Ep 25 | Battling stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 31 (Ft Siew Lin)

Published on Mar 24, 2023

About our guest Siew Lin

Steffi Chuah Siew Lin wears many hats: she’s a daughter, a marketeer, a triathlete, a swim teacher, and most of all, a breast cancer survivor. She enjoys creating content and is a big-time enthusiast of personal and human development. She hopes to be a teacher, and a mother one day. She currently lives with her mom, sister, and a dog.

Transcript

[00:00:00] Kai Xin:

Hey there, this is Kai Xin and you’re listening to the Handful of Leaves podcast, where we bring you practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life.

Today, I’m joined by my co-host Cheryl and our guest Siew Lin to talk about the journey of battling breast cancer. Our guest Siew Lin is battling breast cancer right now, specifically stage four, which is considered terminal. And she’s very young, only age 31.

And just to give you a little background of what happened before the call so that you can appreciate the conversation much better. So, Siew Lin had very kindly agreed to be on our show. And a couple of weeks before the recording, she was going through some treatment and told us that she wasn’t emotionally at her best.

And she actually asked if we would still want to record because the episode might not be the most positive and she wasn’t sure if there’ll be any inspiring takeaways.

But Cheryl and I decided to go ahead with it, provided that Siew Lin was comfortable and she was physically okay because we believe that that’s really something we can learn from her regardless of her situation. And it turned out to be true. We have really learned so much and through editing this recording, if you just listen to the conversation over and over again, you would pick out something new to feel inspired about.

And we also didn’t want to encourage toxic positivity where, you know, you just kind of show the bright side only, and the resilience, the determination all is good. We want to show the full story, that it is a tough journey.

And every bit of the journey, the ups and downs would make a person for who he or she is and Siew Lin, the very fact that she showed up, despite the challenges that she has gone through and opened up her heart, to be vulnerable in sharing her journey, it just made me admire her so much more.

So, Siew Lin was very kind, she said yes to continuing with the episode. And to be honest, when we were having the chat, there were really a lot of emotions to process. And it was through listening to the recording again that we had more takeaways. So do stay till the very end as Cheryl and I will be reflecting on our key learnings from the conversation.

This conversation is, to me, deeply profound.

And it’s really a privilege to have Siew Lin on the show with us. So we’re going to start off with her introducing herself. Sit back and enjoy the episode.

[00:02:49] Siew Lin:

Hi, my name is Siew lin, some call me Steffi. I’m currently working in an e-commerce company and on my off days, I’m a Freelance swim teacher and I’m just reaching my second year as a breast cancer survivor.

[00:03:06] Cheryl:

Nice. Short and sweet. You share it like very briefly, but there’s so much more between these three words. Breast, cancer, survivor. Mm-hmm. Do you wanna share a little bit more about when you were diagnosed with breast cancer? And definitely, you know, give us some details about your journey.

[00:03:23] Siew Lin:

It’ll be a very long, long story about how it all started. So it went, way back in 2020, I’m not even sure if it’s considered as diagnosed as breast cancer because when I found out, in the beginning, it was when I noticed there was nipple discharge during my training in the pool.

because I was training for a swimming event, I thought it was just a normal, infection. It didn’t get better after the event. So I went for an operation, a day operation to actually seal off the nipple so that the blood won’t keep bleeding. But after that doctor came out with a report where they took a sample from the nipple during the operation to seal the nipple, so, they call it Atypical Ductal Hyperplasia. So in short term, they call it ADH. So ADH is actually a pre-cancerous condition that actually affects the cell growth in the breast to grow abnormally. So it’s not cancer yet, but it has a higher chance of getting breast cancer. So at that point in time I was like, oh, okay.

I’m not sure what’s this, but I didn’t really put so much thought into it, but the doctor told me to follow up closely after that. So when I go through my follow-ups in a few more months after that incident I had my mammogram and ultrasound for the very first time.

And, I can honestly tell you for any young woman who did a mammogram for the first time, is really, really scary. A lot of women in their forties who be advised to do mammograms. But for ladies at very young age, like 27 or even younger than that, to do a mammogram is pretty scary. So maybe I just give you a brief description. Is this mammogram or about?

So basically you stand in front of a machine and this machine will compress your breasts. Like waist, from top to bottom.

[00:05:41] Cheryl:

So make a pancake, basically.

