Alumni Spotlights

Cara Chew
Posted 09/07/2017 02:34PM

Cancer survivor recounts her battle after helping sister through hers

When Cara Chew ('02) was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphona in December 2015, it marked the start of six grueling cycles of chemotherapy. Her courage and positive attitude throughout her treatment inspired other patients worldwide

girl with short hair

She was the main caregiver for her lymphoma-stricken younger sister when Cara Chew, 32, was herself struck with the same disease in December 2015.

The news of her own illness came just two months after their father had undergone heart bypass surgery.

'I don't have time for this' was her first thought upon being diagnosed with diffused large B-cell lymphoma.

"I was more stressed than sad," she added.

Having to balance the role of caring for her sister and father while maintaining her job as a marketing manager simultaneously was hard on her.

To mark World Cancer Day, which occurs on February 4 annually, Cara was encouraged by her friend, fellow lymphoma survivor Beng Harng, 38, to submit her story to Stomp via e-mail.

She was first featured on Stomp on Feb 1 as part of its campaign to raise awareness for cancer.

Not wanting to aggravate her father's condition post-surgery in the intensive care unit, she told him only about a week later. But thankfully, "he took it like a guy and urged us to move forward", she said.

After sharing her condition on her Facebook page, a high school senior at ISB sent her an encouraging message about other survivors and how they coped with cancer.

"That really got the positivity ball rolling and set the stage for my first chemotherapy session," Cara added.

She continued to document all six cycles of her chemotherapy sessions extensively on Facebook, Instagram, and her blog.

Through these platforms, she befriended cancer patients worldwide, receiving and providing mutual support to them.

Her Christian faith also helped her pull through the ordeal. "I believe everything happens for a reason so I decided to have complete faith in God instead of worrying," she said.

This thought stayed with her throughout the chemo sessions, which involved oral and in-vitro medication, which she had to go for once every three weeks.

She was an exercise buff, visiting the gym at least thrice a week, but the chemo sessions tired her out easily.

Cara, the oldest of three sisters, also suffered from bouts of memory loss.

Her youngest sister, Catherine, 26, had to stick post-it notes around the house to remind her to switch off all electrical appliances. She once forgot to switch off the stove after cooking.

Having taken care of her younger sister during chemo sessions helped allay Cara's fears for her own chemotherapy.

"I was more prepared psychologically and emotionally for what was to come."

On having to lose her luscious locks from the chemo sessions, she said her Greek boyfriend provided assurance and encouragement to embrace her baldness.

"You're beautiful, don't ever think otherwise," he would tell her over the phone every night.

He would also wake up early or sleep late, due to the difference in time zones, to remind her of her medical appointments.

The experience has taught her to let go instead of always planning for everything.

"Sometimes, it's all right to drink coffee and do nothing for four hours. We're always so busy being productive and stressed in our society."

While she is glad to have been a caregiver, she noticed that people often ask only about the patient. Having been in both positions, she feels it is tougher being the latter.

"You don't understand what they're (cancer patients) going through but you have to attend to their every need," she said.

"It really takes a physical and emotional toll on you. It's a pity there isn't a World Caregiver Day. It sounds selfish but the irony is that you have to take care of your own health first before you can look after another's," said Cara, who now practices tai-chi daily.

Note: This article was originally published on February 4, 2017, by The New Paper.

Read more at Cara's blog: smilesandcocktails.wordpress.com/ or follow her on Instagram (@ smilesandcocktails)

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