Jessie Tan

Share something with us about yourself, Jessie?

J: I am what people term a "cancer survivor". To be honest, I dislike being described as a "survivor" because cancer is a lifelong journey, not a one-time battle. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Her2 positive breast cancer in 2017. At the time of diagnosis, my daughter was only 8 years old and my focus was solely on staying alive and recovering from the cancer in as short a period of time as possible. My decision then to undergo a unilateral mastectomy was not a difficult one because given my specific condition, a mastectomy was medically advisable. I also elected not to have reconstruction, largely because I did not want to prolong the treatment process and the time needed to recover. Apart from the medical risks and benefits of these procedures, there was limited discussion and thought around the consequences of these decisions and how they would actually impact my daily life post-treatment. Since then, just like any other person who has undergone a major surgery, I've had to learn to manage the issues that post-treatment breast cancer patients face on a daily basis.

The lack of suitable bras for women like me is an issue that I continue to deal with. I experience swelling in various parts of my torso, shoulder and back, and the entire area is perpetually sensitive to touch. In the past 4 years, I've found it very difficult to find a bra that fits me comfortably. Even bras that are made for mastectomy patients tend to cut into my flesh and cause discomfort. I have had to learn to accept that this is just a small price to pay for being alive. Even then, I often ask myself if I had made the right decision to undergo a mastectomy and forgo reconstruction. Throughout my cancer journey, what really struck me was the lack of available information in a local or Asian context. After my diagnosis, I spent a lot of time searching the internet for information that could help me to understand my condition. It may be due to our conservative nature, but there continues to be very little sharing of information and experiences by Asian breast cancer patients.

What do the three words - strong, beautiful and woman - mean to you now?

Strength is cause for celebration, as is vulnerability. Let us in on some moments when you feel down, and your sources of comfort in times of need.

J: The encouragement and support I received from my family and friends was critical to my recovery. My best friends cheered me on throughout the chemotherapy cycles by sending me encouraging messages every day and my family did everything they could to comfort me. I cannot even begin to explain how much all of that helped me through that period. My daughter was quite young when I was diagnosed. As a mother, I was driven to overcome the cancer and to get well, for her. I wanted to be honest with her right from the start. I explained to her, in simple terms, that I was sick and that the treatment (chemotherapy) was going to make me even more sick. As expected, she was afraid and she was emotional, and I felt guilty for placing such a burden on her. But she understood, and she made an effort to be on her best behaviour. When I was at home and extremely ill from the effects of the chemotherapy, she made it a point to play quietly in her room so as not to disturb my rest. After I completed my chemotherapy cycles, I attended one of her school events. I was wearing a head scarf and her classmates were staring at me and giving me strange looks, and one of them asked her, why is your mum wearing that? She shrugged her shoulders and said, because she wants to. At that moment, my heart just stopped and swelled up with pride. I realised then that despite her age, she had learnt to deal with the situation in her own way.

Complete the sentence. Life is...


Photography: Nicole Ong (@knickieophotography) and Sharon Leisinger (@studioleisinger)
Hair & Make Up: ARLY
Lingerie:Harper Padded Bralette and Stella Silk Camisole Set by Perk by Kate
Robe: Bells & Birds