SOH HOOI’S STORY
This interior designer and marathon enthusiast never missed a Pap smear screening. Her only warning was bleeding between menstrual cycles before she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Today, her strength and positive thinking helps her on the journey as an advocate.
As a cancer patient, you deal with experiences that others can’t relate to… It’s incredibly stressful, so I’m thankful that I came away from this experience with strength.
I was devastated when I found out I had cervical cancer at the end of 2015. I’d never missed a Pap smear screening and there had never been any abnormalities – I’d only gone to the doctor because of bleeding in between menstruation cycles. My doctor ran a biopsy and told me to remain calm as I waited for the results. It turned out that I had a rare type of cervical cancer, which cannot be detected by Pap smear screenings. I was upset that this had happened to me after I finally turned my life around. My work as an interior designer, and child commitments always took priority over my health but, just a year before my diagnosis, I joined a gym, watched my diet, and cut out sugar almost entirely. My hard work was paying off and I decided to fulfil a personal ambition to start running marathons. My first run was a 12km race and after that I had no plans on stopping. Then came the diagnosis. It was a big blow. But my doctor told me that because my cervical cancer was detected at an early stage (stage 1B), I could undergo a hysterectomy to remove the tumour and wouldn’t need further treatment. Throughout the journey of my hysterectomy, I was focused on finding answers to all of my questions: Why did I get cancer? Could I have prevented it? But I could never find any answers that satisfied me. I then attended a support group run by the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM). I remember talking to the moderator who said I had been suppressing my emotions. She assured me that strength lies in acceptance and told me to let my feelings show. For the first time since my diagnosis, I had an emotional breakdown. It felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I went home with closure, knowing that I would never find the answers I wanted. I just had to let it go. So I took a few months to rest and recover. Then I started training for marathons again. I had planned to run a Christmas marathon in Thailand for my 50th birthday. With my newfound desire to live life with more gusto, I immediately started planning my next trip. My good friend and I were going to New Zealand as I thought my struggle was over. Then, months before we were due to set off, my cancer came back. I couldn’t believe it. I underwent the longest and hardest six weeks of my life with intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. I owe my life to my husband who accompanied me to all my treatments, fed me and supported me. I hated feeling like a burden but I am truly grateful for him.
I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I endured. So I’m an advocate for HPV vaccination – which can significantly reduce one’s risk of cervical cancer – and regular screening.
I told myself I would stick to the original plan, with or without cancer. In the end, I took that trip to New Zealand! It was incredible and I’m glad I didn’t let cancer take that away from me. I also went for my Christmas marathon in Thailand and crossed the finish line in 6 hours and 55 minutes. It was exhilarating. I had completed a marathon just months after cancer treatment and no one could take that victory from me. Looking back, I know the support system that I found in the NCSM sharing sessions helped me more than I could ever imagine. As a cancer patient, you deal with experiences that others can’t relate to, like being uncertain about your health status and unable to relax until you get the next test results. It’s incredibly stressful, so I’m thankful that I came away from these sessions with strength. It’s this strength that allows me to share my story and work to educate other women about their risk for cervical cancer, and what can be done to prevent the disease. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I endured, so I’m an advocate for HPV vaccination – which can significantly reduce one’s risk of cervical cancer – and regular screening. My message to anyone reading this: Don’t put your health on the backburner like I did. Make an appointment to talk with your doctor about how you can prevent cervical cancer through HPV vaccination and screening. It could save your life.
HPV and Cervical Cancer
HPV causes 99% of all cervical cancer cases. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among Malaysian women. Everyday, six new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed, and two women lose the fight against this disease.
Former Miss Malaysia Genevieve Sambhi was just 35 when she received the devastating news: she had cervical cancer. But she's a survivor today thanks to early detection.