This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we connected with Charlene Koh, a breast cancer survivor who recently started her own line of essential oils and scented candles, Breathe Essentials Co.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Singaporean women. All women are at risk of breast cancer, and the chances of it developing increase with age.

Health Promotion Board

1. How did you feel when you first received the news?

I was diagnosed on April 08 2019 just last year. I was at the prime of my life. I was successful, confident and ready to take on the next challenge in life but the last thing I expected was breast cancer. “It can’t be me..” I thought to myself, when I first heard the words: “You have cancer.”. Was this karma ? Did I do a bad deed that led to this? Why is life so unfair? I really didn’t deserve this, I ate well, I was fit and healthy and my family did not have any breast cancer history. Life was really testing me. 

2. What was the most difficult part of your journey and what kept you going?

Chemotherapy was the most challenging part of my cancer treatment. I wanted to rid all cancer cells and also knew that the chances of it coming back was close to zero. I detected my cancer at stage 0-1 and early detection definitely led to it being curable. What kept me going was the thought that cancer can be treated being well again. I want to be treated and fully recover. I knew I had many good years ahead of me and that once this physical challenge was overcome and over, I would have many many happy and healthy years ahead of me.

3. Did you have a support network? If not, how did you overcome or find it?

I had a supporter who I befriended at the oncologist’s clinic. She had breast cancer 15 years ago and is now cancer free. She was my biggest supporter through my journey. I definitely had family and friends around me motivating and encouraging me but it really takes one to know one. Cally was my biggest pillar of support as she understood what I was going through emotionally and physically as she had already experienced it firsthand herself. 

4. What was the most important thing you learnt from this experience?

I learnt that I could always be more than I could ever dream of.

5. What was your inspiration behind starting your business?

The idea for Breathe Essentials was founded during my chemotherapy journey. I relied heavily on essential oils and focused a lot more on self care and my mental health. I wanted a homegrown label that specialised in essential oils and also home essentials that everyone could have or use for their own self care. 

6. How has your breast cancer journey reshaped you as an entrepreneur?

Cancer has shaped me into a better entrepreneur. I realise that I am very privileged and very blessed to be able to afford being in private healthcare, and not worry about finances but there are others out there who aren’t as fortunate as me due to their circumstances. I founded Breathe Essentials to inspire and give people comfort in times of need and also to help them heal. We also donate 10% of our proceeds to the Breast Cancer Foundation. A little goes a long way and I want to help someone else i need. 

My breast cancer journey has also shaped the way i perceived beauty. After losing a breast to cancer, i really struggled with this new body and also whether i was still feminine or 100% “whole” but true beauty runs beyond. Beauty represents strength, confidence and showing off your delicate side. 

7. Do you have an offering hand for everyone fighting breast cancer right now?

You don’t have to go through your cancer journey alone. Cancer support is readily available. I know some days you would feel like utter crap but there are also good days. Treasure the good days and celebrate every milestone you have. 

Read more about Charlene and other cancer survivor journeys in Breathe Essentials Co’s #Youarealwaysbeautiful campaign:

Support the Breast Cancer Foundation(BCF) by purchasing a mask from our Pink Ribbon Collection, 100% of all profits will be donated in support of BCF’s mission to eradicate breast cancer as a life threatening disease.

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