The Good Year: Reflections Of Gratefulness

It is the last day of 2011. Happy New Year, everyone.

I have to admit, as I grow, I get more sentimental. Can’t let a year slip into the next without taking stock.

It’s been a good year, I thank God for all of it. When I started 2011, my frame of mind was still very much on my recovery from breast cancer. At that point, I felt I had and would always be redefined as “Theresa Tan, breast cancer survivor”.

One of the highlights of 2011 was watching my best friend Karen Tan being brilliant as the Wizard in Aladdin.

Time heals all, as the saying goes. While I can’t say I’ve forgotten that I had breast cancer and went through a major surgery last year, I can say now that that fact is no longer so raw to me. Whether it’s acceptance, or merely a dulling of the senses, the thought of having gone through cancer no longer reduces me to that emotional creature from a year ago.

While I am writing this, my friend—I’ll call her Rose—is going through a relapse of liver cancer. I haven’t been able to contact her. She’s left her mobile with her maid, who valiantly attempts to answer all my frantic questions with her limited English. Ultimately, it’s boiled down to this: Rose is very ill, she had a fall last week, she doesn’t want to see anyone, and no, thank you, she has no appetite for turkey and ham.

Yesterday my best friend Karen Whatsapp’d me to join her in praying for Emma Yong, who is going through a relapse of stomach cancer, an illness she was first diagnosed with early this year. I haven’t been in touch with Emma since she and the Dim Sum Dollies agreed to be part of Women Make a Difference’s anti-trafficking campaign in 2008. I wish I knew her better — we first met when she was a JC student helping out at her aunt’s comic book shop in Serene Centre. She asked me how she could get into theatre in Singapore. Such a beautiful, sweet girl who turned out to be one of Singapore’s most luminous talents. When I hear her name, I think of that JC girl, and I cannot imagine cancer touching her. It’s a travesty.

Cancer — it kills, steals, destroys. It is an abomination. I hate it. We need to find a cure—if not in my generation then in my children’s generation. If not in theirs, then in their children’s generation. We must not stop looking for a way to beat this thing.

The lovely Emma Yong who kindly supported WMD's anti-trafficking cause as one of our poster girls

But I am constantly amazed and moved by the ones who go through cancer determined not to let it ruin their day. I’m told Emma remains cheerful and positive, and she is going for treatment. It is my deepest prayer she comes out of this wholly and completely healed. Miracles can happen! They will!

This year was really a test year for me. I had made a promise to myself to live life as fully as I can. I know it sounds like just another one of those things to say — but I was pretty determined to do it. I failed in some areas but I succeeded in others.

One of the things I have always wanted to do was to bring my children on a trip to help in a Third World country. It’s been on my mind since 2004 when I was editor for Tiger Tales, the magazine for Tiger Airways. Looking at all those budget flights to neighbouring countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, I dreamed of the day my children would be old and independent enough for me to expose to how the other half of the world lives. When my cancer happened, this, oddly, was one of the things that I didn’t want to leave undone for too long.

My wish came to pass this December, when I brought Big B and Middle B with my mother-in-law to Phnom Penh with a group of her church friends. They do a yearly Christmas cookout for children in the villages. I was told we would be serving 900 kids, but that number grew to 1000 and then to 1200 by the time we left for Cambodia.

Middle B (left) with a fellow visitor and a Cambodian youth leader

By the time the cookout actually happened it was close to 1500 kids—good news travels fast. I was touched and proud to see my children chipping in to help give out the packets of food, the sweets and balloons to the little boys and girls, many of them looking after their younger siblings. My daughter’s compassion was evoked as she distributed the goods. “You mean they only get one sweet?” she said, horrified. “Why can’t we give them more? And don’t we have toys to give them? Why just one balloon?”

But soon she understood the charm of having just one balloon. She blew up a pink one and spent a long time tossing it around with a delighted three-year-old girl. That balloon would be lovingly deflated and brought home to be inflated for play another day.

Middle B and her little balloon-loving friends

My 12-year-old son, while not as smitten as his sister, was taken aback with the fact some of the children didn’t even have pants to wear and were running around half naked. “They need money, Mom,” he noted wisely. “They need a lot of help.” So, I asked, are you going to be the one to help? He smiled grimly, his brain clicking into motion.

Tragically, I lost the little Sony camera I had brought—most of my precious photos of the trip are gone. What you see here I took with my Blackberry camera. It’s sad but as Middle B reminds me with a wide grin, “It just means we have to go again next year, Mom!”

