After a harrowing encounter in 2009 with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or Lou Gehrig’s disease—a nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord—new mum Connie Sun is now hit by stage 3 pregnancy-associated breast cancer (PABC) during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Give.Asia campaign, Connie said that while it was not the first time she had been seriously ill, finding out that she had breast cancer came as “a great shock to [her]”.
It took a scan in July 2019 to confirm the diagnosis on 5 March 2020, while breastfeeding her then 9-month old son.
Diagnosed with Breast Cancer During COVID-19
The Singaporean-born and bred mum said the cancer was said to have “spread to two lymph nodes”. “I never thought that I would be entering a new season categorised as a “cancer patient”.
In spite of her situation, the mum who currently lives in Seoul, Korea with her husband and 11-month old son, puts her little one first.
“Many worries flooded my mind, with the greatest one being my son. He was our baby miracle, conceived through IVF and the mighty power of God. I wanted to be there for him as he grew up,” said Connie.
Photo: Give.Asia via Maren Trinh
Lost Job Due to Coronavirus Pandemic
After being “thrown into despair” from her cancer diagnosis, life threw another curveball in Connie’s way.
Like many who have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and lost their jobs, Connie had lost her teaching job in March 2020.
She had been teaching English and worked as a translator for several years as the primary wage earner. Having to undergo cancer treatment also meant that she would be unable to carry on working.
This has been the case for both Connie and her husband since her treatment began, with no income from both sides. This is due to Korean’s hospital practices where a helper is required to stay by the patient during the hospital stay. As such, her husband has to take on the role as her caregiver as they were unable to afford alternative help.
Diagnosed with breast cancer during COVID-19, Connie’s husband stays by her side to take care of her. | Photo: Give.Asia via Maren Trinh
Support Group to Help Raise Funds
Since her diagnosis, Connie’s good friend, Maren Trinh had been playing an active role in supporting Connie and family. Maren had created a campaign on Give.Asia to help raise funds for them during this trying time.
“My story with Connie goes back to our joint pregnancies and the birth of her son where I was her birth doula. Never in my lifetime did I imagine that I would become her ‘cancer doula’ within a year.”
To ensure high survival, aggressive treatment would be needed to tackle Connie’s cancer: HER2+, with grade 3 tumour and metastatic tumours in two lymph nodes.
Connie said that she had to “move forward with the treatment in Korea” due to the travel constraints of COVID-19.
At Gangnam Severance Hospital, Connie will have to undergo multiple cycles of chemotherapy, surgery to remove the cancerous tumour and affected lymph nodes, and as well as radiation. Her treatment will also involve the use of experimental drugs due to the nature of her cancer.
However, these are not covered by Korean health insurance.
Diagnosed with breast cancer during COVID-19, Connie needs funds to undergo her cancer treatment. | Photo: Give.Asia via Maren Trinh
The page details the treatment plan in Korea and further breakdown of costs required, to ensure transparency to donors.
While the cost of surgery is said to be unknown at this time, the total estimated costs including chemotherapy and drugs total up to 100 million KRW (SGD $114,000).
100 percent of all donations received from this campaign will go towards paying Connie’s hospital bills.
Given a Second Chance at Life
“I did not want to walk through another season of treatment and receive help from people. It’s not that I don’t like help, but I thought my season of receiving was over,” said Connie after her struggle with ALS.
Having moved to Seoul in 2012 to marry her husband, Connie had previously travelled to China to seek alternative treatment for ALS after being told by doctors in Singapore that there were no further treatment plans.
She had to deal with muscle weakness and stiffening limbs for more than a year in Singapore back then. “My left leg was completely inward-turned and my whole body often ended up in spasms.”
While doctors in China claimed that Connie “would only have 2-5 years of life”, she said that she “never once believed it”.
“[In China], the doctors never thought they would be able to heal me and often told me all they wanted to do was to make me more comfortable and try to improve my quality of life.”
But life turned around for Connie when she was able to start walking again in November 2011, after being wheelchair-bound for 3 years.
Thanks to Her Supporters
In gratitude, Connie leaves a message for all of her supporters in an interview with Give.Asia: “Thank you in advance for listening to my story, to help or even taking an interest.”
She said that the support she has received from strangers who left messages on her Facebook page have been a source of encouragement, and is what keeps her going every day, including her son.
Here is where you can donate to encourage Connie’s survival during the crisis: https://give.asia/campaign/strongertogetherconnie-battling-cancer-with-10-month-old#/
Photo: Give.Asia via Maren Trinh