PETALING JAYA: Edilyn Perdiguez, fondly known to her friends and family as Michelle, is a Filipina who has resided in Malaysia for the last 11 years. She came to this country to work as a scuba-diving helper and technician before becoming a caretaker for the elderly.
When the movement control order (MCO) came into effect last year, Michelle was left without a job. She decided to move to Port Dickson from Kuala Lumpur to be with her fiancé, Emil Joseph, and the two started a home-based food delivery business.
Then, in June this year, Michelle discovered a lump on her right breast the size of a 10 sen coin. Though not alarmed at first, she decided to get it checked and was initially prescribed antibiotics.
Over the next few days, however, the lump began to grow rapidly. Alarmed, Joseph knew he had to take Michelle for further tests.
Being a foreigner, it was difficult for Michelle to be treated at a government hospital. The couple nevertheless tried their luck and were given an appointment three months from the date of their call.
“In just a few weeks, her lump had already grown to almost the size of my palm. I knew we could not wait until September,” Joseph tells FMT.
He managed to get her an appointment at a Chinese maternity hospital in Seremban. “They did a mammogram, CT scan, ultrasound and biopsy, and discovered that the lump was in fact cancer.
“It was growing rapidly and was very aggressive. But there wasn’t much the hospital could do, so they referred us to Pantai Hospital.”
The appointment was scheduled for two weeks’ time. With Michelle’s health on the line, Joseph was determined to get her treated as soon as possible.
“I got on Facebook and started joining cancer support groups and asked around if anyone could help. Thankfully, we were able to get an appointment at Beacon Hospital in Petaling Jaya the very next day,” he says.
The doctor there carried out a PET scan and more advanced lab tests. “We found out she has stage-4 Burkitt’s lymphoma, which is a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” Emil reveals.
This type of lymphoma is rare and usually starts at the neck. Michelle’s, unfortunately, had already spread to her breast, starting with the right and slowly to the left.
Joseph and Michelle were advised to do a steroid treatment first to hopefully reduce the size of the tumour. Sadly, the treatment only resulted in wounds and blisters but did not reduce the size of growth.
They were advised to start chemotherapy immediately.
“The cost of chemo, surgery and aftercare was too high at Beacon Hospital, so we had to find somewhere else to do it,” Joseph says.
He explains that he went online to find local treatment and even reached out to the National Cancer Institute, but “they were not accepting foreigners due to the MCO”.
Michelle’s condition, meanwhile, continued to worsen. “The left side of her face swelled up to the size of an apple and also caused Bell’s palsy,” he says, referring to facial weakness or paralysis.
Michelle had trouble talking and could barely speak for three weeks.
Joseph did not give up and continued to reach out to people to ensure his fiancé got the treatment she needed. After much effort, they were finally referred to Tung Shin Hospital in Kuala Lumpur.
Joseph explained Michelle’s condition to the oncologist as well as their financial situation. It was determined Michelle would need at least six sessions of chemotherapy, with each session costing RM15,000.
She would also require surgery once the tumour was safe to be operated on.
“The total cost, including surgery and aftercare, would come up to RM150,000,” Joseph says, adding that they were told they would be able to pay for each session individually.
He says he is working hard to raise the money, and has been sharing the news on social media in the hope of receiving donations.
As of now, Joseph has been able to pay for one of Michelle’s chemotherapy sessions.
“Though she experienced some side effects from the treatment and has lost about 6kg, we are very grateful that with just one session we are able to see improvements and a decrease in the size of her tumour,” he says, sharing the good news that her cancer has reduced by almost 80% from the first session alone.
He adds that Michelle had to be admitted for immune therapy a few days after chemotherapy as her white blood cell count was low.
Unfortunately, due to current restrictions Joseph is not able to visit Michelle in the hospital, but he continues to cook her meals and deliver them to her while juggling his work commitments.
He continues to pray for his fiancé’s recovery while doing everything he can to get her through this.
“We truly appreciate any help we can get to raise money to pay for Michelle’s treatment,” he says.