S’porean breast cancer survivor bares scar of mastectomy on social media

Ms Jill Alphonso with her husband, Mr Justin Noreikis, before she had a mastectomy. PHOTO: BRYAN VAN DER BEEK/WHAT ARE YOU DOING SG

SINGAPORE – Two months after surgically removing one of her breasts due to cancer, Ms Jill Alphonso, 44, proudly displays her scars in a video on social media.

In the 13-second clip posted on Friday on Facebook, she bares the left side of her chest in a black bodysuit and shows off her new figure while dancing confidently.

Her goal? To send a message to breast cancer patients that women are beautiful even after having a mastectomy and that they can come out of the experience stronger than before.

She had hesitated about posting the video for some time as she was worried about haters leaving mean comments, but she went ahead believing it could help empower someone in a similar situation.

She told The Straits Times: “I’d seen pictures of women in the West who show their scars and chests openly. I wanted women in this part of the world to know – you are seen, you are represented, your story is being told.”

Ms Alphonso, who is an editor at OCBC Bank and a yoga instructor, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2022.

Her doctor had assessed the cancer to be at stage three, based on the size of the tumour. But tests done after her breast was removed later revealed that she had stage one cancer.

The former journalist first shared her cancer journey on social community website whatareyoudoing.sg, saying that the possibility of death had plagued her initially, but she quickly made the choice to fight for her life.

“This meant doing whatever was necessary to stay alive and putting my heart and soul into actual living. I needed to be happy, no matter what might come,” she said.

Ms Jill Alphonso being wheeled off into the operation theatre, with her close friends and family giving her their support. PHOTO: BRYAN VAN DER BEEK/WHAT ARE YOU DOING SG

Ms Alphonso was given two options to treat the cancer – to have chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before surgically removing it, or to have a mastectomy.

She opted for the latter as she was not keen on chemotherapy. Further, a doctor had recommended her having a mastectomy as her breast was filled with cysts that could obscure future tests that screen for the return of cancer cells.

“I never felt, going into surgery, that I was going to lose something. I focused on creating a happy life for myself and that included being cancer-free,” she said.

On the day of her surgery on Jan 31, she had a “party” before going into the operating theatre.

She said: “My family and best friends turned up with flowers, candles and presents and hung out with me in the hospital, before sending me off with hugs and smiles.

“Waking up from the operation, I felt as though I had a deep rest. I had imagined myself at the beach, drifting in the ocean.”

Two months on, Ms Alphonso said she is still getting used to her new body.

“When I shower, I expect to find something there. It’s mainly rib and chest muscle now. I can see the beating of my heart through my skin clearly,” she added.

Staying positive, being grateful and not comparing herself with others have been key in her recovery. “I didn’t just want to survive, I wanted to thrive. I looked for the good in everything and a renewed mindset allowed me to ingest massive doses of peace and joy, replacing doubt and fear,” she said.

Ms Jill Alphonso shows her new body and her scars, after she had a mastectomy. PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA, WHAT ARE YOU DOING SG

Professional photographer Bryan van der Beek – a close friend of Ms Alphonso who has been documenting her cancer journey – said he has seen her transform her life for the better.

“She used to drink and smoke but not any more. I’ve been so in awe of how disciplined she is, making sure that she puts only the best things in her body now,” said the 46-year-old.

The most challenging aspect of photographing his friend, he said, has been seeing her put on a brave front, knowing that she had underlying worries and anxieties about her condition. “In some of the photos, you can see a tension within her,” he said.

Asked whether she is considering breast reconstruction surgery, Ms Alphonso said she is thinking about it but is leaning towards not doing so.

“It’s a process, learning to be comfortable in your own skin, and honestly, I like the way I look right now,” she said.

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