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Friday, March 13, 2009

Nellie Tan ~ An Inspiration To 'Beat Cancer'


Nellie Tan, 42, had just returned from a short getaway in 2006 when she felt a slight discomfort in her stomach.

The doctor suspected urinary tract infection, and Nellie, an executive secretary in a bank, didn't think much about it.

Then, things got worse.

"It started with a cramp attack, which lasted for about 10 minutes," she recalls. "I was unable to move, felt faint and broke out in a cold sweat."

A week later, she had another attack.

Nellie consulted a gynaecologist. An ultrasound scan revealed a 10-cm tumour overlapping her right ovary. Additional scans confirmed that the tumour was likely to be cancerous.

It was a day she will never forget.

"The doctor asked that we consider immediate surgery to remove not just the ovaries but also the fallopian tubes and the womb – a total hysterectomy!" she recalls.

"My mind was spinning. How could this be?" she adds. "Just three weeks ago, I was enjoying the cool mountain air of beautiful Cameron Highlands. Now, I'm in the clutches of cancer."

Despite her emotional turmoil, Nellie agreed to the surgery at once, and she was rolled into the operating theatre the next day. It went smoothly, but tests revealed she had stage 3 cancer.

She was given a 30 per cent chance of survival.

Finding hope

At the same time, Nellie's husband George Lee came across a book that "changed their lives".

Written by the medical director of Parkway Cancer Centre and senior consultant medical oncologist Dr Ang Peng Tiam, it was titled "Doctor, I have cancer. Can you help me?"

During a period when they desperately needed strength, Dr Ang's book – filled with hope and information on how even the most aggressive cancers can be stopped from spreading and perhaps even cured – provided it.

"The book put it all together for me, from what others have had to go through to what expectations I should carry with me as I walked down this warpath," says Nellie.

"I was going to try to be as positive as I could and if mind over matter had anything to do with it, I would give it a good try!" she remembers telling herself.

They went to Dr Ang and Nellie started chemotherapy. The next three months proved to be draining and filled with sleepless nights, but she remained positive and emerged from her sixth and last chemotherapy session relieved and excited, eagerly anticipating the final results of the treatment.

On 16 June, 2006, as Nellie and hubby held hands in front of Dr Ang, he revealed her PET scan results: Her cancer was in full remission.

Sharing her strength

Remembering how the book and experiences of others gave them hope, Nellie and George started a cancer blog titled "Beating Cancer Now!: 10 Things We Did Right".

Their blog can be found at http://beatcancer10.blogspot.com/

The project, kicked off in part to give her something to focus on during her chemotherapy days, also aims to get women to "listen to their body" and help others hit with ovarian cancer know that it's not the end of the world.

And when she was asked to appear on Channel NewsAsia's "A Journey of Hope" – a television programme on cancer survivors – last year, Nellie agreed.

"After watching the episode in full, I was glad I plucked up the courage," she says.

"The message on ovarian cancer must be told to more women. Only with an increase in awareness, can this insidious cancer be minimised, if not stopped."

Since then, Nellie has gone on to scale new heights, including climbing the Great Wall of China with her mother and her sister – also a cancer survivor – by her side.

She also quit her banking job and started her own business, a childcare centre, in April 2007. She now runs two branches, and loves her work and the 150 children under their care.

Three years on, Nellie says the cancer chapter has taught her to appreciate life, living it to the full and without fear.

"It has made me stronger as a person because there is nothing in this world that I cannot tackle if I can fight cancer," she says. "Even if a relapse were to happen, I will simply continue to stay strong and positive to fight it again."

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