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

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.

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!

Illuminating Breast Cancer Awareness With Estee Lauder

The Helix Bridge and Art Science Museum awash in pink on 5 October. (Photo by Daniel Poh)

On 5 October, I had the distinct privilege of “modelling” at Estee Lauder’s Pink Ribbon Global Illumination Event with Middle B.

Grace Ban, the Managing Director of the Estee Lauder Companies in Singapore called me a few weeks back to ask if I would be part of the group’s Breast Cancer event. Estee Lauder Companies has been a breast cancer awareness champion for 20 years since Mrs Evelyn Lauder co-founded it with US Self magazine editor Alexandra Penney. Mrs Lauder was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989, and although she did not share deeply about her own experience, she turned something bad into something amazing: she founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and thanks to her, the Pink Ribbon is today the widely-recognised symbol for the fight against breast cancer.

I said yes right away. Grace and I have been friends for a long time, since my days at Female magazine. Also, I had had the immense pleasure of meeting and talking to Mrs Lauder on a trip to New York City once. We talked about breast cancer — my mother had just completed chemotherapy following her second mastectomy. I remember asking Mrs Lauder if she felt stress was a major cause of cancer. She replied, quite crisply, that there had not been any conclusive proof of it (there still isn’t but most doctors will tell you that stress is bad for you). She was an incredibly gracious, yet dynamic woman who had great vision for the Lauder Group and for her cause. It was very saddening to hear of her death in November last year—she passed away from ovarian cancer at the age of 75. This would be my very small way of remembering her.

The Global Illumination Initiative which began in 2000 is an annual event that happens in the month of October. All around the world, the Estee Lauder Companies light up famous building in a pink glow every year in October. Buildings from the Empire State Building in New York to the Taj Mahal in India have participated in this incredible event. This year in Singapore, it was the Art Science Museum and Helix Bridge at Marina Bay Sands, and this year’s theme was Courage.

Harrod's of London and the Sydney Opera House all dressed up in pink on Global Illumination Day.

Initially I was told I would be opening the catwalk show with MediaCorp actor Nick Shen. I have to confess that had me all worried because I didn’t want to look like some middle-aged lady next to a pretty boy! (No offence, Nick Shen!) Having worked in MediaCorp for more than half my career I knew better than to stand next to a Channel 8 actor—he usually has the waistline of a 13-year-old girl.

So when I was told two days before the event that Nick Shen was not able to make the event, and asked if one of my children would accompany me, I was beside myself with joy. If I could, I would have had all three of them come with me. Big B would be in school till late afternoon that Friday (plus he is extremely shy) and Little B was at school camp. So I asked Middle B if she would do the honours. Actually, I told her she was coming with me. She gave me a stunned look, but I knew she wouldn’t say no. Middle B is just 11 but she’s now officially taller than me at 1.6m — two whole centimeters taller than her mom. There wasn’t a clothes sponsor for her, so we rustled up a pink dress and a pair of pink ballet flats, and she was all set.

On the afternoon of 5 October, we gathered with the other models and their partners at Marina Bay Sands, where the Estee Lauder team ushered us into a secret passageway and into a dressing room. Jerome, our stylist, had already picked out outfits from Robinsons for each of the models in the previous few weeks.

It was great meeting the team from Lauder and the ladies from BCF. We would be made over by the team from Bobbi Brown, all very swish in their black outfits and toting multi-compartment metal cases of fabulous makeup.

I met Irene and Wai Fong and many of the lovely ladies who would be modelling along with Beth and I that evening. Our conversation was really funny.

Irene: What stage were you?
Me: DCIS.
Irene: Oh, that’s good.
Me: But I had a mastectomy and recon.
Irene: Me too! One mastec, two mastec. Did you do the TRAM Flap?
Me: Ya.
Irene: Good right? I also had the TRAM Flap with the first one, second one was from the back (Latissimus Dorsi Flap).
Me: Wow…

It sounded a little like we were talking about golf games or the cars we owned. But it felt good being able to just talk about it openly with women who had been through what I’d been through, without grossing anyone out.

Middle B loved the water lilies at the Art Science Museum


We went out to the venue to do a short rehearsal. The catwalk choreo was simple: The stage was T shaped, and we just had to make an L, pose and an then a “reverse” L. But we had to decide what we were going to do when we posed.

