Diagnosed with cancer two years ago, May Siu says tai chi and a positive attitude helped her fight the disease AWARE OF THE RISKS, May Siu has always been careful about her health. This character trait may have saved her life. Every year, no matter where she was living - in Hong Kong or Canada - the mother of two ensured she had a full physical check-up. During one such appointment while on holiday in Canada in early March 2002, it occurred to May that she had not had a mammogram in five years. She had been too busy with her bookstore business, and because there was no family history of cancer she didn't think it would be a problem. So she had a mammogram and an ultrasound, and was given the all-clear. While the lab report found no sign of cancer, May was advised, as a woman in her 50s, to have a mammogram every year. Two days later, she returned to Hong Kong to take up a position with the Legislative Council, where she helped the retail industry functional group prepare for the elections. One morning at the end of March, she was in the shower when her hand brushed past something that felt unusual. May found a hard lump in her right breast as big as a fingernail. Her doctor in Hong Kong reassured her it was probably nothing. She requested another mammogram, but the doctor was reluctant, saying it was too soon after her last test to have another X-ray. May insisted. After her mammogram, the hospital called May, asking her to come in to the clinic. On the Monday morning, in the presence of her daughter and brother, May learned that she had stage two cancer. The growth was already 3.5cm. The tests in Canada had not got it wrong; this was a particularly aggressive and acute form of cancer that had spread quickly within weeks. The doctor prescribed the full gamut of treatment: a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 'I felt okay. I just accepted it,' she said, adding she did not want to appear worried in front of her daughter. May did not tell her sister until after the operation, and to this day her father and one brother still do not know. May knows she was lucky as she was not too sick during her treatment. She did lose all her hair, though, which frightened her young grandson when he first saw her, but she felt strong enough to volunteer at the hospital while she was a patient there. She helped at the hospital stall, and attended the hospital dance class. May retired from work to put all her energy into fighting the disease. Even though she won't be regarded as recovered until she has been cancer-free for five years, she is receiving no treatment and feels quite well. She puts this down in part to the tai chi she now practises every day, and a positive attitude. 'I've learnt not to be too stubborn. No one knows what may happen tomorrow.' She has also changed in other ways. 'Before the diagnosis, I was not really willing to take help from other people. Now I know it is okay to accept love and care from others.' Today, May devotes her spare time to community service. She volunteers at the hospital three days a week, and mans a hotline to help counsel newly diagnosed cancer patients. She proudly holds the record for the longest phone call in one sitting, which lasted for five hours. May believes her awareness saved her life. Her advice to other women is: 'Don't ignore your breasts, even after you've had a check-up.' She knows that breast cancer can be a taboo subject among women, but urges those diagnosed with it not to shut themselves away. 'Women should be brave enough to speak out, and willing to take help from people,' she said. 'There is nothing to be ashamed of about being a cancer patient, and people will respect you for it.' Her daughter, Ling Ho, agrees May's illness has brought the family closer and taught them 'not to panic' when tough situations arise. 'Seeing mother physically change was hard,' Ling said. But there was a positive side. 'Before the illness, we were quite a traditional family who didn't talk about certain things nor show much affection, except at festive times. Now, we try to show it all the time. 'My sister and I have also learnt to be aware of our bodies. I always remind my friends about that.' While having cancer was 'not a pleasant experience', May feels she has gained a lot. 'Your doctor will take care of your health, God will take care of your fate, but hope should be in your hands. No one can take it from you,' she said.