Making Memories: Part 1 – Return To Melbourne

Two weeks ago, Mr Threez and I packed up the three Nglets and headed for Melbourne.

I had been thinking of ways to treat Middle B to something fabulous after all her hard work for PSLE. She reminds me of me — not cut out for massive studying nor consistent daily work. I know it sounds like an excuse but it really is the way we are built. It wasn’t till I was in Secondary school that I realised I could do really well if I wanted to, then I wanted to! Big B, on the other hand, is a photocopy of his father in every way. He is consistently good at his work, setting goals for himself and achieving them (usually overachieving them).

Big B and Middle B catching the breeze in St Kilda Park

Big B and Middle B catching the breeze in St Kilda Park

So, since June I had been considering various options. Seeing what a big One Direction fan she is, it seemed a real treat if I could bring her to watch them in concert. There was no sign of them coming to Singapore in the near future, so then, where in the world could we go and watch 1D? Australia seemed the best place. Just as I was searching for scalper tickets on eBay (tickets to the show sold out 10 minutes after counters opened! So scalper or reseller tickets were all that’s available), my husband asked the fatal question.

“Want to run the Melbourne Marathon 10K? It’s on 13 October.”

DING-DING-DING! That decided it! From a Mommy-and-Middle B adventure this had suddenly turned into a family trip. Melbourne was perfect: 1D were playing on 16 and 17 Oct, and I could visit my brother, my sister-in-law and my baby niece all at a go! Plus, it was PSLE marking week (14-18 Oct) so Little B could come without too much ado (even though she had one more holistic assessment paper left to do when she returned to Singapore).

I managed to bid for and win 8th row tickets to the 16 Oct show — expensive but not much more than the Justin Bieber Singapore concert tickets were, and those had been terrible seats (and a weak gig, sorry, Beliebers).

Keeping the trip and the show a secret from Middle B was an operation. Big B was let in on the secret early on, and proved himself an excellent promise-keeper. Finally on the day of Middle B’s final paper, I picked her up from school and we went to watch The Mortal Instruments and have lunch at Jamie’s Italian. Breaking the news to her was the fun part — watching her eyes go wide and her mouth fall open and actually rendering my noisy girl speechless… PRICELESS.

(A dramatic aside: As life often goes, a few days before our trip, I suffered extreme abdominal pains. So bad I went to see the Raffles Medical GP at the 24-hour clinic at Changi Airport. He suspected gallstones because the pain was located in my right rib cage), so I was packed off to SGH A&E department, whereupon hearing I was a cancer survivor, the lovely young doctor took my blood and sent me for three X-rays. I was then put on a drip for an hour and sat in A&E watching my poor exhausted husband drift in and out of sleep. Honestly, I thought all I had was extreme constipation and all I needed was an enema so I could go to the toilet and let everyone get back to bed. The A&E doctor worried that I was having a relapse of cancer — okay, that sort of freaked me out — but the blood test came back clear, and so did the Xrays. So I asked for some laxatives, went home, took them, and was much better by the time it came to board that plane. Thank God!)

The week in Melbourne was one of the best holidays we had ever taken. We had visited just two years ago in 2011, but somehow, this time it was just that much more fun. Maybe it’s the fact it felt so serendipitous. Maybe it’s felt like a “stolen week” when we could all be together as a family, no stress, no hovering exams, no work, no list of things to buy, no big agenda, just enjoying each other and taking things easy. I love holidays because it’s usually when I really get to know a little bit more about what makes each of my kids tick.

Me and my dear friend Serge, now the deputy mayor of St Kilda!

Me and my dear friend Serge, now the deputy mayor of St Kilda!

We caught up with my old friend Serge Thomann, once a high-flying L’Oreal executive who became a rock star photographer after selling his first photo to Warner Music for Madonna’s video cover. Today, Serge is the deputy mayor of St Kilda, my first favorite spot in Melbourne where once I dreamed of setting up home.

Sophia and Little B enjoying the new park Uncle Serge put up in St Kilda

Sophia and Little B enjoying the new park Uncle Serge put up in St Kilda

I was eager to see my brother and my sister-in-law Sasha — sometimes it’s not easy when your only family lives thousands of miles away. My little niece Sophia turns 2 this December and she is looking more like Mommy and speaking more like Daddy every day. It was clear to anyone who interacted with him that my brother was a genius even at the age of 3. Hopefully Sophia has both her Daddy’s analytical skills and her Mommy’s artistic gift and exquisite sense of style.