Middle B had a major case of nerves. We had to figure out if we were going to hug, kiss, twirl, dance, jitterbug for our pose. She backed out of every single suggestion till we finally decided we would just twirl one another and curtsey. It would be easy to remember and we wouldn’t trip over one another.

Posing after rehearsals.

We finally returned to the dressing room where we started having our hair and makeup done.

Middle B had a great time having her face done. I’m not usually in favour of makeup on girls under the age of 18 but this was a special occasion. Her makeup artist did a lovely job and she was very happy.

Middle B getting a touch of Bobbi Brown eyeshadow.

The hair team were a wonderful lot. Middle B’s stylist had a speech impediment but his cheery wackiness left an impression on her. It was suggested to her that her hair be tied into ponytail, at which she recoiled in horror. So they obliged her and gave her angelic curls at the ends. When she was done, she looked like a real teenager!

She loves her curls just so.

To tone down her “grown-up-ness”, Jerome clipped on a pink flower hairpiece which made her instantly adorable but no less gorgeous.

As for me, I had tried on about eight outfits for Jerome previous to the day. He picked out a hot-pink Mad Men-inspired sweetheart-collar Coast dress with a pencil skirt for me. I liked the way I looked in it. I don’t have any high heels shoes left that I can actually walk in, and so Nancy Thong from the Lauder team loaned me her wedding shoes! Now that’s dedication!

Dinner arrived at the dressing room: delicious Cedele dinner boxes filled with pasta cups and gourmet sandwiches! We all needed a lip touch-up after scarfing our meals!

A rosemary chicken sandwich, pasta and veg salad and a teacake from Cedele.

The host of the evening Sharon Au came in and practiced her lines as she was having her makeup done. Beth and I had a short chat with her and she was just lovely! She prepped us for the questions she was going to ask me and then we started taking pictures and the whole room just went berserk with photo-taking!

Sharon Au was such a hoot!

At 6.45 we made our way up to the event venue. Guests had started to arrive. My sweet mother-in-law and Big B took the MRT to Marina Bay Sands! We met up and took endless photos. Very soon the guest of honour and other special people had arrived.

Mayor Amy Khor, Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and in the Ministry of Manpower, was the GOH and she looked as fit and resplendent as always in a pink dress. Mrs Noor Quek, the president of the Breast Cancer Foundation was a sight for sore eyes in her black outfit with a hot pink Issey Miyake tunic. And pretty as I have always remembered her, the managing director of the Estee Lauder Companies in Singapore, Grace Ban, floated in in a girlish pale pink dress.

The evening kicked off with a touching video on the life and work of the late Mrs Evelyn Lauder, how she had founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and started the Pink Ribbon movement which is today such a global symbol of the hope of a cure for breast cancer. Her dedication to and passion for discovering a way to prevent breast cancer, to find a true cure for this disease touched my heart as I know it did many others that night.

The Pink Runners in action. (Photo by Daniel Poh)


The Pink Runners commenced the lightup by running across Helix Bridge, each arch of the bridge turning pink as they ran under it. They handed the torch over to Dr Khor, Noor, Grace and Sharon, who together lit up the Art Science Museum. It was a real sight to behold, the “waterlily” bathed in pink, the Estee Lauder Companies logo “stamped” in white across it.

The moment MBS turned pink!

Grace told the audience about the heart of ELC for the cause, while Noor gave a resounding speech about the collaboration between ELC and BCF — the Foundation features a Estee Lauder room where breast cancer patients can visit to get fitted with prosthetics, wigs, and have their makeup done. There’s also a cosy room if someone needs a heart-to-heart or a good cry. The room is a welcome haven for those undergoing treatment, who aren’t exactly feeling their best.

Takeshi Sato’s amazing portrait of Mrs Lauder.


In a very special section of the evening, the marvelous Japanese artist Takeshi Sato created a stunning portrait of Mrs Lauder in a matter of strokes, to the rhythm of a piece of music. It was enthralling to behold the image appear on the canvas, as if by magic.

“I can’t believe he did that!” breathed Middle B, her eyes wide with wonder.

Dr Khor took to the stage to talk about the importance of women looking after themselves. We’re the caregivers in the family, we have to make sure we stay in good shape to keep looking after our loved ones. The woman runs every day to keep fit! It’s probably her secret to holding two huge portfolios and being a wife and mother to three children at the same time.

Jerome cued us “models” to get in line, and when Dr Khor stepped down the stage, it was our time to go up. Middle B’s hand was icy in mine. “I’m not scared. I’m not scared,” she muttered to herself in terror, before looking at me. “You’ll go with me, right?” Of course, Princess! You and me together.

