As The New Savvy’s Chief Operating Officer, Carolyn Davis, secures the functionality of the business through exercising control and structure. Whether it’s handling professional or personal difficulties, maintaining order comes as second nature to her ever since she was a young girl. Yet, no amount of control or preparation felt adequate for when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.
In lieu of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, get up close and personal with Carolyn and discover her journey to find fortitude amid Breast Cancer:
The New Savvy: Tell us more about yourself.
Growing up as an only child in the baby boomers generation encompassed a strict disciplinarian household. My academic years were spent at a convent school that provided no leeway whatsoever. Therefore, my youth felt restricted and at times, quite lonesome.
I married early, I had my kids at 20 and 23 years respectively. Eventually, I moved to Indonesia to help my in-laws manage the family business.
After 17 years overseas, I returned to Singapore, where I secured a job with a trading company where I stayed on for another 15 years. After ending my tenure of almost two decades, I joined The New Savvy as its Chief Operating Officer.
In my opinion, most individuals from my generation spent their entire adulthood trying to earn a living; I was no different. I did not think much of it until I faced the physical and emotional repercussions that stemmed from years of accumulated stress.
In 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The New Savvy: What was your first reaction when you were told that you had breast cancer?
Before the appointment, I already had this gut feeling that I might be diagnosed with cancer. So coming inside the doctor’s office, I held my head high and remained as brave as I can.
Yet, when the words came tumbling out from the doctor’s mouth, it was as if all my senses were cut off. All I could hear was my voice inside my head asking “Why me?” over and over again. I could not feel the tears rolling down my face nor hear the doctor explaining my treatment options.
I was drowning in a plethora of emotional turmoil. Fears of pain, dying, financial and social distress came flooding right in. Devastation took over me.
Because contrary to what I wanted to believe, I was not prepared for such news. No amount of guts, strength or courage can prepare you to hear that you have cancer.
It took me two whole days to go back to the doctor. In those two days, all I could do was wallow in self-denial and pity.
The New Savvy: What treatment did you opt for and why?
I was diagnosed with left breast cancer and after much thought, I decided to do a bilateral mastectomy.
My grandmother and mother were also diagnosed with cancer before. I knew the implications that come along with the diagnosis. Therefore, I decided to opt for a bilateral mastectomy. As a matter of prevention, as I did not want to live in a constant state of fear of being palpable to another round of doctor’s appointments, being in physical pain and countless of treatment methods and operations.
It was a blessing in disguise that I opted for bilateral mastectomy because the test showed there was already the presence of cancer cells in my right breast as well. Later on, I decided to do reconstructive surgery.
The New Savvy: Why did you decide to do reconstructive surgery?
Initially, I did not want to do it, I had a senior nurse from the breast clinic who continuously gave me insights into the pros and cons of reconstructive surgery. And although I was not receptive at all, her patience, kindness and constant concerning texts eventually got to me and I decided to have the surgery.
The New Savvy: Was it difficult to decide on which treatment you wanted to opt for?
I can safely say that it was definitely the hardest decision I had to make. No matter who tries to convince you that it is the right decision, be it the doctors, nurses or even your family, it just feels wrong.
Because even though there are so many cancer treatments available, it only comes second to the pain and sorrow you are bound to feel.
The New Savvy: You stayed in the hospital for more than 3 months, why is this so?
There were a few complications after my surgery that still required professional care. I needed blood transfusions and had liver issues. My skin is also very sensitive, so the wounds took longer to heal.
Thankfully, I had 2 teams of doctors that would check up on me every day who tried their bests to cheer me up the best they could.
To be honest, I was not a model patient, I threw tantrums, cried and refused treatments. However, my doctors and nurses were extremely patient and understanding. They celebrated Christmas, Chinese New Year and even my birthday with me.
Although getting confined in a hospital ward for 3 months was not ideal, I was well-taken care of. It wasn’t only the doctors and nurses that looked after me, but even the caregivers and cleaners.
The New Savvy: What did you learn while you were confined for such a long period of time?
I learnt that the doctors and nurses will always go the extra mile to help the patient. No matter how tough and demanding the situation or even the patients themselves can be.
Hit shows such as ER and Grey’s Anatomy makes their job seem a tad bit easier, we don’t realise that they are not only caregivers but also givers entirely. They prioritise their patients over themselves, they skip meals do double to make sure that the thousands of patients and their respective family members are reassured 24/7.
So although staying in a hospital or having a loved one confined can be very stressful, we mustn’t forget to be grateful to the entire hospital staff who will always show nothing but kindness and patience.
The New Savvy: Do you have anything you wish to say to them?
To the doctors, nurses and caregivers that took care of me during my stay in the hospital. My team at the breast clinic who was ever patient and caring. And the team from NCC clinic who helped me during chemotherapy…
You were there with me when I felt most depressed and alone. You all hold a special place in my heart and I will be eternally grateful that I get to call you my friends. Thank you.
The New Savvy: How did you overcome your fears of treatments? Of side effects? Of the possibility of death?
I think that paranoia will stay with you even after you are discharged or declared “cancer-free”. There was a time when I slipped and fell at home and the doctor wanted me to be admitted but I begged the doctor not to admit me in the hospital.
