Everyone has been touched or affected by breast cancer in one way or another, and although many have gone through it, no two stories are ever the same. In light of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we spoke to three brave women in this series of interviews to offer insight, comfort, and hope. Meet Letecia who survived it, Margaret who is currently battling it, and Jazreena who has to live with losing a loved one to breast cancer. A humbling reminder that even in the most difficult of times, we are in it together. This is Nelleisa Omar’s story.
In 2017, Nelleisa Omar – or Nell – was one of the speakers at our inaugural ZafigoX event in Penang. She regaled us with tales of her travels while battling cancer, how she refused to let it stop her from living life to the fullest. For me, she was a friend and someone whose resilience I admire, but for Jazreena, Nell was much more. Shortly after that ZafigoX, Nell’s cancer relapsed, and she passed away in 2018. We share the love for her and fond memories through Jazreena, who talks to us about keeping her spirit alive.
When did you learn that Nell had breast cancer?
Nell complained about slight pain and soreness on her breast for a while. Being a free-spirited and stubborn person that she was, she never thought much of it. She only got it checked when she noticed an unusual discharge from her breast and decided to finally get it looked at properly. One day, she wanted to meet a few of us for dinner, and I didn’t think much of it. Nell had a playful character, always making jokes, so even when she was telling us the news, I didn’t know how to process it. I gave her words of encouragement, positive energy, and hugged her. Honestly, I didn’t take it seriously until she had to go for a mastectomy. Then it hit me hard. Seeing her at the hospital all laidback, happily talking about the surgery comforted me. Her doctor had an amazing personality, so I thought okay, she’s a fighter and she’ll get through this.
Nell was a strong, spirited woman who never let the big C hold her back. Are there moments where her strength and resilience left you in awe?
Nell’s cancer relapsed and came back despite getting the ‘all-clear’ after the first round of treatment. It had unfortunately spread to the other breast. Normal people would have possibly gone through depression, but not Nell. She had it in her that if she could fight it the first time, there was no reason she wouldn’t be able to fight it again. She joined many groups and charities to raise awareness of this horrible disease, helping people going through the same ordeal. She came back even stronger than she did the first time, living life to the fullest. However, while Nell always portrayed a strong front, behind closed doors she was vulnerable just like anyone else. So, for me, no matter how strong you think a person is, it’s important to continue checking on them. They do have days when they breakdown.
After Nell’s battle with cancer, there was a memorial held for her. Can you please tell us about that?
Nell had many friends. She was friendly and loved by many. The memorial was held by another group of friends, which I sadly couldn’t attend. To be honest, I found it difficult to talk about Nell after she left us, especially in the early days. I found comfort in my solitude and preferred being by myself. I’m not the type of person to talk about this, but I do wonder a lot about whether I’d done enough as one of her best friends. Was I there for her? I went through our messages, and I did my own little memorial dedicating prayers solely for her.
How do you keep Nell’s memory alive?
I love looking at our photos and videos. I’ve known Nell since I was 13, so we spent our formative years together; we grew up with each other. There are countless fond memories, especially of us hitting different milestones together. That’s really all I have of her now. There are days I still find it surreal that she’s no longer with us. Until today, when I’m in the midst of a conversation with friends and a certain joke or topic pops up, I wish I could just pick up the phone and share it with her. I don’t think that feeling will ever really go away.
Do you have any advice for anyone going through the grief of losing a loved one?
There are no set rules. Grieve at your own pace and do it your own way. Some people like to talk about it, some people like to deal with it on their own; but I say find your most comfortable way to grieve. Always remember the good times, and never forget to say a little prayer for them as that brings some comfort. I truly miss Nell’s jokes and her silliness. Life is short, so cherish the time you have with your loved ones. Make every minute count.