A moment I’ll remember forever: being on stage with my daughter.


Middle B and I opened the show, to the loud cheers and whistles of the crowd, which comprised not a few (extremely supportive) Breast Cancer Foundation members. We twirled one another, and then we curtseyed, and my daughter was just graceful and lovely on stage and she made me so proud.

The other models were stunning. There was the lovely and very young Ivy, and her best friend Pearlyn. Ivy had emailed me after reading this blog in 2010, when she discovered she had cancer—she’s only in her late 20s. It was amazing and immensely touching to me when she came up to talk to me and to remind me of our email exchanges. I was so, so glad to see how wonderful she looked.

There was Rosemary and her daughter Isabelle, a mother-daughter team that was absolutely beautiful and gentle-spirited. Wai Fong and her sweet husband, the very picture of love. Irene and her handsome shy son, the perfect foil to his dynamic mother. And many other lovely sisters, mothers, husbands and wives, all of them heroes.

Having a fun chat with Sharon. (Photo by Daniel Poh)


We re-entered the stage and Sharon had a short “interview” with me about my upcoming book, and about the importance of family support. Suddenly, she turned to Middle B and asked her how she felt. My 11-year-old froze completely, saved only by her million-dollar smile. But we could feel the love from the audience, who clearly thought she was rather cute and a wonderful support to her mommy.

Irene was the other interviewee, and she shared freely about overcoming breast cancer twice. Her son, too, was put on the spot and scraped by with short, shy answers. I thought he was adorable and I wasn’t alone in my view.

A highlight of my day: meeting Ivy, one of my “blog gang girls” who had written to me via this blog in 2010. So gratifying to see her healthy and luminous!

It was altogether a wonderful evening. Happy chatting continued over pink champagne and yummy canapes, and I caught up with some great old friends. But the best part of it all was having Mr Threez, Big B and Middle B and my mother-in-law there to celebrate with me, and especially being able to create such an awesome memory of being on stage with my daughter.

With Dr Amy Khor, a woman I deeply admire, who finds time to run every day before she goes out to save the world.

All the models gather with Jerome (front).

Thank you Estee Lauder Companies for the amazing experience.

Celebrate Courage! Get This Gorgeous Bracelet!

Me and Janice (center) and Carrie in the FIJI Water Courage Harness campaign shot—I love wearing it as a bracelet!

A couple of months ago, I received an email from a PR agency called Food News. I was asked if I would consider being an ambassador for the new FIJI Water Courage Harness campaign.

My fellow ambassadors would be Carolyn Kan of artisanal jewelry brand Carrie K, and Janice Wong, the marvelous chef from the famed 2am:dessertbar

Of course I said yes, mostly because I love novel ideas and the chance to work with three artisans—FIJI Water (the softest, smoothest bottled water on the face of this earth), Janice whose creativity has won her countless accolades and awards, and Carrie, who I first met when she was 16 and my brother was kind of smitten with her, who has gone from being an advertising honcho to a seriously gifted jeweler.

So I tried to strap on another bottle with this harness and it didn't look as good ...

Carrie created this gorgeous leather strap “harness”, inspired by ancient battle wear, as a multi-purpose fashion accessory. It can be used as a bottle carrier, a necklace, a choker, a bracelet and possibly the coolest lanyard in existence.

Two silver charms adorn the black braided leather strap, Carrie’s insignia of a crown, which I love, because aren’t we all the kings and queens of our lives? And the other is a lion’s paw, a symbol of courage.

All proceeds from the sale of the limited edition harness go to the Breast Cancer Foundation.

This week, Carrie, Janice and I went on radio to talk about the harness.

On Tuesday morning, we were at MediaCorp’s News 938Live, on The Living Room with Keith de Souza and Howie Lim. I was in their studio half a year ago after the Singapore Woman Award and it was good seeing them again.

Keith was rather fascinated with the bracelet, so Howie tried it on him (unsuccessfully). Carrie jumped in and dressed his wrist and he looked really good wearing it—very rocker!

In the studio with News 938's The Living Room duo, Keith & Howie

We had a good chat and I was really moved to hear Janice share about her chef friend in LA, who was 27 when she discovered she had breast cancer. Janice flew to the US to spend time with her as she underwent treatment. It’s such a shocker to hear that someone so young and healthy getting stricken with breast cancer. This cursed disease must be destroyed. We must keep fighting till the cure is found.

