Gia Sison (@giasison) became the latest guest speaker in the #BCMTalks sessions, a series of talks that focus on sharing women’s breast cancer experience with an online audience. Here Gia, guided the audience through her unique experience of being both a patient and physician of breast cancer. She began by taking listeners back to the very beginning.
“I was diagnosed just over one year ago when, by coincidence, I felt a lump in one of my breasts,” she explained. “I had a mammography procedure done and I was able to understand the image of my breasts. When I saw it I said to myself ‘this looks bad.’ As a physician I already knew it was cancer.”
The shock didn’t end there as a mixture of emotions threatened to overwhelm her. However Gia’s profession as a physician meant she began formulating a plan of action.
“I was totally numb at first. I wasn’t able to cry. I had to pull myself together and work out how to manage it. I was debating with myself as to the best course of treatment.”
She mentioned that the bungee jump from physician to patient was very deep. “I felt lonely at times, other times it was happiness. It was a roller-coaster of emotions.”
The theme of connection and support is an often overlooked aspect of breast cancer treatment. Often patients are left without a means of support group alongside fellow cancer patients. Gia however, found the use of social media vital in developing a support network and keeping her spirits positive throughout her chemotherapy sessions.
“The social network knew my story first even before my friends did,” she said. Through them I began to form support groups. They were instrumental in my support system when I was diagnosed and undergoing treatment.”
“Whenever I would go into chemotherapy, I would tweet. There would be a surge of tweets cheering me on. Through their support I was able to go to chemo. They put up a Facebook fan page and posted messages of hope, which I read every day. They served as my support group and reinforced for me the wonders of digital health.”
Gia went onto discuss the unique position she was placed in as a cancer patient and physician. She explained how her bedside manner has changed and how powerful her experiences are in encouraging patients to keep positive.
“Whenever I see patients with cancer now there is an extra dash of empathy because I have had that experience and can empathize. I find myself sharing my own story with the patient as I don’t want them to lose hope as their doctor had cancer too.”
Gia went onto describe some of the actions she took after she was given the all-clear. “I started to become my conscious of the ingredients in my food. I did cheat occasionally with junk food though!”
“I’ve also been exercising and becoming extra vigilant with my health. I also try to get six hours of sleep.”
Gia’s final words to the session’s listeners were one of positivity and courage in the face of adversity. “If there’s anything that cancer taught me is life happens for a good reason and it’s really all about perspective,” she said. “You can either see your disease as something to gripe about or as something that can get you to change your lifestyle for the better.”
“You cannot handle cancer alone. A support group is very important. It has taught me to connect and conquer cancer with courage in my heart.”
She concluded with one critical recommendation – a self-administered breast exam every month. “If I had examined my breasts earlier I could have caught the mass and avoided chemotherapy,” she said. “I regret not doing that. So that’s my advice: go for early detection and screening and if you feel a lump go see your doctor.”