Seated across See Ting, a young 28 year-old who recently went through breast surgery and chemotherapy after being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer just months ago, it’s hard to not be overwhelmed by what she’s been through.
But while cancer presents itself as her most daunting hurdle of late, she’s had similar brushes with adversity before.
At 20, she was diagnosed with alopecia, a condition of hair loss in patches. A relatively unknown condition, See Ting created the first support group in Singapore for it.
Her infectious smile, something common but yet an unfamiliar constant throughout our conversation made me curious as to how a young person like her stayed positive despite her plethora of trials.
Above: See Ting wears Grandpa's Groove Wide Pants in Blueberry in Size S
What are you doing now?
I’m funemployed now, in the recovery process after doing my breast surgery. I’ll be starting my new job next month at a law firm, helping them with their social media and marketing engagement.
How did you discover you had breast cancer?
Last June, I discovered a lump in my right breast. It wasn’t a big lump and no pain so I was not worried. There was no history of cancer in my family either.
After two weeks, the lump was still there so I went to the polyclinic which referred me to CGH. I didn’t think it was going to be urgent. During the scan in July, the doctor did an ultrasound and then ordered a mammogram to be done on the same day. I had one lump with a few lumps around and my lymph nodes had lumps.
My mom was with me that day and by then, she was distraught. I felt I had to take care of her and had to be strong for her. When I was lying on the bed for the biopsy, God said to me while I was praying, ‘do you trust me? This will bring reconciliation to your family through this.’ I didn’t understand and could not believe it.
Above: See Ting wears Don't Speak Wrap Dress in Blue Pea in Size S
What was the relationship between your mom and you?
I had an estranged relationship with my mother. I moved out in 2016 to my cousin’s place because we see things very differently and have very different priorities. My mother wasn’t able to compromise/ agree to disagree, so there was a lot of conflict and often trust that was broken. We were at each other’s throat constantly. I was happy to have a civil relationship with my mother.
But after my dad passed away in March, a few months before, I think it was very hard for my mother. But I didn’t know how to reach out to her. There was a lot going on. I frankly was not ready for reconciliation and didn’t want it. But after this, I moved back in with her.
How did you feel when they told you about the diagnosis?
I cried and couldn’t believe it. Cancer in young people is not that rare but you don’t think it’d happen to you. The amazing thing was even with that, there was a peace that told me I could get through it. Instead of wondering if I could survive this, I set out to defeat it and know what this season in my life was for.
Above: See Ting wears No Excuses Wrap Skirt in Cauliflower Florist in Size XS/S
What was more difficult- alopecia or cancer?
I know objectively it should be cancer. I have a poorer prognosis and the treatment is far more intense. For alopecia, they gave me steroids. For cancer, I had five months of chemotherapy, then my surgery followed by five weeks of radiotherapy.
But it had to be alopecia, which is spot baldness. I was diagnosed with it in 2013 and it made me wrestle with my faith. It pre-empted what cancer was going to bring.
How was chemotherapy like?
Chemotherapy is not cool! I’ve had it easier than most people because my side effects were more mild but the pain is still there. Every week, they have to put me on an IV drip and toxins that flush through your veins make your veins narrow and harder. As each week progresses, the nurses find it harder to find my veins and the flushing through my veins becomes more painful. So there are times the nurse tries to insert the needle multiple times.
I had to go for a second round of chemotherapy and my immune system was so low, the doctors had to hospitalise me so I don’t get any infections. I stayed in the hospital over my birthday weekend. It was very trying for me & my boyfriend, Ian. There were points in time where I told him I couldn’t do it anymore.
Above: See Ting wears Birds Don't Sing Dress in Cauliflower in Size S
I heard that you needed to give your boyfriend a hard talk?
We had to have the cancer talk before we were officially together. In July, we were talking about serious courtship and I told him about the situation when the report wasn’t out yet.
I told him to pray about it and there’s no shame to say this is not what you want. It’s not everyone’s call.
He was about to fly off for work so when I got my report, he was not there, which was good because it taught me that I didn’t need him to walk me through this. I would want him to walk with me but a mere man wouldn’t be able to handle this and it made me focus my eyes on something greater.
How can we help people with cancer?
Ian, my boyfriend, is a good example. He has never rushes me in my emotions. He allows me to feel it completely. He validated my emotions by saying ‘I don’t think there’s any good words people can say to comfort you. The truth is that we will never know the pain but I just want to remind you that even Jesus struggled with his cross and it’s okay for you to struggle.’ That made me bawl my eyes out. A person in deep pain is not looking for answers. We just want to know that we are not alone.
What was it like for your loved ones?
The thing about cancer is that you don’t go through it alone. Everyone around you goes through it with you. It doesn’t hurt them any less. This season taught me not to underestimate how much pain everyone can each go through, even though they’re not physically hurting. This brought us all closer together.
Above: See Ting wears Upgrade U Bucket Hat in Matcha in Size S, No Scrubs Kimono Jacket in Peach in Size XXS, Shooting Stars Bowling Shirt in Cauliflower in Size S and Origami Lovers Skorts in Blueberry in Size M
What did cancer make you face?
My identity. We all have multiple identities- some superficial and some deeper than others. When tragedies happen, it often tests our identity and we break down when the particular identity is taken away from us. Alopecia and breast cancer both make me tackle my identity as a woman. Without my hair, am I still a woman? Without my breasts, am I still a woman? It made me realise that these identities are so easily stripped away.
Your identity cannot be founded on what people think of you. When I had alopecia, I was 20. My friends were pretty and partying, while I was losing hair. My grades suffered a lot and in a society that values grades a lot, it made me redefine my mindset.
You had alopecia, your father passed away and you had breast cancer. What kept you going through this?
I had a promise preceding the prognosis, the day I was praying to God. It promised me that I would hurt, but no harm would come to me. They had not confirmed that I had triple negative breast cancer (not caused by any of the 3 hormones that usually causes breast cancer) and I had to urgently begin treatment.
The doctors actually confirmed this on 31 July, the day before the 10th year anniversary of coming to faith to God.
Are you always a positive person?
No! This isn’t my usual demeanour. I’m a worst case scenario person. I prepare for a thousand ways things that can go wrong but cancer still altered my perspective.
How do you still believe despite such bad things happening to you, one after another?
When you go to Japan and view Mt. Fuji, it’s so glorious. But when you use a bad camera to shoot it, you don’t doubt the beauty of Mt. Fuji. You know it’s your lens that has a problem so you better buy a better camera. In the same way, I found that when we struggle or doubt God, we don’t understand who he is and look through our myopic lens.