Yesterday, Carrie and I went to SPH’s new station for women, Kiss 92 FM and met the crazy Jason Johnson, chirpy Maddy Barber and serious Arnold Gay. Jason insisted that the harness was really a whip, so I obliged him *laugh*

Maddy asked a super serious first question: “What does love mean to you?”

Of course, the first answer off the top of my head was the good old line from Love Story: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But nothing could be further from the truth of course, hahahahaa….

The next thought I had was “Perfect love casts out all fear.” So I replied, “Love means never being afraid.”

When I said it, it sounded so serious, so “poetic”, even a bit pretentious (let’s be honest). But as I thought about it the rest of the day, it really is true, isn’t it? If you truly love with all your heart, you’ll never be afraid of anything—not even loss, disease, death. The love you have had, that can never be taken away from you.

Anyway, we had a rollicking good time. Carrie’s passionate explanation of how her sister Geri went through cancer and beat it on her own terms was incredibly moving. Geri worked throughout her diagnosis and cancer treatments—she never let her illness become an excuse for not living life to the fullest. I don’t have that kind of strength—I took my time out from work quite seriously. So to hear how Geri bravely carried on was just amazing to me.

Jason looks like the Godfather here...

I hope that the radio appearances were powerful in leading people to buy this great harness. I love the fact it is black (not pink — sorry, much harder to match). I love the way it looks on my wrist. I plan to wear it all year round.

Do buy this lovely and meaningful accessory for yourself or for someone you love. Only 120 pieces available, and all proceeds go to BCF. Priced at $128 at Antoinette (yes the divine French patisseries) or at Carrie’s atelier at 136 Bukit Timah Road (call 6735 4036 for an appointment). You can also buy it online at www.carriekrocks.com (online price is inclusive of shipping).

The Reason For The Long Silence: MY BOOK IS DONE!

My proof-reading copy of the manuscript. No this is NOT the cover!


I had the idea to write a book about my cancer experience about a year and a half ago when it struck me that getting so many people emailing me to ask all sorts of questions about breast cancer was a sign that there wasn’t enough information (or easily-found information) out there on what I had experienced.

I thought it would take me, oh, maybe three months to complete it. After all I am a professional writer and editor so what’s a three month deadline?

Three months turned into 18.

My poor publisher Chin Kar waited a long time for this manuscript. When I finally delivered the first (extremely choppy and unpolished) version in April this year, I think the poor man got a rude shock. Very gently, he broke the news to me that there was no way he was going to publish that, and that I simply had to rewrite “some parts”.

“Some parts” turned into 75% of the book.

It was a struggle, but I basically started all over again in May. I ripped apart what I had previously written, took into serious account what Chin Kar had wisely advised me to change, rewrote parts, wrote new ones, and what was meant to be a 10-chapter book turned out to be 37 chapters long, divided into three parts.

There were moments I wanted to give up. It was just too hard, and when it comes to writing, I am easily discouraged. If something isn’t “coming together” quickly enough, I begin to think, “It’s not meant to be.”

I can’t go into details about how I decided to carry on, but I will share that one day, after praying, I wrote myself this note on a yellow Post-It and stuck it in front of my desk to remind myself why I was putting myself through such agony.

That note kicked my butt every day. And every day (or as many days in a week as I could squeeze time out of) I wrote.

Finally, the day came. I finished my manuscript. I sent it off to Chin Kar, who read it in one day and sent back his corrections that same day. Awesome feat. He is a very dedicated publisher, and I am blessed.

Next I had to invite people I respected and liked to “endorse” my book. I hate the word “endorsement”, it makes me think of some poor TV actress holding a bottle of sugary drink in a poster, claiming that she loves it (when clearly, she wouldn’t touch that stuff if you fed it to her through a 24-carat gold straw).

So I worded my requests very carefully, and so far, all of them have said yes.

As I write this now, I am awaiting the final few. Some of them have made me cry.

Pretty pink cover makeup by Charmaine. How to not love someone who makes you look younger and fresher?

Today I had a fun day doing the shoot for my book cover. I can’t give away what it’s going to look like, you’ll see it soon enough. But I can show you what my makeup looked like—I do love it, I look pretty and modern and maybe 5 years younger!

Next, comes the full manuscript with all the forewords and backwords and cover, and then it’s off to print.

We’re scheduled for a November release. Stay tuned!

