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.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

I started this blog in June last year after my mastectomy, following the discovery of a cancerous mass in my right breast.

Through it I have “met” so many women who have had to take the same painful journey as I. At one point I was getting three or four emails every week — women who were single and in shock that they had been diagnosed with breast cancer; women who, in the midst of a terrible divorce, received a second blow of a breast cancer diagnosis; women who are married with kids, and don’t know how to cope with running their household like they always have; children of women who are going through breast cancer treatment, whose love for their mothers drives them to find answers to the pain.

Every single one of you has touched me and amazed me. Your strength and positivity (even in the midst of great emotional stress) bear testament that women are built with an awesome inner strength.

I want to thank every person who has shared her story with me, and the ones who have left thoughtful comments. I have been as blessed by you all, as I hope this blog has somehow blessed you.

I want every woman reading this to know that you do not need to walk alone through your cancer. You can write to me and I’ll be happy to talk to you. Some of my friends, like Rosalind Ng, have been so open and willing to share their tips on coping with chemo and other treatments — I am continually awed by her, and grateful to have this “partner”.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me if I would speak to a friend of his. She is in her mid-30s and discovered a cancerous lump in her breast at a routine health check. Being single she was terrified not just at the prospect of a mastectomy (which her first doctor suggested), but also at the uncertainty of the future. What would she tell that potential new boyfriend? Could she have children? Would she dare?

I called her. We talked. Her doctor had really scared her — she told her the bare minimum, and simply said “You better have your operation done soon.”

I suggested she get a second opinion, just like I did. Her second doctor suggested a wide excision (partial mastectomy), but the nurse that did her paperwork started psycho’ing her into considering a mastectomy (WHY would anyone do that??! I mean, isn’t there enough evidence to show that a lumpectomy followed by chemo and radiation can preserve the breast and inflict minimal damage to the patient’s psyche?).

But on the day she was warded, the doctor did another ultrasound and found a “suspicious” lump in another part of the breast near the nipple. So she was discharged, having been told to decide if she wanted to do another biopsy to rule out a second cancerous growth.

She was pretty freaked out by this time. So when she called me, I suggested she get a third opinion from my surgeon Dr Hoe Ah Leong, who was the one who managed to calm me down so I could accept even having a mastectomy.

Dr Hoe checked the second lump using ultrasound, and thanks to his many years as a breast surgeon, could tell her pretty much for certain that it did not look “suspicious” at all. Also, he suggested an alternative treatment for her — chemo first, to shrink the lump, then a lumpectomy. There was even a chance the chemo would get rid of the cancer altogether. She went to see the oncologist (same one I did, Dr Tan Yew Oo) and Dr Tan started her on chemo.

When we last spoke she sounded good, relieved and thankful that Dr Hoe had a good alternative for her. I admire her courage and her quick acceptance of what chemo meant. I have to admit I have at moments wished I could have preserved my breast… but my mastectomy was a journey I had to walk through.

I’m grateful to God that somehow, through this blog, He has enabled me to help other women going through the same pain and the multitude of fears and unanswered questions. My prayer to Him had been “Don’t waste my cancer. Make something good out of it.”

I’m glad He heard me.

If you have questions about breast cancer, or know someone who’s going through this who needs to talk, email me at theresa@word.sg. I’d be glad to help in any way I can.

Celebrating 16 Years of Lurve

Freeflow Moet is the only way to celebrate!

The trouble with having a wedding anniversary in early January is that it comes right on the heels of my birthday (Nov) and Christmas (Dec) and New Year (1 Jan) and just before Valentine’s Day.

Usually by 8 January, which is our wedding anniversary, my husband and I have “celebration burnout”, which means, we think we can’t drink another sip of champagne.

But who am I kidding? There is ALWAYS space for one more sip of champagne (or in our case, 2 bottles).

I met my hubby in junior college — a time many consider the “trial period” of relationships. After all, we were only 17 or 18 and this would be our first relationship.

But for us, we were classmates before any hint of romance ever clouded the picture. He was the king of GP in class, and I was put out that I was NOT queen of GP in class. After all, that was all I was good at — writing opinion editorials.

He wanted to be a journalist — and would have made a Pulitzer Prize-level one — while I wanted to be a lawyer. But as God would have it, he became the lawyer and I became the writer. I still say, to this day, that Walter Woon was the definitive factor in my career. Dr Woon had asked me at my law interview if I would defend a man who was a murderer, and I said, “Absolutely not.”

Apparently, my scruples were not pointed in the right direction for Law Faculty, NUS.

Anyway, we met again at the traffic light leading to Orchard Cinema (now Orchard Cineleisure and I’m not sure if there is a traffic light there anymore). I was now in contact lenses and had Shakira hair (read: I was irresistible, har har) and we started dating.

Fast forward: after 8 years of dating, we got married in 1995.

Fast forward x 16: After 16 years we are sitting, once again, at Fullerton Hotel’s Town Restaurant for the best champagne brunch in the world. I mean, the UNIVERSE.

The best fresh seafood in all of the land!


Freeflow Moet champers. Lobster tails. Fresh-shucked oysters. Sashimi that tastes of the sea. Eggs Benedict. And 50 cheeses.

Has it always been Moet and lobster? No.

It has been three kids — one premature who needed to be resuscitated. It has been marital fights that bordered on one of us moving out to a hotel. It has been his brain tumour and habitual headaches. And as of last year, it has been my cancer.

