To raise awareness of Pink Month, Tiana Ludhani, the co-founder of The Daily Tot, shares her loved ones’ battles with breast cancer.
Do you know anyone suffering from cancer? Fighting the disease can feel lonely and frustrating, not only for the patients, but also for their families and loved ones. This is why raising awareness – specifically for breast cancer during Pink Month in October – is important. Along with many other events and brands participating in Pink Month in Hong Kong, Tiana Ludhani – the co-founder of The Daily Tot – is hosting events at the popular Hong Kong bar to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC). In support of the cause, we chatted with Tiana about her family’s experience with breast cancer, as two of her closest relatives have been fighting it for years. Whether it’s talking about mental health and physical conditions like breast cancer with your loved ones, or helping them through grief and loss, we hope this article will encourage you to support and communicate with them more effectively.
Tiana Ludhani on dealing with breast cancer in the family
Hi, Tiana! Thank you so much for speaking with us about you and your family’s experience with breast cancer. How did your mother and mother-in-law first realise they had breast cancer?
My mum first had breast cancer when she was in her late 20s. At that time, the methodical way of detecting breast cancer was: If you feel a lump, run for it; go get it checked by a doctor. So that’s what Mum did – she went to the clinic in Taiwan (where she lived back then) when she felt a lump. The clinic did a scan for her, but decided the lump was cystic and not cancerous. So, she waited for a year before she got another check-up, this time in Singapore. And that’s when they found out she had stage 2 breast cancer.
Mum survived the first ordeal, but the breast cancer came back a second time (and a third later, too) when she was in her late 30s. Again, she felt a lump and went to get it checked immediately. She was fortunate that she caught the signs of this relapse quite early on, as the doctors simply needed to cut away the tumour, and she also had to go have a bit of chemotherapy.
As for my mother-in-law, she found out that she had breast cancer around five years ago. Like my mum, she also felt a lump and went to get it checked, only to find out that it was breast cancer. She’s been living in China alone, so it’s been a traumatic experience for her.
How did you and your family first react when your mum was diagnosed?
Coming from the South Asian diaspora, my family didn’t really sit me down and talk to me about what was going on. At that time, unfortunately, some subjects were just off the table: divorce, cancer, anything personal… People held back from sharing their emotions in general. But I understand that my family was simply trying to protect me. They didn’t want to scare me, as I was only around ten years old when Mum first got diagnosed with breast cancer.
My family only told me about what had happened when Mum survived breast cancer the first time, because they were wary that the same thing could happen to me. Even today, they’re still very particular about health checks; they’d urge me to get them done and they’d jump on any signs. I think that’s due to the trauma that came from the cancer experience. We understand the seriousness of it and how important it is to catch the symptoms early on.
With the two relapses, breast cancer feels like a ticking time bomb to us sometimes. But, to be honest, everyone is a ticking time bomb. While it may be a little morbid to think about it this way, we can all encounter accidents at any point in our lives. We can always fear that in five, ten, or 50 years from now, we may no longer be alive. But how we die will, most likely, be out of our control. What we can control is how we choose to look at life right now and how positive we are. Everybody is going through a battle that others don’t know anything about. So, the way I deal with the issue is that no matter what hurdles come my way, I try to breathe through them, learn from them, and come out the other side.
What did the breast cancer treatment involve for your mum?
When Mum was first diagnosed with breast cancer (this was around four decades ago, in the 1980s), cancer treatments were very invasive and side effects were enormous. Although she was young and in good shape, she didn’t recover from the cancer as easily as she thought she would. She had to stay in Singapore for months on end to do chemotherapy. Due to the radiation, she was losing her hair, skin elasticity, and even her hearing. I can’t imagine what it was like for her; her hair was her crown and she was all about the tai tai life. She had to wear a wig and she was also self-conscious about having to wear a hearing aid at such a young age.
As for the finances, everything was out of our own pockets. Insurance wasn’t something we thought about and my dad was already working hard on his business to afford Mum’s cancer treatments. So, it was very tough on our family back then.
In August this year, my mum’s breast cancer relapsed for the third time. With the advancement of medicine, we know that there are now better options for mastectomy, as well as different ways to restructure one’s breasts. To us, femininity is how we perceive ourselves, rather than what we look like.
How did you support your family?
The idea of being positive is easier said than done. We all have our dark moments, but how we decide to act on them is important. I ended up going to a therapist to talk about what I was going through, because that’s the best thing I can do for myself if I want to be mentally strong enough to support my family, and to be the one reassuring them that everything’s going to be okay. I would find the smallest things I can do to help take their pressure off, such as booking a hotel for them in London when Mum is going for a doctor’s appointment. I also call them regularly to check in on them and listen to them, but also to talk about my life for a little bit to help take their mind off things.