My beautiful sister-in-law Sasha, and the two Juice Box Cousins

My beautiful sister-in-law Sasha, and the two Juice Box Cousins

I was chuffed to catch up with my old friends Ping and James, and Alex and Karen. Ping and Alex worked with me at a publishing company that shortened our lives, but we had lots of fun. Between them they have four amazing girls (and Ping and James have an incredible self-feeding baby boy) who are so well-adjusted, enjoy school, love to play and are so charming. Ping made the most amazing leg of lamb — first try! — and Karen brought one of her INSANELY yummy desserts, custard tarts, perfectly turned out and piped. We had a wonderful evening catching up, sharing the good stuff and the bad. I left that night, thankful for friendships kept, thankful that we can keep each other in thought and prayer, and that I have the privilege to meet their children.

The lovely (if scary) Ping in her kitchen

The lovely (if scary) Ping in her kitchen

Alex ponders the antics of our daughters (one from each family)

Alex ponders the antics of our daughters (one from each family)

One of the things I wanted to do this trip was to return to Fairfield Park. We had been to Fairfield first when Bruce was just 15 months old, and we took photos of him crossing a little covered bridge at the Park. We took photos of him again in the same spot when he was 8, when we were back in Melbourne for my brother’s wedding. And now, 6 years later, I wanted a photo of him crossing that covered bridge.

Except this time, he wasn’t so much crossing the bridge than trying not to lift up its roof with his head. Will update this post when I dig up those old pix!

"Brown one's mine," says Middle B

“Brown one’s mine,” says Middle B

It was lovely watching the kids feed the ducks — we went armed with a full loaf! Little B is 7 now — the last time we were here, she was nine-months old — and had a ball with the ducks. In her inimitable style, she quickly made friends with the few Australian kids who were also there in the park.

Little B ensuring no duck is left unfed

Little B ensuring no duck is left unfed

Memories are made of: Nando’s lunches. Solo lemonade. Discovering that Little Creatures (Mr Threez’s and my favorite brewery in the world) had a Dining Hall in Brunswick Street (oh chili mussels, heaven is thy name). Satisfying our craving for local food at the first Killiney Kopitiam on Bourke Street (just a stone’s throw away from our hotel) — they even piped in Joe Augustin and Glenn Ong in the mornings!

Best lemonade in the whole wide world. I think I drank 8 gallons in Melbourne.

Best lemonade in the whole wide world. I think I drank 8 gallons in Melbourne.

A throwback to something we used to do when we were still DINKS (double income no kids): we took Little B to a small gallery to look at limited edition prints of Star Wars, Star Trek and Marvel hero art. The art was marvelous — wish I had the money to buy my husband a canvas piece. But it was sharing it with Little B that made it fun: she carefully read every title and description to every art piece. She laughed out loud when the gallery owner pulled out a painting of Yoda sitting next to Kermit the Frog.

Becca next to "Lovely Leia" at the Silver K Gallery

Becca next to “Lovely Leia” at the Silver K Gallery

It was the best trip I’d had with my brood to date. So grateful I got to be with them and make memories together.

NEXT: Part 2: Catching One Direction In Melbourne

Happy 74th, Mom!

Thanks to my brother James, I did not fail to remember that today would have been my mother’s 74th birthday.

It was 10 years ago on 1 November that she passed away. Seems like yesterday…

My mother circa 1967 before she had me!

My mother circa 1967 before she had me!

My mother was a real babe. She was tiny (4’10”) but had perfect proportions: lovely breasts, a tiny waist and shapely legs. My Dad admitted to me that he fell hard for her the first time he saw her in nursing school.

Sometimes I wonder what she looks like now in Heaven. I tend to think she’s back to her babe self as pictured here. I don’t even think she looks mumsy now, like in this photo taken in 1971 when my baby brother was born.

Mom looking pleased as pie with James while I hug my Panda and ignore him.

Mom looking pleased as pie with James while I hug my Panda and ignore him.

Once in a while my kids would ask me what we’ll look like when we get to Heaven. I would reply, well, the Bible says we’ll get new bodies and there’s no pain or suffering anymore.

So I believe Mom has her new and fully wonderful body, with no scars. And best of all, she can never feel pain again.

I’m looking forward to that day for myself too.

Happy birthday Mom. Still looking up to you and discovering how much truth your words hold. (Especially “Wait till you get a daughter of your own.”)

It’s October! Time To Get Those Mammies Checked, People!

