Breast cancer survivor urges young Malaysian women to be vigilant

No one in her family had ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. So, when Afzan Adziz’s doctor told her she had Stage 2 breast cancer, she was in shock. She was just 31 at the time and her youngest child was only a year old.

“I was still breastfeeding my daughter and that’s when I noticed the lump. When you are breastfeeding, you sometimes do develop tender lumps in the breast but this one seemed firmer, so I decided to get it checked.

“When the doctor delivered the diagnosis. everything went blank in my mind. I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I decided to watch a movie. I watched Ip Man 3, which wasn’t such a great idea because at the end of the film, the main character’s wife dies of cancer,” says Afzan, 36.

Her biggest concern was whether she would be around for her children.

“That scared me but it also gave me the motivation to get better, I was going to fight this and if something happens, at least I would have died trying,” says the courageous mother of three who works in Star Media Group’s Revenue department.

With the support of her family and friends, Afzan started her cancer journey. The first step was her mastectomy.

“I opted for a mastectomy and I did a breast reconstruction surgery immediately. My doctor did a really good job as it looks quite natural. After a month to recover, I started chemotherapy. That was hard. I was nauseous and couldn’t eat anything. I couldn’t even hold down water. The pail was my constant companion as I kept throwing up,” she says.

Afzan Adziz.

Losing her hair was also more difficult than she imagined it would be.

“I thought it would be no big deal. After all, hair will grow back. But when I saw the first clump of hair fall off ... I was a little traumatised. I decided that I wasn’t going to be traumatised each time that happened and so I shaved my head clean. I was bald for four months but it wasn’t that bad,” she says.

What was particularly hard was being unable to spend as much time as she would have liked with her children who were six, two and one. Thankfully, says Afzan, she had tremendous support from her family.

“I could not have done it without them. You think that because they are small, they won’t realise what’s going on but they do. My eldest girl was six at the time and once, when I sent her to kindergarten, the teacher said that she’d been crying in school. That was heartbreaking. I had no clue how upset she was because at home, she seemed fine. Once again, it made me determined to fight it,” says Afzan.

It has been three years since her diagnosis and Afzan is in tiptop shape, though she still has to be on medication for 10 years and go for routine check-ups every six months. As tough as it was, she says that cancer has made her appreciate life more. Afzan joined a young cancer survivor’s support group and is keen to share her experience with other women, particularly young women, to raise awareness about early detection.

“If you feel something and are not sure, go get it checked. Don’t wait. Finding out you have cancer is scary but if you don’t check early it will be a lot scarier. I also want to dispel the negative image people have about having a mastectomy. I have spoken to many women who don’t want to have a mastectomy because they fear their husbands will leave them.

“I knew a woman who opted not to have a mastectomy because of that and and unfortunately, her cancer spread and she passed away. My advice is for women to do what’s best for themselves. Surely, your husband should love you for more than your breasts,” Afzan asserts.

Afzan is also a huge advocate for peer support groups for survivors and women and men who have been diagnosed. It’s so they can have access to a safe space to share and express their fears and concerns and also gain tips to help them along their journey.

Her other piece of advice to young women is to make sure they are insured.

“Many young women wait to sign up for a health or insurance policy. You think you have time but you never know. You are never too young to buy insurance for yourself. Cancer clearly isn’t something that only affects older people and once you are diagnosed, you will no longer be able to get insured,” she says.

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