[00:05:43] Siew Lin:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Basically, it’s like, yeah, basically like, like what you say. So pancake, it’s not comfortable. Pancake. Every pancake can enjoy eating, right? But this one is, it’s really, you need to really stand still so that they can make it the right, the right mammogram for you.

Basically, you are strip stripped down to your bottoms and then, It’s freezing cool. Mm-hmm. When you do your mammogram, especially when the aircon is blowing towards you. But you have no choice to hold still as long as you can so that they can capture it.

So when the report came out, after I did those ultrasound and mammogram turns out that the doctor found out that there were a lot of calcifications. So calcifications are calcium deposits in the breast. So it’s like a lot of white dots in the breast.

So doctors who suspected these calcifications higher risk of getting breast cancer. So because of that, the doctor advised that it’s better to just remove the whole breasts, which are on my left side.

Cheryl:

white calcifications are the cancer cells, or what are they?

[00:06:57] Siew Lin:

It’s not cancer cells, it’s just calcium deposits. Yeah. It’s normal to have calcium deposits in normal breasts. But if I look back at the symptoms that I have, The centers of having breast cancer is nipple discharge. Your nipple would invert inwards. Those were the few symptoms that I had. So it kind of correlates where if I have these symptoms, really, and from the mammogram, I have these calcifications. Hmm.

Cheryl:

Makes sense. Like clicks.

[00:07:27] Siew Lin:

Yeah, I have a higher chance of having breast cancer, but breast cancer wasn’t in my mind. So when I asked the doctor, so in this stage one, stage two, He say it’s still stage zero. Oh yeah. So it was a very early pre-cancer stage. But I went through the operation I removed my whole left breast and till now after I have my follow-ups and just recently my last follow-up in April, in late March somehow, the area where I operated my breasts, where they did the biopsy of my breasts before I was diagnosed with the stage zero cancer, the lump grew at that area. So somehow, in a way, I’m not sure how it came back. Probably because when the doctor did the operation, there was still some cancer tissue left behind.

So the lump grew back because of the tissue. Even though I did my breast removal, I didn’t do any treatments after that, meaning there are no medications. I don’t need to do any other chemotherapy or radiation. So basically I just removed my breast and that was it.

But somehow after a few years, a few months later, the cancer grew back. So definitely there was something wrong with it. It’s probably the treatment wasn’t right for me. So I went for my PET scan. I actually visited other doctors in other hospitals as well to seek second third opinion. And, one of the doctors told me to do a PET scan. So PET scan is basically, you just lie down, they’ll inject a radioactive dye into your body and then you’ll be lying down on the table where you scan your whole body. and when I went through that procedure and the report came out, it seems that the cancer from my breast has spread to other parts of my body.

So in short term, stage zero has actually became stage four. So currently I’m diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and basically the parts where the cancer had spread was my spine, my pelvic, and my collarbone, and a bit on my ribs. So, so yeah, that’s how I was diagnosed from stage zero to stage four, and here I am today.

[00:10:06] Kai Xin:

It seems like a very short period of time to take in so much. How do you process all of this?

[00:10:15] Siew Lin:

At that point of time, when I was told that I was diagnosed with stage four, that was the second doctor actually. So I was like nah, you’re kidding. And I didn’t believe him because somehow I didn’t have a good rapport, rapport with that doctor.

So I didn’t really take him very seriously. But when, when I took my report to seek another third opinion from another hospital, it seems that shit. That the news really hit hard on me and not just me only, but also my family members as well. So it’s a really big lump in your throat, which you can’t really swallow.

[00:11:02] Kai Xin:

I can imagine how tough this is. It seems like even now when you’re saying you’re still kind of internalizing, is that correct?

[00:11:13] Siew Lin:

Yes, I do, but somehow I already grew to accept it already. I guess somehow I’m slightly at peace, but not there yet, but, well, it’s just a very hard news to actually tell a lot of people.

Especially my friends and family who thought that, Hey, I thought you were just stage zero. How come you’re stage four now? And it’s just really hard to tell them because they would be very worried. And it’s just hard to tell them.

[00:11:50] Kai Xin:

When you tell your close ones about this news, is there an ideal response that you hope they would give?

[00:11:59] Siew Lin:

Not really, because I was so consumed by the thought that I have stage four cancer. I didn’t really worry so much about how they would feel. But I was more worried about how would life be, especially for my parents after I’m gone.