It’s October. And I am wracked with guilt.

I had promised to publicize the Breast Cancer Foundation‘s BRILLIANT annual Pink Ribbon Walk. But I got caught up with work from August through end of September and I totally missed it.

Sorry BCF 😦

I did hear that it was great as usual — this year’s walk totaled 4.1km (now that’s some serious calories burnt) and it was around the Marina Bay Promenade, always a popular spot with great sights to behold. Guest of honor was my Mayor, Dr Amy Khor — always a passionate spokesperson for good health and women’s empowerment.

HPB's amazing record-breaking pink ribbon formation in 2012.

HPB’s amazing record-breaking pink ribbon formation in 2012.

I have my mammogram done every year in June now — it has been 3 years and 4 months since my surgery. It’s clear again this year, thank God. I am truly grateful for the increasing awareness about the importance of early detection. It really does save lives, and in many cases, breasts. One of my absolute favorite events was the pink ribbon formation that the Health Promotion Board organised last year — it was an achievement that made the Singapore Book of Records — which involved 2,300 men, women and children holding pink umbrellas.

I was kind of bugged, though, recently, to read in the Straits Times that fewer women were taking advantage of the subsidised mammograms by Health Promotion Board, called BreastScreen Singapore. A private mammogram like mine costs over $200, but I do it at Gleneagles Hospital purely because my doctor is based there and I get everything done in a day. But you could pay as little as $50 for a mammogram if you are being diligent and having your breasts checked every year. A friend recently said she only paid $25 after all the subsidies she could get.

An alarming report in the Straits Times.

An alarming report in the Straits Times.

I hope anyone reading this will take heed. I know sometimes we would rather not know, but it’s really a very small inconvenience and a couple of seconds of pain, for great peace of mind.

I hope lots of women get their boobies mashed for a good and healthy cause this month. I’ve had mine done — have you?

For the what, where, who and how much, click here.

PS: An idle thought. I couldn’t seem to escape Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball video this past month. I realise the girl’s gone through a lot to get that hot body and she can’t help showing it off before the weight comes back on again (I mean, who hasn’t been through that before?). I was just thinking, when I was 20 and had boobies that pert, I never thought one day I would have to remove one of them…

Why is Miley still wearing her Hannah Montana clothes and underwear?

Why is Miley still wearing her Hannah Montana clothes and underwear?

What I Think Of Angelina Jolie’s Decision

In the midst of a very crazy last two weeks I received a call from The New Paper, asking me for a quote on Angelina Jolie.

At that point I hadn’t yet read that she had undergone a double mastectomy and removed all her healthy breast tissue because she had tested positive for a harmful mutation of the BRCA1 gene.

Somwhat ironic now to think that the costumer for Tomb Raider gave Angelina Jolie boosted boobs for the first Tomb Raider movie.

Somwhat ironic now to think that the costumer for Tomb Raider gave Angelina Jolie boosted boobs for the first Tomb Raider movie.

But TNP quickly brought me up to speed, and asked me what I thought.

I spoke honestly, and said I felt it was too drastic a move to make, to get rid of all of one’s breast tissue in the off chance that one might get breast cancer.

The reporter asked me if, like some other breast cancer survivors, I thought Angelina was brave. I replied I did not.

In fact, I felt that was she was doing was really taking action out of fear.

My belief is this: God has not given me a spirit of fear, but power, love and a sound mind.

Can I understand what Angelina Jolie went through? Yes. My mother battled breast cancer for 13 years, just as her mother battled ovarian cancer for eight. My mother never lived long enough to meet my youngest child. Do I share Angelina’s fear that my children have to suffer the agony of seeing me die of cancer? I most certainly dread the thought.

I can absolutely understand what must have gone through her mind:
1. She’s had her babies and probably isn’t thinking of birthing anymore, so not having to breastfeed, she can safely jettison her breast tissue.
2. Getting rid of her breast tissue before cancer has a chance to form ensures that she maintains the beauty of both breasts. Unlike me, she wouldn’t have to sacrifice her nipples.

If my doctor told me, like Angelina Jolie, I had an 87% chance of getting cancer, there is a chance I might feel differently. But I guess I live in hope — as my oncologist did tell me, there is also a chance I will never get cancer again. My doctors have all said to me that for every patient they have seen suffer a relapse, they have seen another one live a long healthy life, never to be plagued again by the disease.

My point? Only God knows the future. I choose to live as fruitful and fear-free a life as I possibly can.

