The First Diagnosis
In 2014, Zoe Yap’s life was turned upside down after the birth of her first child. Little did she know that the persistent “dull” sensation which she had felt in her anal area whenever she opened her bowels would turn out to be something far more sinister. She had initially dismissed the symptoms as piles, a condition that developed since her third trimester. It was in seeking treatment for her ‘piles’ that Zoe was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer at 33 years of age.
Having been a practising vegetarian for the past 20 years, as well as having led a healthy and active life, the diagnosis left her reeling with disbelief.
“When I first received my cancer diagnosis, I could not accept it at all. I was told that I only had a survival rate of 65%,” recounted Zoe, who had hoped to have 3 kids when she first started her family.
Notwithstanding her initial confusion and fears, Zoe was determined to brave the treatment for her family’s sake. The newly minted mother triumphed over her first cancer journey. But shortly after, her cancer recurred. Zoe not only battled her cancer once, but multiple times as she was subsequently diagnosed with end stage cancer requiring further surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy for lung metastases.
Zoe admits that it was a very difficult journey. But as she headed towards her recent treatments, the fear that gripped her finally went away. For that, she credits her faith in helping her find peace and joy in the midst of the fiery trials.
And beyond that, Zoe is thankful for many things. Financially, she is thankful that her insurance covered the costs of her treatment. That was a weight off her shoulders.
Medically, she is grateful to radiation oncologist Dr Daniel Tan and the medical team at AARO for extending hope to her through Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT). “The radiation treatment with Dr Daniel Tan was easy and I did not experience any discomfort or side effects during the treatment. The most I had was only fatigue,” recalled Zoe. “Dr Daniel Tan was very cheerful and helpful throughout my journey and it was particularly reassuring when he said I could call him anytime on his personal phone if I needed help.”
The Treatment: SBRT
Dr Daniel Tan recalled, “Ms Zoe was referred to us by medical oncologist Dr Wong Nan Soon in 2019. When she first came to us, she had just emerged from a life-threatening episode as a result of the side effects of combination chemotherapy which was administered by another specialist. This time, a single lung metastasis had appeared again and Dr Wong correctly advised that what Ms Zoe needed was local targeted therapy to deal with her solitary lung metastasis instead of her previous multiple cycles of combination chemotherapy, which was not only ineffective but caused more side effects for her. Due to her previous lung surgeries and her condition after the chemotherapy, Ms Zoe needed a treatment which was non-invasive and yet effective, to destroy the runaway lesion completely.”
With careful planning and execution, the team at AARO were able to treat her cancer with SBRT under breath-hold using the active-breathing coordinator (ABC). The ABC is a tool which helps the patient hold their breaths during treatment consistently to maintain stability of the tumor position during beam firing. The focused, high-dose radiation, also known as radiosurgery, works by destroying the DNA of the cancer cells, while sparing surrounding critical organs due to its sub-mm accuracy.
Thriving After Cancer
Our inspiring mother has never given up her zeal for life throughout her ordeal. In 2019, she graduated with 1st class honours in Business Administration with Kaplan-BCU and is now a respected financial and insurance adviser. It has been almost 1.5 years since Zoe sought treatment at AARO and we are glad that her disease remains under control without the need for any further chemotherapy. Apart from her work and family commitments, Zoe makes time to volunteer with various cancer organizations, to help people and share her story to encourage others.
“I hope to inspire as many people as possible with my story to live life to the fullest. Let’s not allow pain to deter us, but propel us forward.”
This season, we are privileged to celebrate our Ambassador of Hope: Zoe Yap.