Battle against cervical cancer: Numbness in left thigh ‘a small price to pay’

Left: Madam Noorliza, 43, a cervical cancer survivor. Above: With her daughter Farah Amirah Look Wei-En, now nine.
Ms Noorliza Binte Ismail, 43 with her 9-year-old daughter, Farah Amirah Look Wei-En.PHOTOS: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Left: Madam Noorliza, 43, a cervical cancer survivor. Above: With her daughter Farah Amirah Look Wei-En, now nine.
Ms Noorliza Binte Ismail, 43, a cervical cancer survivor.PHOTOS: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Late in 2014, Madam Noorliza Ismail started getting as many as three menstrual cycles a month, instead of the usual one. This went on for some months until it dawned on her that something could be wrong.

Last year, she made an appointment to see Dr Lisa Wong at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, but this had to be rescheduled twice because of her irregular periods.

Said 43-year-old Madam Noorliza: "It was a long-overdue screening which I had put off for several years. I just dreaded going for gynae visits."

The Pap smear was abnormal, so she returned for a biopsy which confirmed her "worst nightmare" - she had cervical cancer.

She recalled thinking: "Why me? How long do I have?"

Fortunately, it was still stage 1B1, where the tumour is less than 4cm and confined to the cervix.

She said her husband of 17 years, Mr Alvin Look, was a "pillar of strength", accompanying her to all her appointments.

"We talked about how to break the news to our eight-year-old daughter as we thought she ought to know that Mummy was sick and prepare her for the worst, just in case," said Madam Noorliza, who works in a law firm.

Dr Wong discussed treatment options with her extensively, she said, but recommended that her best option would be a total hysterectomy.

Dr Wong said the standard treatment is to remove the uterus, cervix, parametrium (the tissue between the cervix and the bladder), vagina and pelvic lymph nodes. This is done through minimally invasive keyhole surgery.

However, if the patient was keen to have more children, the uterus would be kept, and the patient would need radiotherapy, but this could lead to ovarian failure and premature menopause, and hence was not something doctors would recommend, noted Dr Wong.

Madam Noorliza said: "After much consideration and encouragement from my husband, I decided to go for the surgery."

She and her husband had been planning more children, but her having the cancer put paid to that.

Done in November last year, the procedure took five hours. She needed to spend six days in hospital, and three months resting at home after that.

She said: "My husband, family and close friends gave me the greatest support."

The only side effect she suffered was numbness in her left thigh - the result of the removal of lymph nodes from her pelvis to check if the cancer had spread - which might be permanent.

"This is a small price to pay," she said. The lymph nodes showed no cancer, so neither chemotherapy nor radiotherapy was needed.

Salma Khalik

Find out more about cancer and how to fight it on ST's Fighting Cancer microsite.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Numbness in left thigh 'a small price to pay''. Print Edition | Subscribe