The fact she declared Cambodia the “best holiday ever” warmed my heart. Still does.

Another goal I found myself setting this year was to run. But really this was by accident. I was running about 2 to 3km three times a week at the start of this year, just round the block and back to my place. But as it got more fun, I thought maybe I should sign up for a race, and the Nike Goddess 5K just happened to be the first thing to pop up on my computer screen. I signed up and that turned out to be the first of seven races I ran this year.

I’ve always had jersey envy for the Standard Chartered blue-and-green running top. Forgive the bimbo reason: it just looks nice. Plus it’s obviously the race of the year we’re talking about.

Chris, my physio, didn’t think going from doing a series of 10K runs to a full marathon was a good idea for my body. I agreed. So initially, I had logged in to sign up for the 10K Stanchart run but the slots sold out in 4 days! Ridiculous!

I asked Mr Threez if he wanted to do the half-marathon with me, and he LOL’d. But that was in September. We both ran the half-marathon in the end, and he finished half an hour before I did! So much for LOL!

I finished the race! I can't feel my legs!

I’m not sure if I can ever do the Stanchart full marathon—the heat is too much for me—but I’m glad I completed the next best thing. If I had a Bucket List (which I refuse to call this – “kicking the bucket” isn’t the most dignified reference!), this would be one of the items I strike off with glee.

It’s been a good year. I’ve been back to the US with Mr Threez, eaten the Maine and Boston lobsters we always dream and talk about, watched Spider-Man the musical, run a 10K race in cold weather in Brooklyn, eaten duck confit at Balthazar’s, and simply enjoyed each other’s company thoroughly.

My brother and sister-in-law were gifted with their first child — a beautiful girl! I cannot express how happy it makes me see their greatest wish come true!

We’ve caught up with good friends, old friends — tonight, the first group of my husband’s friends that I met when I was 19 and we had been dating two weeks. Now, 26 years later, we are still here, still friends, still laughing at the same silly jokes and spending New Year’s Eve together.

The three individuals responsible for a large percentage of the smiles and laughs I enjoy daily.

And I’ve had many chances to spend time with each of my three children. I’m proud of Big B for working and praying hard to get into his dream secondary school, and for setting a great example for his sisters. We’ve discovered new loves together—I had bought the BBC Sherlock series and felt like watching something one night while the rest of the house was asleep, and Big B accompanied me. It turned out to be our favorite Sherlock ever, and we have watched it over and over again with Middle B and Mr Threez.

With Middle B, I’ve had the most fun this year. It was a bumper crop of concerts and shows this year: Taylor Swift’s concert in February, Justin Bieber in April, The Lion King, Aladdin and just this week, Wicked. It was really fun sharing the songs I love with my little girl, and going to a gig with her was definitely a high point of this year.

For Little B, this has been a year of great growth for her. Her language has improved by leaps and bounds in these past 365 days, her sense of humor has developed nicely, and she is doing something I never thought would happen — she is learning how to swim. In my mind, if you can’t understand instructions, you can’t learn how to do something. But she’s understanding it, and she’s learning it. And I’ve learned a lot from her this year too—that pigs are charming and every Lola deserves a big brother like Charlie.

I’m blessed. Each day I have is a gift. Sometimes I think we’ve got it all wrong — we’re not all “forced” into this world to “make the best of it”. We’ve got the Golden Ticket. We get to live this life, smell these smells, see these sights, fall in love with our spouses, discover the little people that are our children, eat and drink the most amazing things…sure there’s cancer and hard work and stress but to me now, those don’t outweigh the good bits—not one bit.

Here’s wishing all of you a wonderful New Year’s Eve evening as you usher in 2012 — may the new year bring fulfilled dreams, laughter and love.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. PCMY
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 15:07:22

    Hi Theresa,

    Really enjoyed reading your post on the past year and the tweets, It’s a small world, Emma’s a prefect from my school days … You are one strong and busy woman!

    I’ve crawled out of my shell a bit and been busying myself with all manner of activities … am doing my bit to help another company in its fundraising for a Phase 3 Alzheimer’s drug and am running around to help an old friend set up a company in an isolated country to help connect its people with the modern world … interesting work and a nice crowd ,,, amongst other stuff …


  2. Sandy Yeo
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 17:01:25

    What a great read, Threez! You’re a champion, u know?! Keep living life to the fullest! May 2012 be your best year yet!! Xoxo


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