My best friend Karen did ask me, when I was studying the finer points of my breast reconstruction, if I would have both removed since I was at it. My answer was no, and it hasn’t changed.

When I saw my oncologist three months after my mastectomy, he suggested I go to NUH and get tested for mutations in my BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

These were my thoughts:
1. What would I do if I discovered I had the mutated gene? Would I opt for breast tissue removal of my left breast? I could not confidently answer yes, yet I knew it would be on my mind for the rest of my life. I treasure my peace, which I now have.
2. As my oncologist pointed out, not every woman who has the mutation will for sure get cancer. How much faith do I have?
3. If my daughters knew I went for the test, it would be natural for them to also go for it. Am I robbing them of a future—they may opt to have breast tissue and their ovaries removed, in which case they will never have children.

Here are the facts:
• Studies show that 60% with a harmful mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes will contract breast or ovarian cancer. This is why Angelina is also now contemplating having her ovaries removed.
• Such a mutation in the BRCA1 gene is also linked to cervical, uterine, pancreatic and colon cancers. Would she remove all of these too?
• BRCA1 mutation is just one mutation. Other mutations linked with hereditary breast cancer include BRCA2,TP53, PTEN, STK11/LKB1, CDH1, CHEK2, ATM, MLH1, and MSH2. Would she test for them all? Would I? I don’t think so.

All said, do I think that, given the circumstances, Angelina did a wise thing? I do. Upon discovering a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, women have options: you can keep a close eye on things (be vigilant about mammograms and other screenings, cancer marker tests etc), you can opt for chemoprevention, you can avoid risky behaviors (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, chemical ingestion etc), or you can opt for a prophylactic surgery like Angelina did.

If I had to choose among these 4, I guess I would have done like Angelina and maximised my chances of avoiding cancer. Even so, there is still a chance for women to develop breast, ovarian or primary peritoneal carcinomatosis despite such a surgery, because not all at-risk tissue can be removed.

What I have found is, there is no guarantee against death. The only guarantee is death itself. Fear is a greedy animal — once you let it in, it will eat you up from the inside.

I choose to do the best I can, live as prosperously as I can, enjoy all the time I have with my children and my husband, and do what God has tasked me to do, in the days He has already numbered for me.

Recommended reading on BRCA mutations.

The Launch of A Clean Breast

What a start to a new year! I don’t know about you but I’ve been up to my ears in kids, work and new schedules and just when I think things are beginning to resemble a pattern, Chinese New Year hits me in the face like a big tangerine.

But thank God for CNY because I finally have some reprieve and actually some breathing room to write a blog post! What a treat! (Full disclosure: I am colouring my hair as I write this — busy women have to multitask, it is not an option)

So I’m going to be posting about some key events that have happened since the book was printed, starting with the launch party.

My book, A Clean Breast, hit the bookstores the first week of December. The week before that, on 21 November 2012, my dear friend Dee, owner of a very stylish and trendy PR and events company called Bless Inc, helped organise a book launch for me.

Thank you Dee and the girls of Bless Inc for making the launch happen!

Thank you Dee and the girls of Bless Inc for making the launch happen!

We had the distinct honor of holding the launch at The Royal Mail, the private dining restaurant at The Ascott, only Singapore’s premier serviced apartment block right in the heart of the CBD, at Finlayson Green. TRM serves classic British cuisine in a charming crescent shaped room. TRM is run by uber-restauranteur Michel Lu, a lovely man I have known since my days as editor of Female when he brought Elite Models into Singapore. Michel very generously sponsored our entire evening — venue, delicious food (which my 200 guests are still talking about today!) and drinks, plus the special something that touched my heart: cupcakes with fondant pink ribbons to signify Breast Cancer Awareness. In fact, all the wonderful Royal Mail staff wore pink ribbons that evening! Talk about great taste and meaningful service!

The wonderful team from The Royal Mail made these lovely cupcakes for the launch.

The wonderful team from The Royal Mail made these lovely cupcakes for the launch.

People I admire: Edwin, Laura, Grace and Noor.

People I admire: Edwin, Laura, Grace and Noor.

My best friend Karen had a dress rehearsal for the theatre play Kuo Pao Kun And Goh Lay Kuan (she played Goh Lay Kuan, an amazing performance, as always), and could not be there. So she despatched her husband Swee Chong and their beautiful girls Rachel and Livi.

My breast surgeon Dr Hoe Ah Leong also showed up to support, and bought a stack of copies of A Clean Breast to give to his patients. I *wish* we took a photo!