Because the stage four life survivor rate is about 25% for people who could live up to five years. So actually the life expectancy is quite low, however, there’s not a lot of research on younger people who had stage four cancer, especially metastatic breast cancer. So it’s really hard to tell.

[00:12:49] Kai Xin:

So are you still keeping a sense of optimism that perhaps you can be out of that percentage seen in the clinical papers?

[00:12:59] Siew Lin:

Yeah, that’s what I thought as well. So, Currently, my biggest challenge is to be able to find someone that I could look up to, for those who have actually survived metastatic breast cancer, especially at my age.

So probably my objective right now is to beat the statistics and to be able to live longer than that.

[00:13:23] Kai Xin:

You can be the role model that other people are looking out for. I see on your Facebook you’ve been sharing quite extensively as well in terms of awareness. The video that I saw was in 2020, very very courageous for you to do.

Is there anything that made you feel that you need to share this piece of news or piece of information with the world?

[00:13:47] Siew Lin:

I guess by sheer luck is that I somehow caught breast cancer early and there are not a lot of youth and younger people at my age to actually share this information. So I guess being the first around my circle of friends or my family, hopefully sharing this would probably bring more awareness for them.

[00:14:15] Cheryl:

Siew Lin, you know, from what you’re sharing, I’ve been a little bit silent because I’m just processing all of this as well. The first thing I wanna say is I’m so sorry that this has happened to you from zero to four. When zero happened, I think I saw on your social media, you’re really doing the best that you can to just live life to the fullest.

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And I think that must feel like quite, quite a lot like suddenly to, to receive this news as well. And I don’t know exactly how you’re feeling cause I think it’s crazy. It’s, it’s a huge thing that comes but from what I see, like online, I, I do see you as an inspiration who is always trying to do your best with what you can.

So yeah, thank you for putting your story out there. Thank you for letting random people like me, know your story as well.

[00:14:57] Siew Lin:

Yeah, no worries. But I think I should correct you at that point in time when you say you’re sorry, I think you shouldn’t be sorry because it’s not something that you should be sorry for.

 And it’s hard to tell a lot of my friends when they first heard the news, they’ll say, oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you have this. I’m sorry that you’re going through this. I think the best way to actually tell someone who just recently diagnosed with breast cancer is to let them know that if you need any support, you can always let me know. I’m always glad to bring you to the hospital. I mean, I’m always happy when someone can fetch me to the hospital and probably just accompany them when whether they’re going through chemotherapy or any treatments. I think that’ll be better than just saying I’m sorry. Yeah.

[00:16:00] Kai Xin:

Thanks for shedding light on that.

Yeah, I, I think it’s always tough to, to know what to say cause you know, we are not in the position but also, sometimes we don’t want people to feel like, oh, we are looking down on them, or it’s, it’s something that we should take pity on.

A Dhamma teacher was saying, you know how sometimes people are hospitalized and then we say, get well soon. Actually a Buddhist way is to wish the person to have that mental strength to tide through whatever. Is to face the fact that maybe the person might not get well. If you get well, that’s fantastic. You know, I also hope Siew Lin, you can beat the statistics, but it’s also a bit tougher sometimes having to face the truth.

So I dunno, are there other words besides, I will be there for you. I can, you know, fetch you through the hospital. Are there other words that people can say to make you feel comforted?

[00:16:55] Siew Lin:

Well, I think to be honest, I think being silent and being just physically there with them is good enough. I think get well soon is the worst thing to ever say.

Sorry *sobbing*

[00:17:14] Kai Xin:

it’s okay. Take your time. Does it put pressure on you?

[00:17:21] Siew Lin:

Yeah, I think about what you said.

What if that person can never get better?

 So I, I guess I can put in the sense that even though that person is going through chemotherapy or medications, but you just never know that yes, maybe the medications may work, but there are higher risk of that patient or even myself may face other side effects and also higher risk of getting other cancers as well.

Like I can give an example. I’m doing oral chemo. I just found out as well that the reason why,

[00:18:06] Cheryl:

You can cry.

[00:18:08] Siew Lin:

Okay, so after I was diagnosed with stage four, my oncologist, who’s my treating doctor, told me to do a genetic testing. So this genetic testing is to check whether cancer is genetically inherited. So from my family history, there is no breast cancer from our side.