PS Today, 4 October, is my late mother’s birthday. She would have been 73 today. Thinking of you with a heart full of love, Mom!

All Clear: 2 Years On

Last Thursday I went back for my now-annual checkup with my favourite breast specialist in the world, Dr Hoe Ah Leong.

That was after nearly 4 hours of ultrasounds and X-rays and the mammogram and waiting around for my films and report.

The mammogram technologist that served me was so funny. Whenever I go back for my scans, I need to bring my old films so that the doctors who write up the reports have a comparison, and so would my surgeon. The technologist, a pretty young Filipina, shook my old films out, and stood, stunned for 20 seconds.

“Ma’am, you did your mammogram last year?”
“Yep.”
“How come I only have your films for one breast, there should be films for two.”
“I wish there was two. I had a mastectomy in 2010, my dear.”
“OHHHHH!” Pause. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

I must have unnerved her because as she was positioning me for the mammogram on my left breast she kept failing to get my boob in the right position. She knocked my collarbone. She pinched my armpit. She raised the plate. She lowered the plate. Finally, she just squashed it as much as she could and took the darn shot. I could have told her she didn’t press the plates down hard enough. (True enough Dr Hoe later said, “Hmm, this mammogram is a bit fuzzy at the bottom.”)

Next was the ultrasound. My doctor had ordered up scans for my breast, my liver and my gall bladder. There’s something about an ultrasound scan that always makes me edgy. Especially if the technologist is scarily silent. Good thing i got another chatty PInoy girl. Still, the few moments she rolled over one spot from every angle made my heart skip a beat.

After the long wait for my films and reports, I hoofed it to Dr Hoe’s clinic on the third floor of the main medical centre.

Christine, the nurse who christened me Liang Po Po two years ago, took one look at me and said, “How about you go and take a nice long tea break?”

My buttocks were complaining that I was oppressing them with so much sitting down, but I took a look at the two poor teenagers asleep on the waiting area couch as their mother and father waited to see Dr Hoe, and I made an about-turn and went to get a coffee from Delifrance.

Finally at 5.45pm I saw my beloved doctor, looking as cheery as ever, with his ubiquitous blue shirt as neat as it probably had been at 8am.

“You look good, Theresa!”
“You too, Dr Hoe!”
We grinned at one another.
“Okay, so your reports look good. Come come, let’s take a look.”

One thing I love about Dr Hoe is how he operates like a teacher. My mammograms, chest X-ray and ultrasound scans were all clipped up on the lightbox for examination.

There is a single calcification in my left breast, which had been there last year too. Calcifications are not a good sign if they appear in a cluster. My right breast mammogram, two years ago, was peppered with large clusters of calcifications especially just above the nipple area.

“But this single calcification is all right, nothing to worry about,” he assured me.

For breast cancer patients, if cancer recurs, it would usually be in the other breast, the lungs, or the organs nearest to the breast area, like the liver and gall bladder.

All my scans were clear. The only thing of note was that I had a little cyst in my left breast, which also showed up in last year’s scans.

“Probably a fatty piece,” said Dr Hoe with such confidence that any worry I had melted away.

With the help of his nurse, I lay on the examination bed while he palpated my breast, neck and armpit areas. There are also instances where lumps form in the neck or armpit, “but your lymph nodes were clear—remember we did the test on the sentinel nodes. DCIS prognosis is excellent.”

I was deeply happy to hear all he said. Some days, I admit, I take my survival for granted. Some days, I forget, had I not acted on the weird pain my breast, I might be facing a very different today.

True, every time I see Dr Hoe I am reminded that cancer could recur. Some days, that casts a shadow over my heart.

But I thank God that I have Him—and truly, I am living on time that He has so kindly given me. I am determined to make the best use of it as I can, but I am also peaceful, knowing “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

The Singapore Woman Award: Beauty For Ashes

It started with a Facebook message from my friend Sarah, whom I got to know as a volunteer writer for the church news website, which I serve on as editor.

She asked if she could nominate me for the Singapore Woman Award, a people’s award run by MediaCorp, this year headed, as it has for the last three years, by Radio.

I laughed when I saw her message – don’t get me wrong, I love Sarah, I was so honored and touched that she’d even thought of me – because what Sarah didn’t know was that I was on the planning committee for the very first Singapore Woman Award, when I was the editor of Vanilla magazine and we helmed the award.

I said yes to Sarah, making a mental note to have coffee with her soon, and forgot all about it.

