Alden Boon

Liao Wenjing on the ‘Trauma’ of Breast Cancer and Finding Her New Calling in Life



A chance to rewrite her life’s script

For cancer survivors, the fear of recurrence is ever near, and it too gnaws at Wenjing. ‘I thought to myself: were the cancer to come back a year from now, would I have regretted spending the twelve months working my fingers to the bone? Did God put a stone in my path to have me take a pause and reassess my life’s choices?’

While she had a nebulous idea about her next step, Wenjing knew she wanted to work with and help other cancer patients. Then, the chance to work as a patient care assistant at a cancer institute came knocking. ‘The criterion was that the candidate had to be a recovering cancer patient, and I of course ticked the box,’ quipped Wenjing. ‘There was a lot of consideration. Giving up a high-paying job when I have two ageing dependents was not a prudent move. Yet in my heart I knew I could not continue my old lifestyle.’

Wenjing worked out her monthly bills, and with her insurance pay-out and her savings, barring any unexpected major expenses, she thought she would be able to take a break and delve into a new line of work. With that, she resigned and took up the new job offer. Her current day-to-day responsibilities include handling enquiries from cancer patients and their caregivers and helping them to file for financial assistance. ‘Having weathered the storm myself, I am able to offer a first-hand account of what it is like to live with and beat cancer. Many of the people I speak to, when they realise it is a cancer survivor on the other end of the line, are comforted. They realise they are not alone in their fights. Even through the brief conversations, I get to offer some form of encouragement to those in need. This I think is my calling.’

Gone may be the days of wine and dine and Europe vacations, but Wenjing is all the happier for it. ‘If my experiences can in any way help uplift someone, then I think it is worthwhile to have gone through what I went through.’

Protecting mental health: The importance of reaching out

Even though she is given a clean bill of health, Wenjing is yet free of medical appointments. As certain chemotherapy drugs can reduce calcium levels in the body and in turn cause osteoporosis, she currently has a bi-monthly appointment where she receives drugs to counter this. She also has to undergo periodic mammograms. Also, Wenjing says she is still a long way from having fully healed. ‘The tumours may shrink. The hair may grow back. After your physical body has healed, you think you can just move on as if nothing has happened. But the heart takes a long time to heal from the trauma. And it is that: from getting the diagnosis to the treatments, the entire cancer journey is traumatic. If the mental wounds are left unhealed, post-traumatic stress can sneak up on you and devastate you when you least expect it.’

Wenjing’s emotional healing began when she began attending art classes, where she met many breast cancer survivors in person, most of whom are in their forties and fifties. Interacting with them was very freeing, as there were no topics that were off limits. ‘We speak about many things, such as how we coped during our treatments.’ Art therapy was also key to her emotional recovery. Putting one brush stroke after another on to a blank canvas, Wenjing gets to indulge her innate artistic flair. ‘Sketching and painting allow me to calm my mind and focus on the canvas instead of other negative thoughts. Also, there is a gratifying sense of accomplishment when I finish a piece of artwork.’

nedla chemotherapy Liao Wenjing Breast Cancer IV
nedla chemotherapy Liao Wenjing Breast Cancer IV
nedla chemotherapy Liao Wenjing Breast Cancer IV

Her journey has also come full circle: Wenjing now actively shares her knowledge with new patients in cancer-support group chats. The very ‘frivolous’ questions that she used to ask, now she finds herself answering them. In 2021, she participated in Children Cancer Foundation’s Hair for Hope, shaving off her hair that had grown out for the first time since she completed chemotherapy. She managed to raise four times her target amount. On her decision to do so, she says: ‘Chemotherapy is already tough on adults, so children who are going through it are incredibly brave. It was my salute to them. I wish to tell them that it is okay to lose hair, it is okay to be sad. Just don’t lose hope and keep on fighting!’

Inverted Comma

There are warriors who have survived, and there are many who have lost the battles. Grab on to some hope. Everyone finds hope somewhere — some from family, some from religion. The sea will not always be calm, but do not lose courage during the storms, for you will reach the shore one day, as long as you keep on swimming or riding the boat. Know that you are never alone in this fight, and there are many resources, from emotional to financial, to help you.

Inverted Comma Bottom

Today, Wenjing bears the scars as a battered solider, and every day she is reminded of her post-treatment impairments. It used to bother her that she could no longer perform simple chores with ease, such as carrying a pack of rice. ‘Now, I just content with finding alternatives, such as pushing a trolley. I may be earning less than my peers, but I am no longer haunted by the stress of work. When you accept your condition, your new body and all its limitations, and move forward, you become happier — I guess my counsellor was right after all.’

This free-to-read story is an abridged version. For the full-length story on Wenjing’s cancer journey, subscribe now to unlock access. At just S$3/month, you will gain access to exclusive content such as author’s notes and photographs. Your much-appreciated subscription will go a long way in helping us create more high-impact and meaningful stories.

Pages: 1 2 3


Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.