Foo Choon Mei was only 39 when she thought he had overcome breast cancer, only to receive a second diagnosis a year later.

Chemist, Foo Choon Mei, was just 39 when an ultrasound scan offered by her employer picked up a lump in her left breast. Upon receiving the ultrasound scan results, she was referred to a specialist, a breast surgeon, who thought her condition was benign as she could not feel the lump when palpating her breast.

However, a bedside ultrasound scan confirmed the presence of an irregularly-shaped solid lump, and Choon Mei was sent to undergo a lumpectomy.

“Thankfully, the cancer had been detected early so I was not required to undergo chemotherapy. To prevent the cancer from recurring, I underwent 33 sessions of radiotherapy over two months,” she shared.

A second blow

Choon Mei’s relief was short-lived. A suspicious lump was detected in her right breast when she underwent a routine mammogram screening a year later.

Her surgeon recommended she undergo a biopsy, where a sample of the tumour’s tissue was extracted for testing. Two days after the biopsy, the clinic delivered the news she had Stage I breast cancer.

“My second diagnosis shattered me,” Choon Mei shared. “I broke down in tears. I just couldn’t handle the fact I got cancer again, and just a year after I had recovered.”

More treatments

Choon Mei underwent another lumpectomy which removed the tumour from her right breast. She also underwent the oncotype DX test, a test that predicts how likely breast cancer is to spread to a different location in the body within 10 years of diagnosis, to determine if she required further treatments.

The test results showed that Choon Mei had oestrogen-and progesterone-positive breast cancer and a cancer recurrence score of 19, putting her on the cusp between the low and intermediate risk categories. As her score was off by only one point, her oncologist said she could decide if she wanted to undergo chemotherapy or not.

“After weighing the pros and cons, I opted against chemo as I did not want the potential side effects to affect my quality of life,” she shared. Instead, she underwent daily radiation treatments for 33 days. To reduce the likelihood of the cancer recurring, she was put on tamoxifen, an oral medication used to control the body’s hormone production.

Following the lumpectomy, she experienced side effects such as swelling in her right armpit, while the radiation had caused her skin to feel raw and itchy. She returned to her surgeon to drain the fluid that caused the swelling, and kept the raw and itchy area moisturised.

Fortunately, Choon Mei had the support of her family, friends and colleagues during this trying period. “My younger sister has been my biggest cheerleader and pillar of support. When I was receiving cancer treatment, my mother cooked my meals, and reminded me I am a survivor when things seemed unbearable. My colleagues helped with my workload while I was on medical leave for my surgeries,” she shared.

Paying it forward

Choon Mei was considered cancer-free after completing her radiation treatments. She now pays more attention to her diet and lifestyle than before she was diagnosed with cancer.

“I try to consume organic food and free-range meats, which I obtain from a supplier. I have also taken up ‘floatfit HIIT’, a high-intensity aquarobics workout, and trampolining to boost my cardiopulmonary health,” she shares.

In her effort to give back to other cancer patients and survivors, Choon Mei participates in the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) volunteer programmes, such as Knit for Hope, which produces hats for cancer patients, and Recital of Joy’s ukulele classes.

“I’m glad the NCSS volunteer programmes and activities are open even for patients who were not treated at NCCS, like me, so we can support more people afflicted by this deadly disease,” says Choon Mei.


Photo courtesy of Foo Choon Mei