A few weeks later, I was having dinner with my family when my phone rang. I never pick up my phone during dinner, so that itself was a miracle. On top of that, it was an unknown number.

It was Jo’An from MediaCorp, who chirpily congratulated me for being one of the three honorees selected. I didn’t know what it meant at first, until she said “You and two other nominees were selected out of over 100 entries to be our top three.”

Ohhh. Now I was in shock. Jo’An told me she would be in touch about the interviews that had to be done before the event night, which was on 22 March.

I hung up and looked at my son. “Hey, I’m one of the top three nominees for the Singapore Woman Award.”

He raised his eyebrows and gave me a lopsided grin. “Cool.”

When I told my 11-year-old, she said with confidence, “You’re going to win, Mom.”

When I told my husband, he said “Let’s go and celebrate!” (We went out for wings and beer that Friday.)

All this before I even knew who the other honorees were. I already felt like a winner to my family, and it was all that mattered. It didn’t even occur to me to ask who the other two ladies were.

But when I did find out, I was pretty much flummoxed by how I even made the top three. One was Bridget Tan (whom I knew as Bridget Lew Tan), the founder of HOME (Human Organisation for Migrant Economics), who passionately fights for the rights of migrant workers in Singapore, and the other was Cassandra Chiu, a woman who lost her sight at the age of eight but who now runs a counselling practice called The Safe Harbour.

I mean, hello! If there was a class lighter than “flyweight”, that’s what I felt like next to these women.

Over the next two weeks the three of us came together to speak on radio shows (Gold 90.5 and Class 95) and TV (AM Live), and as we did, I got to know my co-honorees better.

Cassandra in the Gold 90.5FM studio with Gurmit Singh (Mark and Brian Richmond were there too)

Cassandra in the Gold 90.5FM studio with Gurmit Singh (Mark and Brian Richmond were there too)


Cassandra’s story blew me away. She was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease at the age of 8 and began losing her sight. Taunted and teased by her classmates, she didn’t have an easy childhood, but her mother constantly reminded her not to focus on her one disability but on her many other capabilities. She represented Singapore as a swimmer, and busked for 10 years, earning enough to put herself through school to get her Master’s degree. When nobody would give her a job, she decided she would start a counseling practice to make a living helping others.

But the thing she said she was proudest of was the fact she was a mother. Her little daughter Cady is six, just like my Little B. During the commercial break at one of our radio interviews, we sat chatting about motherhood. As if she could read my mind, she said, “My mother never got rid of me when she knew I had this illness. Besides, if Cady has it (Stargardt’s), I’m the best possible mother for her because I can guide her through this.”

Those words just struck my heart like an arrow. Her deep faith, her mental strength, her ability to see the good in every situation — it truly amazed me! I’ll be honest — if I could vote, Cassandra would get my vote for the Singapore Woman Award.

(From left) SWA 2011 winner Bernise Ang with Cassandra, Esme, me and Bridget
Bridget’s work I was a little more familiar with. The first year I co-founded Women Make A Difference, a women’s group that got women together to raise funds to help those in need, we raised funds for women and children who were trafficked. Bridget had started HOME for about two years, and already she was helping women who had been trafficked into Singapore, including a young 16 year old girl who had been forced to service hundreds of foreign workers. The girl, when rescued, could not speak for months. Bridget and her team patiently worked with her, giving her shelter, friendship and security, till finally she opened up.

WMD gave its first year funds to HOME to help pay for its rental. It was only for three months’ rental but it was our small gesture to show our support for her work, which has grown into two centres — one for women and one for men. Her unflagging fight against trafficking was noticed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called her a “Trafficking-In-Persons Hero”.

My video playing in the Island Ballroom. Photo: Daniel Poh

My video playing in the Island Ballroom. Photo: Daniel Poh


The Awards Night, held at the Island Ballroom of the Shangri-La Hotel, was like a high school reunion for me. Having worked for MediaCorp three periods of my life — I was an Arts writer for 8 Days (1991-1994), the editor-in-chief for ELLE (1999-2002) and finally I was editor for Vanilla (2007-2009). I enjoyed meeting my old friends, like Hossan Leong and Charles Ho (both of whom I worked with on my last public play, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky, with The Necessary Stage); Rose Tan, Mark Richmond, Georgina Chang, Pierre Png, Florence Lian, Vernetta Lopez… Lovely people who I have had the privilege of interviewing or working with in one way or another.

