Positive Transformations - Joanne Yeung
Anyone who has undergone breast cancer treatment, or been close to someone who has, knows how challenging it can be. For many women, it’s not only the physical effects but the emotional and aesthetic side effects that can also have a huge impact on well-being and self-confidence.
It is an experience with which Joanne Yeung is all too familiar. In 2003, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer at the age of 33……
“I couldn’t believe that I had cancer, I was in my early thirties and I hadn’t really thought that it could happen to me. I think I am like many women in Hong Kong in that I knew of breast cancer but I didn’t go out of my way to be proactive and check. I found a hard lump by chance when was showering. My diagnosis was devastating and a real shock. I thought breast cancer was something that happened to other people, and to women much older than me.”
Joanne was treated at the Prince of Wales Hospital where she underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiology.
Survival was only half the battle. The treatment impacted her physical appearance and well-being. It stole her hair, breasts and body confidence. These changes were especially challenging for someone young who was concerned about her femininity and desirability.
Joanne continues, “I felt really sorry for myself. I felt unlucky and that it was all so unfair. But after a week of feeling like this, I knew I had to pull myself up and get out of this negative mindset.”
She reflects that after her second session of chemotherapy, her hair started falling out in clumps - “That’s when I decided to take control and shave it all off.” Soon after, she looked at her naked body in front of a full-length mirror. It was there on the spot that she challenged herself to change her attitude, see herself as a beautiful woman, and perceive the experience positively. She prayed that her outlook would improve and be even better than before her diagnosis.
“I had an honest conversation with myself. I agreed to learn to love my body again, and promised to become a better person inside and out.”
Joanne realised that accepting her new body and coming to terms with cancer would be a process. She joined a number of CancerLink workshops – from music therapy to relationship and beauty classes – to help empower herself, communicate better and improve her self-image.
Ten years on, she has transformed into a healthy, confident woman and volunteers at CancerLink, nurturing hope and inspiring courage in hundreds of other women. She says that her cancer journey has made her a better person - she’s more patient, positive, kinder and strong.
“You’ve got to make the most of what you are dealt with in life; how well you live it and what you do with your time here is important. I’ve learnt so much about myself during my journey and I see so many positive transformations. I used to be short tempered and worried about the small things, now I know how valuable family and relationships are, and that showing kindness to others is a real gift. In terms of my appearance, I’ve actually had more compliments on how I look now than ever before!”
“I think it’s so important to have the support of your friends and peers around you. That’s why CancerLink was so good for me. It encouraged me to be positive and helped me through. You have to be brave, strong and have a positive attitude; it’s essential when facing something like cancer.”
She adds, “Five years ago, I walked by a tattoo shop and suddenly decided I wanted one! I chose to have an image of a butterfly on my back. It serves as a reminder that I am a survivor and that, as a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, I too have transformed. My life is more beautiful than before.”
Joanne is taking part in Hong Kong Cancer Fund’s Pink Revolution by telling her story to raise breast cancer awareness and remind women that “checking your breasts regularly could save your life.”
“Medicine is never as healing as words of encouragement,” Josephine Tsang
Josephine is a typical Hong Kong working mother. She works from nine to six during the day, returning home from the office to look after her two children. The family of four lives happily together. But unlike most Hong Kong women, the 39-year-old has to be health-conscious these days. She undergoes a body check every year and has gotten into the routine of checking her breasts daily. She learned that a simple self-examination could detect her breast cancer in its early stages, saving her from unnecessary suffering. It has been two years since her diagnosis and we are delighted that she is recovering well.
In November, 2013, Josephine felt a painless lump on her left breast while in the bath. The next day her doctor diagnosed her with stage-two breast cancer. “I broke down. I asked “Why me?” My kids were still young so dying was not an option!” Josephine refused to give in. She resigned from her job and began treatment immediately.
Josephine had a mastectomy at Tung Wah Hospital, followed by chemotherapy. During her treatment, she learnt about Hong Kong Cancer Fund online. She registered as a CancerLink user and enjoyed taking part in its free workshops and wellness programmes. She also made friends with a group of breast cancer survivors who supported one another throughout their cancer journeys.
“Facing cancer is challenging. At first it was difficult sharing my feelings with other people, but I was glad to meet a group of young breast cancer survivors, who were similar in age, at CancerLink. We meet often and have a group chat. We support each other and can talk about everything. If one person hasn’t show up for some time, we check in with them, and express our concern. Medicine is never as healing as words of encouragement. Even today, we still meet up every month.”
Josephine has not only gained valuable friendships through CancerLink, she also learned how to cope with breast cancer, treatment and its side effects. She was proactive in joining workshops and wellness programmes including a breast cancer sharing group, yoga and baking classes and learned how to make her own soap and lip gloss, which lightened her spirits during treatment.
Josephine can’t speak highly enough of CancerLink’s diverse services, “As the activities were free, I could enroll in different workshops without added financial concern. For those who are not physically able to join workshops, CancerLink also serves as a relaxing area for them to relax and share feelings with one another.”
Josephine added, “All CancerLink programmes are tailored for clients with cancer. Let’s take yoga class as an example – our yoga teacher understands our physical constraints and guides us according to our specific needs. I really enjoyed the family camp and photo shoot session with my husband and kids. My daughter even joined a Rainbow Club dance class which she loved. We were all grateful to have the full support of CancerLink.”
Although breast cancer has changed Josephine’s life, she is grateful to have detected the tumour early so that treatment could be most effective and less invasive. Thanks to the heartfelt care of medical professionals and the support of CancerLink, Josephine has recovered well. Today she treasures her family more than ever. She has become a CancerLink volunteer, hoping to encourage those on their cancer journeys with her experience. Josephine emphasises the importance of positivity, “Being happy is the most effective way to fight cancer. No one can give you a death penalty, except yourself. Never give up! Every day you are alive, you still have the strength to overcome cancer. There is always hope if you believe in yourself!”
Josephine finished breast reconstruction surgery and returned to work. She enjoys a slower pace of life. During treatment, she was disheartened to see that women are being touched by breast cancer at a much younger age. As a survivor and a CancerLink service user and volunteer, she hopes to remind women in Hong Kong to check their breasts regularly. “Women need to love themselves. As breast cancer is found increasingly in young women, it is important to make health a priority. I started reminding my daughter to check her breasts as soon as she reached 18. See your doctor immediately if your notice anything unusual. The earlier the tumour is detected, the higher your chance of survival!”