Wang Yan is a sought-after motivational speaker who travels around cities in China to help, guide and rally parents in their journey of parenthood. She has also authored a biography entitled《燕南飞》that details the practices and beliefs that she inculcated in her daughters when they were growing up. In the book, she also shares insights on how women can excel in their roles as a wife and a mother, all while juggling work.
But Wang Yan would have never imagined that one day, she would have to rally and cheer herself on – in her most challenging journey ever.
In August 2021, Wang Yan felt a slight throbbing pain in her pelvic area. She didn’t think much of it and quickly dismissed it as the onset of menopause. But soon, the pain became unbearable. That prompted her to see a doctor in the hope of finding relief for her pain. Although the initial blood tests returned with no abnormalities, her daughter was not convinced. Through her daughter’s insistence, Wang Yan underwent checks and scans and that was when she was discovered to have stage 2 cervical cancer.
The cancer diagnosis left Wang Yan reeling in disbelief and confusion. “I had no family history of cancer and I led a very healthy lifestyle,” Wang Yan lamented. Cancer and cancer treatment was all very foreign to her. In fact, she had always associated cancer with chemotherapy and had never even heard of radiation therapy before. When she heard that she had to undergo radiotherapy, she was very concerned about how it would affect her. Will it be painful? Will the skin on my body be seriously damaged by radiation therapy?
Wang Yan’s radiation oncologist, Dr David Tan recalled the first time he met with Wang Yan and her family. “The ﬁrst consultation was diﬃcult as they were still in a state of shock and disbelief,” he said. Sensing their anxiety, he allowed them to ask as many questions as they needed and walked them through the key steps of the treatment as simply as he could, so they could understand and decide how to proceed.
Notwithstanding her initial fears and worries, Wang Yan’s experience as a motivational speaker helped her in her own cancer journey. She constantly reminded herself to “stay strong” and “never give up” no matter how rough the road ahead would be. She held on tightly to the belief that she would recover.
Throughout the entire journey, Wang Yan’s family stood by her to support and care for her. Every consultation and treatment was attended with her husband in tow. Her daughters also took time out to accompany her. The strong family bond enabled Wang Yan to trudge bravely along her cancer journey.
Medically, Wang Yan is grateful to her radiation oncologist, Dr David Tan. “He was very reassuring during our first meet up and gave me a lot of encouragement for my upcoming treatments and made sure that my side effects were under control. He also gave his personal number to my daughter so that we could contact him should any issue arise during treatments. We felt confident in him as my radiation oncologist,” said Wang Yan.
She said, “I remembered one particular day when I was feeling unwell late at night. My family was very worried for me and out of desperation, one of them messaged Dr David to seek his help. We did not expect him to reply immediately as it was already close to midnight but he did. I am thankful to have found an oncologist who truly cares for his patients. His nurses and staff have also been very kind and helped me greatly during treatments”.
While Dr David knew that Wang Yan needed time to come to terms with her condition and her treatment, he also knew that the treatment of cervical cancer is extremely time sensitive. “Cervical cancer cells can grow rapidly to invade the surrounding structures or spread into the bloodstream. In addition, treatment must be completed within a 7-8 week time frame, otherwise cure rates will be compromised. It is critical therefore that the appropriate treatment be selected and started as soon as possible”, explained Dr David.
Wang Yan was treated with an advanced radiotherapy technique called Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) that uses precise radiation beams to shape the radiotherapy doses tightly around the tumor, thus maximally sparing the adjacent normal organs. This is in contrast to traditional techniques (3DCRT) which utilise larger and less precise radiation beams that cause more collateral damage. As the goal was for cure and for the patient to return to a normal, cancer-free life for many decades ahead, it was critical for her to receive as little damage to her normal organs as possible from her treatment.
Two recent scientiﬁc studies have compared IMRT to 3DCRT and shown that the incidence of gastrointestinal and urinary side effects are almost halved with the use of IMRT, from 40-50% in 3DCRT to 20-30% in IMRT.
During treatments, the main side effect that Wang Yan experienced was extreme fatigue. She found herself sleeping most of the day. Other side effects included nausea and diarrhoea which were significantly minimised due to IMRT technology. She was glad that Dr David and his team kept a close eye on her side effects and prescribed the necessary medicine to keep the symptoms mild. In particular, Wang Yan experience no visible skin reaction around her pelvic area because of timely intervention solutions prescribed by Dr David.
Thriving After Cancer
Wang Yan was thankful that her recovery process was smooth. Within a month, she was able to take daily short walks in the park and eat like she used to before her treatment. During her third month scan and check up, she was almost back to normal.
Dr David Tan commented, “Wang Yan’s positivity saw her through her cancer journey. She was always chirpy and positive despite the minor discomforts she had. Sometimes she would look very tired especially after chemotherapy but would always greet me with a smile and even try to crack a joke or two! I believe such positivity, coupled with the loving support of her family, was what made her journey much smoother!”
For Wang Yan, she now lives her life with a renewed mission. “I will value my health more and do more meaningful things in life. My family has been a pillar of support during my most trying period. I now cherish the time with my family even more”.
She hopes to share her experience with others to motivate them and to let them know that while cancer can be intimidating, “we can all get through the treatment process by finding the right team of doctors and having a positive mindset”.
This season, we are privileged to celebrate our Ambassador of Hope: Wang Yan