I am not confined anymore or undergoing chemotherapy. However, the treatment carries on. I still have medical check-ups every three months. Hormone pills that I have to ingest religiously for 5 consecutive years and liver medication for another 6 months.
So there is still an overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety in me every now and then.
The side effects post-surgery were mostly medication-related due to the complications that the antibiotics caused on my liver and wounds. However, both are slowly healing.
Caring for the wounds was not easy. Not only did I have an open wound whilst going for chemo but having to clean it and dress it every day for the first 2 months was extremely exhausting.
I still avoid looking at the wounds in the mirror. I still cannot feel my toes and fingers properly due to chemotherapy drugs, the feeling is like constantly having pins and needles. The worst thing is how my stamina depleted severely causing me to experience extreme fatigue or no energy.
And even though it will take 6 months to 2 years to cure fully. Overcoming cancer’s side effects require a lifelong healing.
I overcame the fear of death by putting it at the utmost back of my mind. However, I believe that before an individual goes for any major operation, we should get all affairs sorted – good and bad.
As although we are hoping for the surgery to be a success, life is always very unpredictable. Therefore, instead of letting our loved ones suffer, even more, provide them with closure and reassurance.
The New Savvy: What is one thing that you wished your family and friends understood?
Although I am strong and pushed through everything, at times, all I needed was a long hug and a really good cry.
The New Savvy: Was there a point in your recovery that you wanted to give up? If so, what helped you push on?
There were plenty of times when I wanted to give up. But then I would think about my husband, my children, my family and friends who stood by me from the start of my journey.
Never-failing in their efforts to support me, be it through their words of encouragement or even the look in their eyes.
I felt I would disappoint them if I just gave up entirely so I brazened up, put on my strong face and fought again and again.
The New Savvy: Did you join a support group? If so, how did it help?
I tried to join a few support groups but I think it is up to the individual. You have to open up and talk about your pain, fears and feelings and I was/am not able to do so. Different individuals have different ways to recover, I chose solitude.
But I have seen others who when amongst others cancer survivors are at ease and happiest.
The New Savvy: Do you like being called a survivor? Do you feel as if people treat you differently now?
I personally do not mind it at all. Because from my perspective, I feel as if being considered a “cancer survivor” is not diminishing, it is empowering. Breast Cancer was a battle that I did not choose to fight, and yet, I’m still here, getting better every day, and that alone, makes me a survivor.
Yes, people treat me differently now, and at times, it feels as if they’re still wary and walking on eggshells around me. However, I have learnt to pay more attention to how I treat myself now. Being diagnosed with breast cancer made me realise that life is too short to be concerned about how others decide to see you, life is more about how you see yourself.
The New Savvy: What would you do differently when going through your diagnoses and treatments?
I would not have done anything differently, as I believe that this long, painful yet eye-opening journey has shaped me to become even stronger than I believed I was.
My diagnosis and treatments made me become more positive and optimistic about life. And although at certain points in my breast cancer journey, it felt as if I had no control over my own life. I am gaining it back, in order to feel more secure.
As making the most of every day should not just be a way to cope, but a means to live your life to the fullest.
The New Savvy: What would you tell a person who just learned about their cancer diagnosis?
Be calm, stay strong and be positive. Face whatever is to come with your head held high.
The New Savvy: What advice would you give to women who have/ had breast cancer?
It hurts – physically, mentally and emotionally. But let go of all the anger, resentment and grief that you feel. Whether it’s directed at your family, friends, at God or yourself. Let it go.
Find a way to channel all the negativity that you feel into discovering a clearer perspective of your priorities in life. Appreciate everything around you and always remember that you are stronger than all your adversities, more resilient than the toughest of waters.
Cause the scars that breast cancer leaves you only makes you a stronger person.
The New Savvy: What do you think cancer patients should always remember?
I think that most cancer patients forget that amid through the physical and mental changes, there is one thing that remains unconditional; and that is the love and support from your family and friends.
It is true, they will never fully understand what you are going through. However, cancer is not a battle you fight alone. Your entire family and group of friends fight it along with you.
So stay strong – your family and friends are your pillars of support and vice versa. They can only be so much for you, as you are for them.
The New Savvy: What advice would you give to family members whose loved ones are diagnosed with breast cancer?
My advice to everyone out there who may have family or friends diagnosed with cancer is to never tell them that “you know how they feel”. You are not allowed to say this if you have not gone through the whole cancer ordeal.
Just be there by their side and walk the journey with them, cause knowing that we have people we care around us, it is one step to winning this battle.
The New Savvy: What are you afraid of?
The unpredictability of cancer.
Although I am making the most out of my days and becoming more hopeful about the future. There are still days when I feel terrible. Nights where I lie awake with unforgiving thoughts about whether or not my next check-up will be a good or bad one. The constant state of uncertainty and anxiety has become my safe haven from the waves of depression and anger rooted from a year of my life that I lost to breast cancer.
The New Savvy: What are you happy about?
First and foremost, my most recent check-up shows positive results!
Second, battling with breast cancer gave me wounds, physically and mentally. But I am healing, inside and out, and these scars are slowly fading away.
Finally, I am happy that I got through the “worst part” of breast cancer because that means that I get to spend more time being a mother to my children, for as long as they need me to and thereon after.
The New Savvy: Describe life in three words
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