Stories of Hope

“My name is Deepa Maurya. I am a 49-year-old IT professional, and mother of an 18-year-old boy. I am also living with Stage 4 lung cancer, which has relapsed five times since 2017, and here is my story."

Fighting the tough fight with a smile

My cancer journey has been a long one. In 2012, I was diagnosed with a rare disorder, called nonspecific interstitial pneumonia (NSIP), a condition which affects the tissue that surrounds the tiny air sacs of the lungs. A NSIP diagnosis meant that I had to undergo a CT scan every 6 months – it was this routine scan that ultimately helped detect my lung cancer.

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I missed a scheduled routine scan in May 2016 because of a fractured leg. When I finally got the scan done in July, the doctor detected something abnormal. However, the scan results weren’t clear, so a PET scan was done. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer and quickly underwent surgery to remove the tumour in my left lung, which was a success. Unfortunately, the operation resulted in a loss of capacity of the lung, but I was declared cancer-free.

“Then, in April 2017, I started experiencing severe pain in my leg and I could barely walk. It took several visits to several doctors over months before I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. By then, the cancer had spread to six parts of my body, with bone damage to my left leg. I had to have surgery to insert two rods into my leg to be able to walk again. After the surgery, I also underwent chemotherapy as well as immunotherapy.

I subsequently went into remission and life returned to a new normal. In December 2018, I started experiencing severe pain in my left shoulder. Multiple tests later, the cancer was found to have relapsed in the bone of my left upper arm (humerus) and left armpit. This time I underwent radiation treatment for two months.

After a period of respite, I started having persistent headaches in 2019. Cancer had again relapsed in my brain, left humerus and lungs. This was the second time the cancer was detected in my brain, and I had to undergo six-hour-long brain surgery and radiation therapy. Following the surgery, I also underwent chemotherapy and immunotherapy. With this round of treatment, I experienced challenges with hearing, smell and memory.

While the treatment was ongoing, the cancer relapsed in April 2020 on the right side of my brain and spread to my spine by September 2020. As of December 2020, I am still undergoing immunotherapy and I have been on anti-angiogenic therapy for a while as well. I sometimes experience severe headaches and pain in my neck, but the doctors have faith in this treatment for me and despite my arduous journey, I am facing cancer with a smile on my face.

SG-KEY-00419 MAY/2021

Approaching cancer with a positive outlook

My initial reaction to my diagnosis was of acceptance. I have always been a non-smoker and a teetotaller, so I did not blame myself. There was no family history of cancer either. I undertook the treatments in stride, and I wasn’t intimidated by the initial side effects as well. My friends and family were supportive, and my workplace was also understanding of my situation – all of which is extremely helpful in creating a sense of normalcy when your life is anything but.

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It was only when I had to undergo brain surgery that I started to succumb to the emotional impact of living with cancer. My son and my husband, with whom I had been very open and honest about my diagnosis, had now started to worry when I started to suffer memory losses as well as eyesight and hearing problems. It had started to become overwhelming for everyone around me and the number of friends started dwindling. My working hours had also been reduced. All these changes had an impact on me, and it became difficult to continue putting on a brave face.

The financial burden of cancer is also real, especially if you are unable to enrol into public programs like I was. I have been fortunate to have managed the expenses so far with my earnings. It is very important to discuss treatment options and financial plans with your family. Cancer impacted my family’s lives as much as it did mine, it is only right to include them in every step of the cancer journey. Living with cancer has changed the way I look at caregivers now.

Finding a sense of purpose can help you through a cancer diagnosis

My life has changed completely because of cancer. It has been a long time since I enjoyed north Indian cuisine that I grew up with because of oral ulcers, a side-effect of chemotherapy. My work, in which I take immense joy and pride, had to be reduced as I needed the time to recuperate after my treatment. I lost some long-time friends over the years as well.

With the guidance of my doctor, through Singapore Cancer Society’s Patient Support Group and my Community Centre, I have started engaging in arts and crafts and volunteering work to cope with the uncertainties in my life. I have also channelled my energy into supporting other cancer patients like myself. This has helped me gain a sense of purpose and I regained my fighting spirit.

Since then, I have made new friends through my involvement in community work. I volunteer regularly with multiple cancer support groups, with whom I can share my experience via various platforms. I always try to spread awareness about the importance of timely diagnosis – you can be at risk of lung cancer even if you aren’t a smoker like myself.

While the risk for lung cancer is higher if you are a smoker, non-smokers can get lung cancer too. I am now a strong advocate for the importance of timely diagnosis. If you know that you have certain risk factors or family history of lung cancer, speak to a doctor early to understand your suitability for screening.

Looking to the future

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With five relapses since 2017, my cancer journey has not been easy. But I have always tried to remain positive, look at the brighter side of things and use my experience and learnings to help others. Having seen my cancer journey at close quarters in his formative years, my son has decided to pursue a career in medicine. He is soon going to university to become a doctor to be able to help others like me. I couldn’t be prouder!

Share your ‘I Can’ story

Have you been diagnosed with lung cancer and chose to forge ahead on your own terms? Do you have a loved one who turned to face lung cancer head-on? As a caregiver, do you have tips and stories of encouragement for other caregivers?

Share your story to help empower others living with lung cancer.

Remember that there is power in the community, others with a lung cancer diagnosis could feel supported and inspired by understanding how you are taking on lung cancer.

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