My kids and mom-in-law with Pierre Png, Gurmit Singh and Mark Richmond.

My kids and mom-in-law with Pierre Png, Gurmit Singh and Mark Richmond.


It was marvelous to see Laura Hwang, who was on our judging panel the first year and who remains on the panel, this year the head judge. Elim Chew, my sister-in-Christ and a friend I deeply treasure. Saleemah Ismail, my woman-power buddy and former President of UNIFEM, who opened my eyes to the atrocities around us and to the things we can do to help women and children.

With Mr Threez, Big B and Middle B. Photo: Daniel Poh

With Mr Threez, Big B and Middle B. Photo: Daniel Poh


But the people I was happiest to see were those seated at my table. MediaCorp so kindly provided each of the honorees their own table — we could invite 7 guests and our tables were each hosted by two MediaCorp personalities. My very special guests were my husband, my mother-in-law, Big B (looking so handsome in a brand new POA shirt I bought him that afternoon) and Middle B, my best friend Karen (what a rare treat! Our schedules are too crazy for regular meet-ups), Sarah my nominator, and Yung Shin, my colleague from City News, who did a wonderful interview with me after. I did consider bringing Little B but she wouldn’t have had the patience to sit all night, way past her bedtime. *I missed her*

She who started it all: Sarah Teo

She who started it all: Sarah Teo. Photo: Daniel Poh

Pierre and Georgina were the two MediaCorp personalities assigned to our table. I was chuffed to sit with Pierre — it seemed a lifetime ago when he first came to our ELLE office, intimidated by our (admittedly) beautiful, well-dressed and well-educated team of women. He was such a different young man then, before Singapore discovered what a model of true love he stood for, when he donated part of his liver to save his then-girlfriend Andrea D’Cruz, now his wife. Andrea I had known since my earlier days as editor of Female, when she was one of our 50 most gorgeous women. They are one of the most beautiful and loving couples I have ever witnessed. Andrea was one of the first to leave me an encouraging comment on this blog — I was truly touched by her words.

With my sweetest, deepest, lovingest best friend Karen Tan, the most talented actress in the world.

With my sweetest, deepest, lovingest best friend Karen Tan, the most talented actress in the world. Photo: Daniel Poh


To have my bestie with me was such a treat. She caught my eye and laughed when the videos were screened. It was so obvious to her too, that it was crazy to even be in the running against a crusader like Bridget and an overcomer like Cassandra. I mean, what had I done? I started a blog. I spoke about closing the gaps in insurance policies. It seemed to me… so insignificant, compared to my co-honorees. But I was glad, so glad in my heart, that God and the judging panel saw fit to put me there among the three. I didn’t think I was going to win, but it really didn’t matter, because I had already received such a reward, which was this night!

So it came as a complete surprise — shock! — to me when the judging video came on. It was Laura, speaking about this year’s competition, and how stuck the panel was when it came to selecting one winner, and so… THEY SELECTED THREE!

My brain hadn’t caught up yet, but I was staring at Karen and she was mouthing, “You won!” And I remember frowning and thinking, “Huh? What’s going on?”

Mr Threez said, “You all won!” And it dawned on me, that there were THREE winners of the Singapore Woman Award!

As I got up, my husband kissed me. Then Pierre took my hand and said, “You have to hold my hand. I’m freezing!” And we walked to the stage together with Gurmit Singh escorting Bridget and Tay Peng Hui guiding Cassandra and her seeing-eye Labrador Esme.

I know it sounds cheesy but my heart really did overflow with thanksgiving. I knew God and only God could have worked this out that all three of us were the winner. Because each of us is so different, and the work He has given us to do and the strength He has given us to do it with is worth celebrating. Standing there on stage, I prayed that my words would glorify Him.

Three winners for this year's Singapore Woman Award - praise God!

Three winners for this year's Singapore Woman Award - praise God! Photo: Daniel Poh


Each of us got to say a few words, clutching the glass trophies that Guest-of-Honour Madam Halimah Yacob presented to us. Cassandra was ever eloquent, expressing her thanks that all three of us won. Bridget held her award up and said, “This is a political statement. It is not just an award for me, but for all the women in HOME, this is your award!”

I was, honestly, still stunned, and said so. Then I thanked God I was alive today and standing here. To my surprise, the room cheered and clapped.