Mental health is so important, especially over the past two years when Hong Kong has been a walled city due to COVID-19. Since travelling and visiting our relatives hasn’t been possible, we must find ways to keep our mental health stable not only for ourselves, but also to support our loved ones. Since we’re the ones guiding our family through this dark time, we can’t be on the sidelines, so we must work through our messy thoughts in order to see the path forward. And it’s okay to get counselling; it’s okay to talk to your partner about things. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting help – for the sake of yourself and your family!
Do you think breast cancer has changed the relationships between your mother and mother-in-law with their loved ones?
My mother and father are the most unique couple I’ve ever met. As cheesy as it sounds, they’re the model partnership I strive for. In contrast to the tradition in South Asian culture that mothers should be the homemaker and fathers should be the breadwinner, I could see that my dad respected my mum not only as a woman, but also as his equal, especially after she survived breast cancer the first time. I think that sort of love and acknowledgement made Mum even stronger. She joined Dad’s business and they’ve been thriving together ever since.
As for my mother-in-law, we had a very rocky relationship when I got married to her son, because it was as if I took her pride and joy away. Plus, we both have strong personalities, like fire with fire. I had to fulfil certain duties as a daughter-in-law, such as visiting her, taking part in family banquets, and stuff – all of that amounted to a lot of pressure one me. But, we’ve become the best of friends over the COVID-19 period! Because of my mum’s experience, I can see what my mother-in-law has been going through, and I can relate to it. From only speaking once every five weeks, we now talk almost every other day. We understand each other and get along really well, so I can’t wait for the day we open those borders and I get to see her again – and give her a superwoman outfit for everything she’s been through!
What advice would you give to those supporting loved ones with breast cancer?
Trying to support our loved ones, especially when we’re physically apart due to the pandemic, can be extremely difficult. It can mentally traumatise you.
Firstly, make sure you have a good support system – and that means quality over quantity. Whether it’s your spouse or your partner, your best friend or your siblings, get yourself a close-knit circle of two or three people you feel you can fully open up to on your darkest days. That means having absolutely no filter, too. They need to be prepared that you might give them a ring at 3am while bawling in the bathroom. For instance, my best friend has been a godsend and I’ve been so thankful to her.
Secondly, allow yourself to grieve. People are so quick to say, “No I’m fine. I’ll be fine. I’m okay.” But, it’s okay to take some time off work for a mental health day and just let yourself feel your emotions. Cry; sit in your bedroom; let yourself go down the rabbit hole. Just allow yourself to wallow in the darkness for a bit. The emotions will be easier to digest that way. You might even feel a sweet relief when you wake up one morning and suddenly realise you feel just a little better. It’s like a flu that you need to get through. You won’t feel great – you’ll be on an emotional roller coaster and the journey doesn’t really get any easier – but don’t brush it away. Accepting that you need to go through the darkness is important, because otherwise you won’t be able to emerge on the other side.
Thirdly, seek professional help. It doesn’t mean there’s anything mentally wrong with you by doing so. I went to see a therapist three or four times, and I was already feeling better. Sometimes, we just need to unload everything we don’t want to unload on our friends, because they’re all going through their own issues. By talking to a complete (professional) stranger, I was able to dissect my feelings. Then, I was able to go about my day, and I felt stronger to be there for my family.
Tell us more about the breast cancer awareness events The Daily Tot has got on this month.
This is the sixth or seventh year for me (and the second year for The Daily Tot) to help raise funds for different organisations supporting breast cancer research and awareness. This year, proceeds will go to the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) to further medical research and assistance for those in impoverished communities. So, I’m really excited about the events this year! It’s gonna be a lot of fun.
To start off with, we have Dance for a Cause on October 23 (Saturday). DJ Chi Chi has volunteered to show off her talents as a dance instructor. She’ll be hosting an hour-long dance class at The Daily Tot for about 20 participants. After the workout, we’ll have some free-flow prosecco while she DJs on the deck.
Another event for Pink Month is Drink for Pink, a meet and greet event held on October 28 (Thursday), in conjunction with Spark. This brand belongs to a friend of mine – Simran Savlani – who’s started her own line of sauces, handmade here in Hong Kong. She’s also publishing her new cookbook. So, she has volunteered to host a noodle station at The Daily Tot where she’ll be showcasing her products. While enjoying your drinks and noodles, you can meet and network with other women.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Yes! I’ve been encouraging every woman around me – and whoever reads this article – please go and get yourself a health check every year, from head to toe, because the littlest thing can affect you and develop into something bigger. So, educate yourself on breast cancer and other health issues, don’t overlook any symptoms, and attack them early. If you’re lucky, at least just get an a-ok from the health check – then you can grab a bottle of wine and celebrate!
For more information on government services for mammography screening in Hong Kong, please visit the website for Woman Health Service.