Six years ago, Alexandra Chua found a lump on the right side of her neck. She didn’t think much of it, and even joked about her growing “Adam’s apple” with her friends.
Her mother urged her to have the lump checked by the family doctor. While the ultrasound scan revealed nothing exceptional, subsequent tests in Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) confirmed that she had developed Papillary Thyroid Cancer.
“I haven’t really come to realize what was really happening until I left the (doctor’s) room. My mom called to ask what happened, then I broke down.”
The news was devastating to Ms Chua, who was then only 18 years old. Her family doesn’t have a history of cancer. She was also an extremely active student who played water polo thrice a week.
Prevalent among women in their 40s, thyroid cancer is the eighth most common type of cancer found in women in Singapore. It is uncommon among younger people.
Ms Maykalavaane Narayanan, a National University of Singapore (NUS) Masters of Science graduate, said: “About 5 per cent (of all thyroid cases) are found in children and teenagers combined.”
She added: “We have no clear idea (why people develop thyroid cancer), we can only assume that in some cases, genetic mutations have been passed on from parents to children.”
In May 2013, Ms Chua underwent surgery to remove her thyroid and was later put through radioiodine therapy. “I was confined in a room for 3 days because I was radioactive. It made my neck swell up and I lost my appetite for a month.”
Now an educator with yoga-inspired apparel brand Lululemon Athletica, Ms Chua is on her way to full remission. She takes a thyroid hormone pill to regulate her metabolism, and has also made changes to her diet and lifestyle to be healthier.
Ms Chua advises cancer patients to “be strong and don’t let this be an obstacle”.
While her own journey with cancer has been tough, the experience has taught Ms Chua to remain positive during difficult times.
“You really need to be positive, tell yourself you can do it and that you can recover, and you will.”