Cancer in my 30s: what it did to me – and what it couldn't

Cancer can turn your whole world around – from more frequent hospital visits to lifestyle changes. But there are also things it can’t do, as Dela Lau, a young cancer survivor, reveals.

Cancer can strike in your 30s. Even if you’re healthy.

I was generally healthy as a kid. I never smoked and I never drank alcohol. I’d also go for long walks twice a week. And I began taking health supplements regularly even before my cancer. So, when I was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma at the age of 36, it was a rude shock.

It can make the human desire to live so much greater.

When most people hear the word cancer, the first thing that comes to mind is death. But cancer isn’t a death sentence. Medical advancements today mean that there’s a higher chance of treatment and recovery.

When the doctor broke the news, I kept thinking: I want to live.

I had many questions about lymphoma, so I read up extensively about it. I also got opinions from various medical experts in order to identify the best treatment option – one that’d give a higher survival rate and quicker recovery.

I didn’t really see my cancer experience as a “fight” or “battle”, but more a process my body was going through. I also read inspiring books by other cancer patients to learn how they coped with the illness.

It will change your life... but not always for the worst.

I stopped work as a childcare centre supervisor for a year during my treatment. From constantly being occupied with work, I slowed down my pace of life and began to spend more time on myself and with my mum. I also didactivities I enjoyed like craftwork and reading.

Slowing down is about taking time to really immerse yourself in whatever you do, about being present and focusing on whoever you’re with. It was a chance to connect with myself on a deeper level and discover what I really wanted to do.

It will have a great impact on your finances.

My medical bills alone included specialist consultations, lab tests, x-rays, chemotherapy and medication. I didn’t really take note of the exact figures but each of my six chemo cycles was about S$1,200, and one of the six medications I took was S$5,000 per pack, and I took six of them.

There were also non-treatment related costs, like the cost of transportation to and from the hospital for treatment and follow-up check-ups. And I spent more on health supplements during my recuperation period, to help restore my health and increase my immunity.

Meanwhile, there were recurring bills as well as home loan repayments which continued even though I had stopped working.

But… cancer couldn’t stop me from living a fulfilling life.

No one should have to worry about money when they’re this ill.

I didn’t worry about the cost of treatment or income loss because I had insurance.

I’m thankful that I wasn’t financially tied down by cancer. The lump-sum payout from my critical illness plan helped me pull through my days without income and manage my family expenses. My Shield plan also covered about 90% of my medical costs.

Even before my cancer, I’ve always made financial protection a priority because I’ve seen many cases of people encountering unexpected events in their life such as illness. I bought a protection plan when I was young and even bought one for my mum.

I had cancer in my 30s and I want more young people to be aware of the importance of being financially prepared. I personally believe one of the first things people should do when they start working is to plan for their future medical needs.

It couldn’t destroy my relationships.

You can find incredible strength in a good support system. My insurance agent, friends and family rallied around me when I was ill. And as I work in a childcare centre that’s supported by an association, its members gave me emotional and moral encouragement, going as far as ferrying me between my home and the hospital during my treatment days. That really helped me on the road to recovery.

It couldn’t destroy my dreams and hopes.

I take a different approach to life now. I’m gentler on myself and I’ve learnt to let go. I appreciate life more than before. I do things which are meaningful to me and I’ve completed my advanced diploma in education and child psychology, which I had wanted to do before cancer.

Surviving cancer is a cause for celebration. But there’s no guarantee that it’ll never come back.  So in a sense, my time can be unlimited and limited. But I’m treasuring every second of life. I’m much happier.

Cancer in my 30s: what it did to me – and what it couldn't

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