But when I went through that genetic testing it was found out that I inherited Cancer genes. So basically there are two types of cancer genes. So they call it BRCA 2 or BRCA1. So it turns out that BRCA2 was tested positive in my genetic testing. So BRCA2 basically is, BR means breast CA means cancer. So it kinda makes sense that to have this, it means that my genes is not working properly to defend the body from cancer.

So for people to have to be tested.

I’m sorry.

Cheryl:

It’s okay. It’s okay.

Kai Xin:

Take your time. I wish I was there to hug you.

Cheryl:

Virtual hug.

Kai Xin:

Do you wanna grab a tissue? Maybe take a sip of water.

Siew Lin:

No, it’s okay. So actually as I was saying, for people who have BRCA 2, they have higher chance of getting cancer. Breast cancer is about 80%. Uterus cancer is about 40%. Yeah. So I wasn’t surprised because I accepted I mean, it came to no surprise that I, I have high chance of getting breast cancer cause it’s already there.

But there is also a higher chance of me getting other cancer as well. So that’s, I mean, in a way I’m taking medications to suppress the hormones. So actually the cause of the cancer not is not only genetic, but it’s also cause of my hormones where I have very strong estrogen hormones, which is feeding to to the cancer cells.

So to actually block this estrogen, I have to take a pill called estrogen. There’s many types of medications named, but the one that I’m taking is to suppress the estrogen hormones. So the side effects is that you won’t have period, which is maybe many girls’ dream but it puts you into menopause.

So I believe most of our mothers who went through menopause, you would understand that sometimes they have mood swings, sometimes they had hot flushes. And many other things. At my age to experience all this menopause and it is it really brings me to slight depression in the past few months as well. And did you know that if you have menopause you higher chance of getting heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis. So sometimes if I look back, is it worse to get treated for cancer or actually dying, having heart attack or getting stroke and not being able to move for the rest of your life.

It’s a very hard question to actually answer. But probably it’s some thought for those people out there.

[00:21:54] Cheryl:

And I would imagine your entire life is changed, right? Like, for me, I think it is about, stable career, relationship, and then the really normal stuff like everyone our age is thinking about what’s next, what’s next?

And that’s kind of just pulled out of the rug for you because all you are facing now is uncertainty. Do you want to share a little bit more maybe about what are some of the things that help you to ground yourself in trying to find peace in this entire journey?

[00:22:33] Siew Lin:

I think it’s just taking one step at a time.

I really love kids, but I guess (having) kids is out of the question right now because you can’t have kids when you’re going through this treatment and I didn’t really have big dreams of like having a house of my own or having a big car. Anything that’s materialistic, it’s really not within my not really my so-called societal goals.

So. I guess what I can do right now is to really make peace by taking just one step at a time, one day at a time. And it can be as small as just waking up and going to work and doing the simplest things, which you can’t bring yourself to do. And I guess what I started doing is really treating my arthritis because now my, medication is giving side effects, which is arthritis as well.

So it causes stiffening in your joints. So as a person who likes to exercise and my big dream of achieving Iron Man, for those who don’t know, Iron Man is basically swimming, cycling and running a full marathon all in one single day.

Kai Xin:

Wow.

[00:24:12] Siew Lin:

Yeah. It’s a really extreme sport, but for me, my current state, I don’t think I’m able to do that.

So finding myself to exercise is really, really hard. My schedule is really just really filled up and I couldn’t find a time to really do it. So I started signing up for forcing myself to sign up for swimming in the swimming group. So they have very disciplined training every single, single day.

So I signed up for that and I started going for trainings like diligently just going for training is good enough to really help me cope with some of the side effects that I’m having. So having to do that, just give me a little bit more peace that I would say.

[00:25:01] Kai Xin:

Good that you have almost like a support system or just a life system to keep you going and also seem like celebrating small wins, simplest things can make a very big difference. So thanks for sharing that. I’m wondering, have your priorities in life changed?

[00:25:20] Siew Lin:

I would say it hasn’t changed much. I would say, I give less priority to work.

[00:25:27] Cheryl:

rightfully so.

[00:25:30] Siew Lin:

I mean, let’s just be honest. I mean, work can’t be your whole life. I mean, even if you resign, that’s always someone else who would replace you. That’s the reality of working in a rat-race world.

