SINGAPORE: When Belinda Lee was asked to play the role of a breast cancer survivor who has to help a friend come to grips with her recent diagnosis, she remembered exclaiming: "Why me?"
The host-actress lost her 66-year-old mother to breast cancer last October and it was clear in her interview with Channel NewsAsia that the pain is still fresh.
Lee's mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2009. After undergoing a mastectomy and chemotherapy, she stayed cancer-free for six years. However, the disease came back.
The 40-year-old recalled feeling helpless when she accompanied her mother on her weekly chemotherapy sessions. “It was hard to watch her endure the needle, the nausea, vomiting and painful blisters on the soles of her feet as a result of the side effects,” she said.
As someone who has gone through "the good and the bad" with her mother, Lee said she would "show that I care without being hard” on anyone battling breast cancer, she said.
“I put my mother on a strict vegan diet, and didn't let her eat and drink a lot of things, not even Milo. It broke my heart when she said to me: 'What’s the point of abstaining when the cancer relapsed'?”
"If my mother were still around, I would let her eat what she wanted in moderation. I wouldn't be so hard on her," she said.
HITTING HOME THE MESSAGE
Dealing with the emotions that come with being diagnosed with breast cancer is not an easy one. And it is this difficult topic that Mediacorp’s latest drama series BRA explores. The 13-episode series starts airing on Oct 23 and will run daily from Monday to Thursday at 10pm on Channel 5, with the repeat broadcast on Toggle.
The story revolves around Beatrice Chia-Richmond's character Alexis, a successful oncologist who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has only eight months to live. The series follows her on a road trip to Penang with her friends Brenda and Rathi, played by Lee and Dhanya Nambiar, respectively.
The inspiration for the series came from the stories of real-life cancer survivors, said Jaya Rathakrishnan, the executive producer and head writer of BRA.
“Some of the cancer survivors that I know are the happiest people around me, even more than healthy people,” said Jaya. “In their darkest hours, these women opted for a fighter mentality instead of a defeated one. To me, that was a story that deserved to be told.”
To inject realism into the series, Jaya said “the writers spent months talking to breast cancer patients and survivors about their experiences, thoughts and outlook about the disease, and life after that”. They also attended support groups, workshops and seminars.
THE EXPERT'S TAKE
Not knowing how to react to a friend or loved one who has been diagnosed with breast cancer is common, said Dominica Chua, a counsellor with Allied Health Parkway Cancer Centre’s Singapore Operations Division. “We aren’t able to grant the individual the health, identity or independence she’d lost to cancer,” said Chua.
According to her, many caregivers and even the patients themselves may brush aside their emotions because crying and rumination are thought of as “something bad”. “We are afraid to be vulnerable and be in touch with these feelings. However, it is important for us to acknowledge them in order for us to heal,” she said.
Chua advised “acknowledging and validating the difficulties” the individual faces - be they physical, psychological, spiritual, emotional or a combination - rather than “telling her to snap out of it”.
Encouraging the individual to see a counsellor or psychotherapist may also help her to process her emotions. “Having a neutral party can aid the patient to gain a more objective perspective towards the concerns she may have,” said Chua.