Fight the good fight

05 Feb 2020 / 09:44 H.

IMAGINE that you are a 27-year-old on a career upswing in the broadcasting world, and have a great boyfriend and a supportive family. Then you fall ill, find out you have cancer and are forced to undergo great discomfort while undergoing treatment.

Not many people can bounce back after those experiences the way Dr Choo Mei Sze has.

Choo, who holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology, has been the youth ambassador for the National Cancer Society of Malaysia since 2016.

A well-known TV host, public speaker, newscaster, voice talent and columnist, Choo shared her experiences battling cancer in her blog, which was read by millions.

Though she has been cancer free for five years now, Choo still advocates cancer awareness through youth support groups in collaboration with the National Cancer Society of Malaysia on a monthly basis.

She has also created a #sharestrength movement to highlight stories of other individuals battling cancer.

As World Cancer Day took place yesterday, Choo’s interview on her battle with cancer seems timely.

She recalled: “I was 27. When I was first diagnosed with colorectal cancer it came as a shock because I don’t have a family history with cancer.

“I had symptoms. I was already really petite and then I lost weight. I was having diarrhoea every month.”

Since she had been living in the US for a while before returning to Malaysia, she naturally assumed that her body was still getting used to local food.

“The clincher was when I had diarrhoea for three weeks.”

She went to two doctors, and was given a lot of medication which did not improve her condition.

“It was super tough. I was still going on shoots and emceeing events and I still had diarrhoea.

“My dad told me to go see a gastro endocrinologist. He though it was H.Pylori. Even when I saw the gastro endocrinologist he did not do a colonoscopy because I was young, and did not have a genetic history [of the disease]. It was only because of my dad’s insistence, that they found a tumour in my rectum.

“When we found out, it was a shock. Colorectal cancer usually occurs in males above 50, and most of them have a genetic history.”

Because it rarely occurs in women and those of a young age, the doctors didn’t even suspect that she had it.

Choo was diagnosed as stage 2A.

“I didn’t go through chemo. I was lucky. But I had to go through two surgeries. The first surgery was to remove most of my rectum and a part of my colon. I had to use a colostomy bag. The second surgery was to reconnect the colon and remove the need for the bag.”

Naturally there were lifestyle changes to be made. Choo was already practising a healthy diet even before the cancer. After her surgeries, she started exercising more and ate even healthier.

She became the youth ambassador of the NCSM in 2016 when the vice president of the society, Claire Ratnasingam, saw her emceeing an event and suggested she become the youth ambassador for her organisation.

“After that I worked out my terms. I wanted a young cancer survivors group, [that was] what I wanted to do as ambassador.”

Choo admits it is an uphill battle convincing people that cancer doesn’t really care about your age.

“ When we are young, we think we are invincible. We abuse our body, we eat whatever junk. It is tough, because nobody cares.

“To young people, cancer is an old person’s disease.”

Choo organises monthly activities for her group. She notes that cancer that strikes younger people often returns.

She said: “I am trying to propagate that you need to lead a healthy lifestyle no matter what your age. You need to lead a healthy lifestyle when you are young, and not after 40, or start thinking that you might have cancer and only [then] start taking care of your health.

“I use NCSM as the organisation to talk about health and cancer.”

Those diagnosed with cancer under the age of 35 are often referred to Choo. Lymphoma and leukemia are the most common cancers associated with the young, and those diagnosed with it make up the bulk of Choo’s group.

Choo says: “There is no such thing as ‘being cancer free’. I always have to monitor my health. For now I take things one step at a time.

“My outlook on life changed because of the experiences I had. I appreciate life more. I don’t take things like my health for granted anymore.”

When asked if the cancer had changed her plans, Choo said: “I wanted to use the media to help the youth grow socially and emotionally, and that is why I was in the entertainment industry. That didn’t really change, I am still helping the youth, but now it is youths with cancer.”

email blast