I wish I could name everyone who came — you guys rocked my world. My wonderful cell group, E538, who came early and helped me to pack the goodie bags, set up the book table and basically run the show from behind the scenes. My friend Michael Chan who came and took photos to help me chronicle such a special night.

Clockwise from left: Nanz her and family; my ex-colleague Juleen; host with the most, Bernard; and chef extraordinaire Janice Koh.

Clockwise from left: Nanz her and family; my ex-colleague Juleen; host with the most, Bernard; and chef extraordinaire Janice Koh.

But the true highlight of the evening for me was really having my husband Mr Threez get up on the podium, after my publisher Tan Chin Kar from Write Editions, had given his introduction on why he even said yes to A Clean Breast in the first place. Mr Threez writes what I feel is the best chapter in the entire book. About his experience seeing me through cancer, what he did right, the one thing he did wrong, and how he steered the kids through it. My incredibly brave and supportive spouse looked me in the eye as he spoke and I felt my tears hanging precipitously on the edge of my eyelid, and quickly blinked them away as I pretended to fuss over Little B’s hair. Words cannot express the gratitude and love I felt at that moment.

Listening to Mr Threez's speech drove me close to tears.

Listening to Mr Threez’s speech drove me close to tears.

The night ended with massive book signing — my friends made me feel like Richard Castle, haha! I thoroughly loved seeing all of them and taking photos — my favourite one is of Big B and Middle B with their friend Joie (and her mom Jo). Joie was there for Middle B (and for me) the day I had my biopsy done. She prayed with all the faith of a giant. To be able to sit there today and hug her and look at her, I was truly grateful.
signing joie

With the launch party done, I was really looking forward to seeing the book on the shelves of Kinokuniya and Times now. And that’s when I realise the world of book publishing and distribution can be a rather confounding one!

But I’ll save that for my next post! Time to rinse the hair out!

I’m signing my book at Kinokuniya this Saturday! Come!

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 1.08.11 PM

I have to confess I am weirdly excited about my first public book signing this Saturday at Kinokuniya (Ngee Ann City).

Weird because I have always thought it is a very stressful thing to sit in the middle of a store like a display while people are busy shopping.

But at the same time, I have to say I am keen to meet people who would buy this book for themselves or a friend — I have had so many encouraging reviews for A Clean Breast, all those 18 months of headaches, neck-aches and various stresses seem worth it!

So do come by and say hi if you are in the area! It’s 4 to 6pm at Kinokuniya, Ngee Ann City!

The Book Is Born

It’s been a most exciting (exhausting) month! Praise be to God!

My book, A Clean Breast, has finally been published, hallelujah. What started as a book outline in July 2011 has finally been born—and I can see why Singaporean writers struggle! Given our fast-paced lives, writing a book is both an exercise and an art, and above all, a marathon that brings out our discipline and “tong” power (as my friend Lawrence Yeo calls it), or lack thereof!

I am grateful to God, my ever-present help in time of need; my husband, who endured nights of my chair scraping and rocking on our floor as I grumpily forced myself to type out chapters that I would later declare “LAME! USELESS! REWRITE!” Mr Threez also wrote the best chapter in the whole book. My kids, Big and Middle B, who gamely let me interview them for their contributions.

I’m thankful for all the kind voices that gave it their reviews: Mdm Halimah Yacob whom I met at the Singapore Woman Award, such a humble and unassuming woman with big brains! Mayor Amy Khor, my mayor, who always writes so beautifully and from the heart. Laura Hwang, who says Mr Threez’s chapter made her cry. Flo Lian, my former colleauge and head of MediaCorp Radio, whose time, I know, is so very precious. My doctors, co-authors, ex-boss…all the amazing people in my life who actually took time to read this book!

I know God sent my publisher Chin Kar of Write Editions into my life for such a time as this. We have known each other for a number of years, through many different portfolios, but it is this author-publisher arrangement that has brought out the best in both of us (or rather, the best in him and the most challenging in me!)

But through thick, thin, serif and san serif, we finally completed this work.

A Clean Breast, which covers my journey through cancer—some of which you have read here, and much of which you haven’t—launches this Wednesday at a private event, and will be in all major bookstores by early December.

Retail price is $20. You can buy it at Kinokuniya or you can buy it by mail here. More details soon!

Thank you for your support and encouragement, and most of all for the inspiration. The book was birthed out of the blog, and the blog exists because of you.

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