So I don’t really focus so much on work this time around, but of course, I really love where I’m working right now, so I couldn’t say, I don’t care about what I work. I do still care to a certain extent, but when it comes to my health, I will just prioritise on that first, which is as simple as just visiting the hospital and taking a day off if I really need to.

[00:26:10] Kai Xin:

Is there anything like through this journey that you have reflected on like aha moments or certain reflections that just become amplified along the way?

[00:26:24] Siew Lin:

I think for the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the thought that I deserve all the privilege that I can get because I’m gonna die soon, so I’m going to do whatever I want. So in a way that I feel like basically, you deserve all the attention that you get, it’s like..

[00:26:46] Cheryl:

Self love.

[00:26:48] Siew Lin:

No, it’s not self love. I’m not allowed to swear right?

[00:26:53] Cheryl:

Can if you want.

[00:26:53] Siew Lin:

They call it privileged bitch I guess

It’s like oh! Entitled. Yeah. Okay. Okay. The word, the word is entitled.

Yeah. So I feel like I’m entitled to everything. I give you a scenario. If I were standing on the LT train. And if I have to fight for a seat with another person, inside my heart, I’ll probably tell ‘you don’t deserve to sit. You’re not even having cancer. You stand la. I deserve to sit cause I’m gonna die soon anyway. That kind of entitled mindset.

It’s not really healthy to have this kind of mindset. I am aware of that, but I just can’t help myself to have that kind of thought, which, in a sense, it really puts me in a very selfish position because somehow in a way I’m prioritising myself over those around me. So it’s still a struggle for me, but at least to be aware that I have that thought, I’m just trying to tame myself.

[00:28:06] Kai Xin:

I’m curious, why do you feel that it’s not right to feel entitled?

Because you do deserve the care and concern. Is it just because it’s framed or it comes from a sense of aversion, which makes you feel a bit uncomfortable?

[00:28:22] Siew Lin:

Because in a way I’m still alive and I still can’t move like everyone else. It’s just that I had slighter difficulty in terms of like, probably if you ask me to sit very long on the floor, like squatting position, probably I can’t do that, but if an old auntie can do it. And she has arthritis and you can’t do it, what makes you so deserving of being entitled, right?

So in a way, I would feel entitled because I think that the other person may not know what I’m going through.

[00:29:02] Kai Xin:

Yeah, I think it’s okay, I mean, you are entitled to care and concern. Perhaps it is just the way that we project it on others. Are we like compromising their wellbeing and stuff, but I don’t think you should steal their entitlement away from yourself because you’re also a human being. You need love whether you’re old or young.

And I’m also wondering, like, in terms of your relationship with this whole illness as well as death, has it changed? Because at the start of the chat, you were saying it didn’t cross your mind that it could be breast cancer. I suppose that comes with age as well, because the youth, you tend to think that cancer and illness come with older age. What’s your relationship with this whole topic? Has it changed?

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[00:29:53] Siew Lin:

I guess I wouldn’t say I love the whole experience.

[00:29:59] Kai Xin:

Who would love the experience? *chuckle*

[00:30:01] Siew Lin:

I guess like every other person it’s not the destination right? It is the process. Enjoy the journey of whatever you are experiencing. I think that’s the beauty of it.

Because I live by this philosophy when I started writing, I’m blogging quite frequently.

I always believe that I should live my days like I’m going to die. So I have lived by that philosophy so strongly even until now and even before I was diagnosed with cancer. So it doesn’t change much for me because I have lived through my years beautifully and meaningfully for myself and it’s a bit sad that other people can’t see the same. When I hear friends, people close to me who have regrets of not fulfilling what they want to do, it’s a bit of time wasted on their end.

But especially for my end, I take my time really seriously even when I was very young. Cause time is really precious, so, whatever seconds and minutes I have, I really make use of it as much as I can. So every minute is like a living memory.

[00:31:22] Cheryl:

I want to ask you a question that is somewhat related but it’s two sides of it.

Is there anything that you have not done and want to (do)?

Second is, what do you want to leave behind? Like you can call it your legacy or like, I don’t know whether it resonates with you, but yeah, the kind of idea you get what I mean?

[00:31:43] Siew Lin:

Definitely, to accomplish Iron Man probably before 35. Not sure. And at the top of my list is definitely climbing mountain Fuji actually. So unfortunately there was MCO previously, so now that Japan has opened their doors, I probably can use some of the money to go.

