Loving My 50s After Having Breast and Ovarian Cancers


After my mom died at 50 years old, I was certain I wasn't going to reach 50. I'm glad I was wrong.

Image of a doctor showing a patient results.

Life after two cancers has allowed Haniza to truly enjoy life — especially after turning 50.

For most of my adult life, I had thought that my 50th year would be my last. My Mother passed away at 50 when her cancer came back the second time. It was detected too late and it has metastasized to other parts of her body. Her sisters — my aunts — passed away the same year from breast cancer and, all within a few years of being 50. So, I wasn't too surprised when I received my cancer diagnosis when I was 49. I also did genetic testing when I was 40 and found that I have BRCA2, a genetic disposition that made me have a higher percentage of getting certain types of cancer.

My kids were 9 and 11 at that time. My son mentioned to me later that I've always kind of prepared them that I will not be around even before my cancer diagnosis. I didn't even realize that and felt bad about it. My mom's passing was really hard on our family and I subconsciously wanted them to prepare for the worst.

After the biopsy and lumpectomy, we found out that my breast cancer is the aggressive kind but my doctor said that my sentinel nodes were clear. Our life then was a lot of tough news with some good news in between. This was in early 2020 when the whole world was worried about COVID-19. My husband found out that he lost his job the same day I found that I had a suspicious lump. We worried about finances, and of course, loss of insurance.

Through my husband's hard work, he managed to get me the same medical team to care for me when I transferred to Medi-Cal. He was busy looking for work which took him a whole year, and simultaneously took care of me and the kids. In 2021, my father passed away from heart issues but since he was 8,000 miles away in Malaysia, I was unable to go home due to the cancer treatments and finances. He was always encouraging about that. About two months after he passed, my husband got a job offer. It was bittersweet that I couldn't tell my father about the good news.

My last surgery was the biggest one, it was a double mastectomy with DIEP Flap (a type of breast reconstruction using abdominal tissue to rebuild the breast). To do so, I had a CT scan done and that's when they found another lump in my ovaries. So, I added another doctor to my ever-growing care team, and I thought, maybe this is what's going to kill me, a cancer that's unexpected from my family history. It does have a higher probability due to BRCA2.

I then had an extra surgery which was a total hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus and cervix). It was filled with other hard choices: do I take my uterus out with my ovaries? Do I take both or one of them out? I chose to take them all out. I was tired at this time, and just wanted it to be over with. However, the doctor didn't tell me that I had to take a hormone medicine for the rest of my life due to this or I would suffer from vaginal atrophy (drying and inflammation in the vaginal walls). What a terrible term.

At last, I finished my double mastectomy and reconstruction. It was about the end of two years after I discovered my lump. At this point in time, the hospitals have become my second home but I slowly noticed, that my calendar is starting to clear up from hospital visits. COVID-19 vaccines have been introduced at this point, so my kids’ events were starting to fill my calendar instead. My hair started to grow, silver and permed by 'chemo curls’ — some people get curls after chemo. It reminded me of baby curls, and it felt like I was reborn again. That was the point where I felt maybe I was going to live a naturally long life.

My doctor confirmed that I'm now cancer-free and considered to be a cancer survivor. My 50th birthday has come and gone, and I feel like I don't have a clock ticking in my head anymore. I'm discovering aging and my new body. It's battered, scarred and comes with some complications but it's fine. My mom always told me that I was a late bloomer, I've always thought it was a shame I wouldn’t have time to bloom but now, even with some hesitance, as this is a new mindset for me, I might bloom after all.

This post was written and submitted by Haniza Zainal Abidin-Schlosser. The article reflects the views of Abidin-Schlosser and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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