WHEN Mandy Lee Fei Mien received her a cancer diagnosis –for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – in 2014, she was actually relieved as it brought to end months of worry and uncertainty over her health.
She was in her second year of medical school when she began experiencing symptoms, but she did not expect anything serious.
“Growing up, I had asthma and eczema but I did not see this coming, ” she said.
Then she discovered a lump the size of a ping pong ball on her neck when she was 21 years old and went to see the doctor who did some tests.
She said it was agonising to wait for the report that took two weeks.
“I just needed to know what it was.
“I was relieved because it was not terminal, and I wanted to get through this and continue with medical school, ” she recalled.
Lee took the news well and even told her mother on the way home from hospital that she wanted to shave her head bald.
“My dad supported my decision, but my mother was hesitant.
“I could not deal with hair fall and bald spots, ” she said.
Lymphoma, which is divided into Hodgkin’s Disease (HD) and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), is a cancer of the lymphatic system that comprises lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, chest, abdomen and groin.
Lee was happy to know that the cancer could be treated easily with chemotherapy, but her path to recovery was not smooth sailing.
“Unfortunately, my cancer grew and gained resistance despite the chemo, which surprised the doctors because a majority of patients responded fairly well to the chemo.
“I was told that I fell into the unlucky 10%, ” she said.
In 2016, Lee was given less than two months to live, but she persevered and defied all odds.
Three years ago, she was terminally ill, but thanks to the latest medical advancement in immunotherapy treatments, her chances of a full recovery are higher today.
“I never thought I would face mortality in my 20s, and this shook me to my core.
“I thought of my parents because this was not fair to them. They are still fighting for me, ” she said.
However, immunotherapy treatments are not yet widely available in Malaysia.
Despite the huge costs that could amount to over RM1mil, Lee started her treatment in World Medical Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand.
It will take 12 weeks in total, and she is currently halfway through.
“It doesn’t end here, I still need follow-up treatment. I am willing to try this out, ” she said in a long-distance call with StarMetro.
She had just finished a session at the hospital and remained upbeat throughout the interview.
Her confident doctors gave her hope, she said.
“I’m grateful to have supportive doctors, but it is pointless if the patient has no will power to live. We need to help ourselves too, ” she said.
Lee aspires to be a doctor focusing on emergency medicine or a surgeon.
“I like the adrenaline rush and the thrill. I am going to be a better doctor because of this experience, ” she said.
As if undergoing cancer treatment and worrying about finances were not enough, Lee lately received news that scammers had impersonated her to cheat donors.
“A friend came across a Facebook post by accident.
“I was about to sleep when I received her text. I was in such shock, ” she said.
She discovered that unscrupulous people had stolen her photos and set up a Facebook account in Chinese using the name “Kimberly”.
“On Feb 28, these imposters created a fake Facebook account with my photos and cancer story taken from my fundraising page.
“They also provided a website with a bank account number for the public to donate. This went viral over the weekend, ” she revealed.
Some of Lee’s friends even thought she had created the page for people who read Chinese.
“People were commenting and sharing the post, and those who had donated attached their transaction slips in the comments.
“I almost cried and I felt violated because they were my photos and story, ” said Lee, who had to stop her cancer treatment and return to Malaysia to lodge a police report.
She emailed the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and the bank.
However, it was a weekend and the fake Facebook page continued to circulate, attracting donations from unsuspecting people.
Lee said many were confused who the real cancer patient was.
“On March 2, the bank’s Cyber Fraud Security team informed us that the bank account had been blocked.
“MCMC also took down the Facebook page, but by then the damage was done.”
She said this has led to people losing confidence in making donations.
“I’m not angry at scammers, I just feel sad for the donors. It was a traumatic experience, ” she added.
Lee explained that she had only sought donations via crowdfunding platform GIVE.Asia, and was endorsed by National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM).
Despite what she has been through, Lee does not see cancer as something awful.
“It sounds like a cliche, but I feel it is a blessing in disguise as it has taught me so much.
“I have been put in a challenging place that has completely shifted my perspective.
“I was a high achiever and used to be a perfectionist, but this cancer has made me take a step back and think about how to live my life.
“It has taught me that we are not immortal, and suffering is inevitable, ” she said.
Over the past six years, Lee has learned to live with cancer.
“I do better when I give myself more love, instead of whining about my situation. It is important to earn from experience, and never say you cannot do it.”
Finding joy in simple things in life makes her happy now.
“I feel happy when I have good sleep, a good meal and good blood results, ” she said, adding that making sugar-free and gluten-free whole food was one of her favourite pastimes.
She also enjoys music and socialising, and the love from those around her keeps her going.
“My dad is retired and looks after me in Bangkok 24/7.
“My mother is a teacher and the sole breadwinner of the family. I have two younger sisters. This has brought everyone closer, ” she said.
Lee wants to be remembered as the girl who tried her best.
For details of Lee’s ongoing fundraising campaign visit https://give.asia/campaign/help-mandy-lee-fight-against-aggressive-cancer-7829
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