Unfortunately, I didn’t want to leave anything behind. But if I were to leave, it would be stories about people in my life. So I had this inspiration to actually write something about the people around me. People who I grew up with throughout my life. I wanted to call it hundred people who had made me for me.

So, I wanted to list out some of the people have really shaped me for who I am, and also just to commemorate conversations between the both of us, which was very meaningful at that moment. It’s really, really a lot of work. Probably I’ll start it one day, but that day is not so soon yet.

[00:33:12] Kai Xin:

You can voice record and get the software to transcribe.

[00:33:16] Siew Lin:

Yeah. True, true.

[00:33:18] Kai Xin:

But it’s so beautiful that you have this sense of gratitude because, I mean, just now you mentioned that you have the thought of entitlement, right? But then you feel bad about it. And I, I think that’s a common thread over here.

You’re just very compassionate and you see how people have shaped you and you’re kind of intertwined with everybody and I think you’ve also shaped many people’s lives as well. People should probably write a book about you.

Actually, if you were to write a book about your own life story, what would be the title on the book cover?

[00:33:55] Siew Lin:

Wow. Thousands of funny moments of Siew Lin.

[00:34:04] Kai Xin:

Is it gonna be a lot memes?

[00:34:07] Siew Lin:

Definitely.

[00:34:10] Cheryl:
Thousand memes of Siew Lin.

[00:34:13] Siew Lin:
Oh, that’s a good title.

[00:34:16] Kai Xin:
Yeah. Okay. When is it gonna be published? Keep you accountable.

[00:34:20] Siew Lin:
Wow. One day.

[00:34:24] Kai Xin:
No pressure. No pressure.

[00:34:26] Cheryl:
Thanks for sharing every single thing you have been super courageous, and vulnerable and it’s not easy for you to come and share this as well. So thank you very much.

Are there any things that you’d like to share with listeners or any advice to all the listeners here?

[00:34:42] Siew Lin:

If I want to share, it is actually one of the frequently used quotes that a lot of breast cancer survivors actually share. Sometimes living through cancer. It takes up a lot of your time and affects a lot of yourself and your relationship with other people as well. But it’s not your core identity. It’s because of what you’re going through that makes you just a little bit different from other people. But it’s not the whole story of your life. It’s just one chapter. So, I am who I am because I have to do what is necessary for myself to treat myself. So it’s not a real version of myself.

So do get treated and be consciously be aware of your body and if you suspect anything, do just get it checked, because you may never know that it’ll be a life-changing decision in the future. So yeah, every symptom matters.

[00:36:00] Kai Xin:

Thanks for sharing that. I really like how you say it’s a chapter. On the other hand, I also think that it reflects so much about you, your qualities, how you show up to challenges. I think we ought to also celebrate your success in terms of how you keep a strong mind, and it’s also okay sometimes you are vulnerable. And thanks for being vulnerable on this podcast to show the real you. So just now when Cheryl say, what do you wanna leave behind? Even though you don’t wanna leave anything behind, I think people would remember you for many, many good things. Yeah. Just wanna comment on that. And once again, thanks for being here on our podcast.

[00:36:40] Siew Lin:
Thank you for having me.

[00:36:42] Cheryl:
And if there’s anything that we could help with if you want to leverage the platform to share anything about yourself feel free to do so. And then on a personal note, also, if you need anything, although I, I’m not there, like in person if you need anything, resources or, you know, like even monks to chant for you, I think we can definitely find a way to help you as well.

[00:37:04] Kai Xin:
Yeah, we’re friends now so we can ping me.

[00:37:07] Cheryl:
Ping me. She’s my friend.

[00:37:10] Cheryl:
What are your thoughts, Kai Xin? Any reflections?

[00:37:13] Kai Xin:

I thought it’s quite interesting to see how she show no trace of anger when she’s talking about her journey because she actually did some form of measure to prevent the cancer cells from even, you know, spreading. And I think calcification, that was where she removed one side of her breast and then it kind of escalated to stage four. I think if it’s me, I would feel. Yeah, just like, why, you know, I did the thing already. I’ll feel angry. Uh, perhaps she has already gone through the phase. So I think it’s inspiring to see the level of acceptance that she has dealing with reality and just living life to the fullest with a lot of gratitude.

