Julia Gabriel's eight-year battle with cancer

Ms Gabriel at her house in Monks Hill Road. She was first diagnosed with Stage 1 ovarian cancer in 2008.
Ms Gabriel at her house in Monks Hill Road. She was first diagnosed with Stage 1 ovarian cancer in 2008.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Ms Julia Gabriel, 65, has been fighting a tough battle with cancer for the past eight years.

In 2007, the founder of the popular Julia Gabriel education centres discovered a lump in her fallopian tubes through a routine check up.

"At that time, I had no symptoms at all. In fact, I had just climbed a mountain in Nepal," she recalled.

It was April 2008 before she went back for another check, and the lump was still there. Doctors at the National University Hospital diagnosed it as Stage 1 ovarian cancer, and took out her uterus, both ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Ms Gabriel was given the all-clear after a few rounds of chemotherapy after the operation.

WAKE-UP CALL

I do think cancer is an environmental disease, and there is a need to be stress-free... I realised that cancer isn't a death sentence, but a wake-up call. It's a signal that something isn't quite right here. It is about taking stock of your life.

MS JULIA GABRIEL, who also has a mutation of the BRCA1 gene which increases the likelihood of ovarian cancer.

 
 
 
 
 
 

But in 2014, she felt that something was not quite right.

"I had a very upset digestive system. I was bloated and it just didn't feel right."

Her instincts were spot on.

The cancer had come back - in the form of Stage 3 primary peritoneal cancer, a rare cancer that develops in the peritoneum, a thin, delicate sheet that lines the inside wall of the abdomen.

She underwent two rounds of surgery to remove the tumours, and then chemotherapy.

But there was another blow to come - both her grandmother and aunt died of cancer in the middle of last year.

And her cancer returned again in January.

So, on the recommendation of her oncologist, she decided to undergo genetic testing.

The tests revealed that she had a mutation of the BRCA1 gene which increases the likelihood of ovarian cancer.

She felt overwhelmed: "I had changed my life in so many ways after I first got ovarian cancer. So I was surprised when it came back."

Once she discovered she had the BRCA mutation, her daughter Emma also underwent testing and was positive for the mutation.

She had a double mastectomy to remove both her breasts, since having the mutation puts her at far higher risk than other women of getting breast cancer.

Ms Gabriel said her son has yet to be tested. Men with the mutation have a higher risk of prostate cancer.

After her diagnosis, Ms Gabriel decided to overhaul her lifestyle, consulting a wellness doctor who uses nutrition to tackle diseases.

"I do think cancer is an environmental disease, and there is a need to be stress-free," she said.

She had acupuncture every two weeks, took 50 supplements daily, did not eat meat, which is mostly "pumped full of chemicals", and went almost exclusively organic.

She also hired a yoga teacher and practises yoga every day. Recently she added qigong to her regime.

She is not about to let her disease get her down. She said: "Strangely, I realised that cancer isn't a death sentence, but a wake-up call. It's a signal that something isn't quite right here. It is about taking stock of your life."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Julia Gabriel's eight-year battle with cancer'. Print Edition | Subscribe