A year ago, Nooridah Mohd Noor, then 36, was in disbelief when she was diagnosed with ‘triple negative’ breast cancer because there was no history of cancer in her family. Around the same time, she also found out she was pregnant with her second child. This good news was very much welcomed by her and her loved ones, but it intensified the uncertainty around how the pregnancy would affect her cancer therapy, and to what extent the cancer therapy would affect her baby.
The strong support that Nooridah received from her multidisciplinary breast care team at Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) came as a blessing during this dark period of her life. She was enrolled into SKH’s pre-operative programme that provides neo-adjuvant systemic chemotherapy that aims to shrink the tumour prior to surgery. She was very grateful that her medical oncologist Dr Ryan Tan patiently answered all her questions and the nurses gave her the emotional support needed to distract her from the discomfort caused by the medication. Chemotherapy allowed her cancer to rapidly shrink, and the mass completely disappeared by the halfway point of her treatment. Although many pregnant ladies undergo an uneventful process of pre-operative treatment, Nooridah experienced preterm labour, and her baby was delivered prematurely at 29 weeks of gestation.
“I was in the recovery bay after my surgery and my newborn baby was in the neonatal intensive care unit. I remember being very emotional and crying after regaining consciousness. My breast surgeon, Assistant Professor Sabrina Ngaserin, was with me, wiping away my tears,” shared Nooridah. “My experience taught me that the human body is resilient – to be able to grow a baby inside of me while undergoing chemotherapy, followed by breast conserving surgery right after delivery.” Fortunately, Nooridah’s son was discharged shortly after.
With her medical team’s support, Nooridah found the strength to beat her cancer and share her journey with others in the hope of helping them cope with their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment journey.
Fast forward to October this year, Nooridah, Asst Prof Sabrina and Dr Ryan Tan were part of the SKH’s ‘Pedal for Pink’ initiative to educate the community about breast cancer and raise funds to help fight the disease. Participants comprised the hospital’s multidisciplinary breast care team, breast cancer patients and survivors.
This initiative, anchored by a one-hour spin event, raised close to $6,000 for the SKH Better Health Fund in support of public education, patient care and research on breast cancer.
According to the Singapore Cancer Registry Annual Report 2019 published in January 2022, breast cancer is the most common cancer among females in Singapore and the top cause of cancer deaths among females. Between the years 2015 and 2019, 11,805 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed and was the cause of death in 2,208 women.
Early detection can help save lives
“Patients assume that they will not develop breast cancer if they do not have a family history. Some have the misconception that mammograms are bad and have too much radiation exposure. This is untrue; screening mammograms are safe and can help detect cancers early,” said Dr Tarun Mohan Mirpuri, who is a senior consultant breast radiologist at SKH and part of the Pedal for Pink team.
Offering words of reassurance, Nurse Clinician Wu Liping, who has been a specialised breast care nurse for seven years said, “Whether you are newly diagnosed, planning for surgery, have advanced breast or benign breast conditions, our team of breast care nurses will be there to provide guidance, support and counselling to patients and their families.”
As the Pedal for Pink initiative drew to a close on 30 November, Asst Prof Sabrina, who is heading the breast service at SKH, SingHealth Duke-NUS Breast Centre, shared three words for women in the community – Check, Screen and Detect.
“Take control of your narrative, and take charge of your life,” she emphasises.