When I got back to my table, Karen was weeping (and smiling). Later, she said, “You know, when you thanked God you’re alive, I remembered how scared I was when you told me…”

It’s been nearly two years, but some memories are as vivid as the moment they happened. I am grateful that God has given us more years to be besties — I pray we’ll make the most of it!

Middle B, looking so beautiful, was so proud of me. I have to say that’s one of the best feelings in the world, when your children aren’t embarrassed you’re their parent! “You should have been the only winner,” she said, in her innocence.

Receiving my award from the authentic and brilliant Minister of State, Madam Halimah Yacob

Receiving my award from the authentic and brilliant Minister of State, Madam Halimah Yacob. Photo: Daniel Poh


The rest of the evening was a time of mass hugging and photo-taking. I was glad to have time to chat with Madam Halimah — who surely must become one of our women Ministers soon, now that we are severely lacking one — and to introduce her to my husband.

We came home, all happy, kids all sleepy but in a good mood. As I floated off to sleep, I thanked God for His lovely present. Truly the words of Isaiah 61:3 came true for me tonight.

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”

He gave me beauty for my ashes; joy for my mourning.

For every woman who passes through this blog, who is suffering in one way or another, I dedicate this award to you.

Post-Script:

The following week, Bridget, Cassandra and I returned to 938 Live to do a radio interview with Howie Lim and Keith De Souza. As the ladies and I sat in the waiting room chatting, we discovered we were all convent girls — Bridget was from KC, Cassandra from IJ Bukit Timah, and I was a Canossa Convent-St Anthony’s girl. They are both Catholic, I a Christian, and all we do — we realise after sharing — we do for God. It tickled me as much as it warmed my heart to know that God was working through the three of us, in such different yet such similar ways.

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.

Fruit Of My Labour (No, Not The Kids)

Yesterday my friend Serene SMSed me with this message:

“Threez I’m buying the GE insurance policy that u r ‘fronting’ :)”

It made me really happy to read her message, because this was a friend who had not really thought about insurance or health checks before seeing me go through what I did. She’s in her twenties, a lovely, well-accomplished girl with a great future ahead of her. She deserves to be properly protected for any hiccups in life — nothing should stand in her way.

When I receive calls or emails or SMSes from friends and readers of this blog who are in their 20s and 30s and who have been diagnosed with breast, cervical or ovarian cancer, it crushes me. I have gotten over my initial shock that I was just 42 when I was diagnosed (I realise now, many, many women are diagnosed in their late 30s and 40s), but it still upsets me when a younger person gets the dreaded “Big C”.

I’ve been sharing with close friends about the products available out there — not because I get commission (though quite a few people have asked me to become a life planner, which makes me laugh out loud! I can’t even understand the documents!), but because if I can in some small way prevent anyone from having to go through what I did because of insufficient insurance, that would be a great reward for me.

In June, Great Eastern invited me to speak to their special group of planners who focus on families and women. The plans they promote help women to protect against health crises (not just cancer but heart disease, stroke and other common health issues), and also helps them plan for their children’s future.

Talking to Great Eastern's planners about the important role they play in helping women and families.

Catherine Ho, the lovely VP of marketing at Great Eastern, had me talk about my cancer experience and what I went through with my insurance. The core of the talk was 10 ways to handle cancer positively. I presented what I hoped was a funny yet honest account of what I experienced, and urged the planners to really get to know and understand their clients, because it is only through a real relationship that they can help these women.

Catherine Ho of Great Eastern (left) has a true passion for helping women that I greatly admire.

After the talk, I was very moved by the women and men who came up to talk to me. One lady told me, with tears in her eyes, that I was very blessed — her husband had not survived his cancer. A few asked me to explain what DCIS or Stage 0 cancer is, and why is it not always determined by the size of the tumour. They demonstrated a real desire to understand the disease — quite a number said they had clients who called them after a DCIS diagnosis, and they had no clue how to help. But after my sharing, they had a better idea.

Talking about life after cancer — major in the major stuff, like your family and kids.


Great Eastern’s Early Payout Critical Care was one of the first — if not the first to address this problem of early stage critical illness coverage. Before them, I had not heard of any other company having the cojones to insure against this — these days I am even more impressed because of the sheer number of DCIS and Stage 1 cases I come across through my blog and friends calling me. And once GE started, it seems the other insurance companies followed suit.

Serene’s not the first one to buy the EPCC plan since I started blogging and talking about it, and I hope she’s not the last. Just bridging that gap can make such a difference to a cancer patient. It’s peace of mind I would happily pay to have, if I could.

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