Yeah, I thought it was quite interesting to see how she showed no trace of anger. And she’s talking about her journey because, she did some form of measures to prevent the cancer cells from even growing or spreading because when there was calcification, that’s when she removed one side of her breast and that was stage zero. And within a very short period of time, after that, it escalated to stage four.

I think if it were me, I would be in a state of denial. And probably feel angry as well. Perhaps, she has already gone through that phase. So I think it’s really inspiring to see the level of acceptance that she has and how she’s dealing with her current reality. And acceptance, not in a form of being happy and positive all the time, but it’s really just living life to the fullest. With a lot of gratitude, despite the challenges. So I really admire that about her.

[00:38:55] Cheryl:
Definitely. And I think gratitude is one of the qualities that really shined through as well, , in our chat with her, especially, you know, when given the chance with that question to answer. What book she’ll write and she wanted to use that chance to dedicate it to all the people who have influenced her, I think that is really inspiring because if it’s me, I’ll be like, oh my God, 1000 amazing things that I did.

[00:39:23] Kai Xin:
You’d write a memoir, right?

[00:39:24] Cheryl:

Yeah! But the fact that that piece of work is one that speaks of others really talks about her gratitude. And I think, you know, as listeners and even myself as a co-host, I feel that this really is an invitation for me to reflect on my life.

Think about three people that we are all grateful for and you know, maybe we don’t say thank you too much. And this could be an opportunity to text them, call them, and say, yeah, thank you very much and I really appreciate what you do.

[00:39:56] Kai Xin:

Yeah, and I think she’s also very compassionate and I think when a person is ill, the mental faculty is not so strong. It’s really like a true test of the practice. Because it is difficult if your body goes through a lot of pain and she still had that capacity to reflect and that wisdom to say, no other people also deserve care and love, even though I’m going through a difficult situation.

And also the part where she mentioned how at a very young age, she really kind of know what she wants to do and she takes her time really seriously. There’s a sutta called Auspicious Day, and it says, ardently do what you need to do today. Who knows?

Tomorrow death may come and. I think now I’m quite complacent, like still young, you know, and death contemplation is definitely something I’m gonna do more often after this episode.

[00:40:46] Cheryl:

Yeah, and definitely I think it’s normal. I think because we are young, we’re generally healthy, and we are intoxicated by three things and Budha highlighted that these three things are firstly our youth. Secondly, our. And thirdly our life.

So we think that death, sickness and old age will not happen to us, and that’s very dangerous to think like that because really, you know, we are the slaves to time and any of this youth health and life can be taken any second, any moment. So yeah, definitely a great reminder to be heedful and use our time wisely, even if we may not have a very clear idea of what our purpose or meaning is. At least try to make time to do things that are skilful, do things that are wholesome. And actually, one last point that I had was really about how the conversation receiving was almost like a journey.

She started, you know, introducing herself as like, Hey, I’m, I’m Siew Lin, I’m a cancer survivor. But you know, as we progressed through the conversation, as we reflected a little bit more about her life, her ending, her closing note was really about cancer is an important part of her life, but it does not define her.

And this makes me think about how often I define myself by my worst moments, but we should also see what we can get from our worst moments, the virtues and qualities that shine true, and maybe let ourselves be defined by that instead of the worst part for ourselves. What do you think?

[00:42:22] Kai Xin:

I think, well, I mean, you put it so nicely.

It is indeed true, that it’s a defining moment for her to inspire others, but it’s not gonna be what defines her as who she is.

It has been a really inspiring episode. Thanks, Cheryl, for inviting Siew Lin to this podcast. And for our listeners, hope you have something that you’ve taken away. You can share it on our telegrams, and say some words of encouragement.

If you’ve been inspired by Siew Lin, you can also type that in the Telegram chat. We’ll share it with her.

And yeah, if you like this episode, please give us a five-star review or share this with a friend.

And til the next episode, may you stay happy and wise.

Special thanks to our sponsor for this episode

Buddhist Youth Network, Lim Soon Kiat, Alvin Chan, Tan Key Seng, Soh Hwee Hoon, Geraldine Tay, Venerable You Guang, Wilson Ng, Diga, Joyce, Tan Jia Yee, Joanne, Suñña.

Resources on Breast Cancer

Health Hub: Signs of breast cancer

Reach to Recovery: Breast cancer support group

National University Cancer Institute Singapore: Breast cancer support group

Breast Cancer support group (Malaysia)

Breast Cancer Foundation (Malaysia)

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