you for your bravery in battling this silent disease. You will forever be remembered as brave angels in our hearts.