But through it all, God had a plan. We didn’t even know God till 2003. I was saved on 6 October 2003, a Monday afternoon at 12.50pm. And our lives (separately) and together as one in God’s eyes, have never been the same again.

Fullerton remains the same, but our conversations — as the waiter is topping up our 6th glass of champagne — centre around our Lord, and what He wants us to do, the places He has put us in to make a difference, the encouragement He sends in the form of people and circumstances.

Our marriage was good from 1995-2004. It became truly great from 2004-2011 and I pray it will continue to grow from strength to strength.

I can only thank Father God for this man who, as my partner, makes my life worth living, is the world’s best Dad to our three munchkins, is my lover, my friend, truly, my better half. I could not live this difficult life without him — and I daresay, he without me. We are one — God has joined us — and as one, we want to live a life that makes a difference.

Honey if you’re reading this, I love you. Words are grossly inadequate, but I love you as fully, overflowing, as my heart could possibly love. I thank God for you every single day, that there is another half of me to live this fabulous life with me, to chuckle at my inane jokes, to make orgasmic faces at my cooking, to re-watch X-Files DVDs with, to serve God together with, to help people experience Christ in their every day lives with.

Happy 16th anniversary.

Breaking in my brand new Asics running shoes — my anniversary present!

A Clean Breast Of It: 2010 in review

I received this in my email from WordPress last week — I love what they did so I’m posting it here. Enjoy!

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 49 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 57 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 50mb. That’s about a picture per week.

The busiest day of the year was August 31st with 2,225 views. The most popular post that day was Sh*t, There’s A Hole In My Coverage. Make That A Manhole. .

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, offsprings.blogspot.com, diaperbag.blogspot.com, twitter.com, and wee-stories.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for a clean breast of it, acleanbreast.wordpress.com, zoe tay, hoe ah leong, and zoe tay breast.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Sh*t, There’s A Hole In My Coverage. Make That A Manhole. August 2010
33 comments

2

The New Paper Reports On A Clean Breast Of It And My Policy Woes August 2010
21 comments

3

About June 2010

4

Zoe Tay Plays Me! (Not) September 2010
6 comments

5

What My Breasts Looked Like 10 Years Ago June 2010

It’s Great Being A Woman

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’ve just passed the six-month mark since my mastectomy. Though I still wake up with some tightness where I had my surgery, I am 95 percent able to do everything I used to do, and I am so grateful for that!

These past six months, I have met women who have gone through different types of cancers and other life-threatening illnesses and incidents. I am amazed by the two things that unite all of us — the love for life and the spirit to “get over it and carry on”. There is no patience for moping or self-pity of any sort!

My buddy Joyce (left), who had a heart issue last year, is one of the most positive and funny women in the world.

I have also met men who have gone through surgeries for different things — while some of them are positive and have made healthy changes to their lives, I cannot say the men share the same joie de vivre I have experienced with the women.

It’s as if having a second chance at life has unleashed all their creativity and sense of fun. We compare scars like war veterans (except for the part where we collapse in giggles over games of “show me yours and I’ll show you mine”). We swop recipes for healthy, cancer-busting meals (and then some other recipes for “midnight comfort foods”). We encourage each other to live healthier — exercise, drink birds’ nest, take breaks from work, manage stress. We boost each other’s egos — my friends make me smile by telling me they never would have guessed I had a mastectomy because my breasts now look like an absolutely normal pair (from the outside, at least).

Maybe it’s just how God made women. Maybe we just have look-on-the-bright-side DNA. Maybe it’s our inbuilt survival instinct — we have to be our best, strongest self or how can we look after our children who need us?

Whatever it is, I know it’s great to be a woman. We are as strong as we are gentle. We are as intuitive as we are intelligent. We get to have babies, and our babies will always love us no matter how old they grow.

I’m blessed to have a husband who totally spoils me, who is my best friend, who laughs at my jokes and who makes me laugh till I snort rice grains out my nose. I’m blessed with children who know when to hug me when I’m down, who kiss me on my nose “till your chest gets better, Mommy”, who tell me jokes and get the punchline all wrong. It’s truly a wife’s and mother’s privilege.

My good friend’s mother, Aunty Mag, used to be a radiologist. When she visited me in hospital, she said to me, “You know, it seems terrible now, but breast cancer is one of the best cancers to have. Because when you catch it early it is in a part of your body that can be removed. If it’s colon cancer or stomach cancer, it’s far more terrible.”

In the bigger scheme of things, she is absolutely right. I didn’t even need chemotherapy or radiotherapy after my mastectomy. It’s great being a woman.

Post-script: Great Eastern is running a pledge campaign titled “It’s Great To Be A Woman”. Make your pledge at http://www.itsgreattobeawoman.com or click here! (You can vote for my pledge too – search “Threezframe”). For every pledge Great Eastern will make a donation to the Breast Cancer Foundation towards research and support for breast cancer patients. Let’s make it 20,000 pledges!

Support Kids With Cancer On HAPPEE DAY

I love it when regular people — moms and dads and kids — get passionate about helping others.

My friend Daphne Ling of the blog Mother Inc., together with her husband (my former colleague) Kelvin, have been inspired to do something for kids with cancer.

Having to face cancer when you are in your 40s is quite different from being a cancer patient when you are barely old enough to buy a kopi. I only have God to thank for the fact that I’ve never had to cross that bridge of either being a child with cancer or having one.

As Daphne writes: “Childhood cancer isn’t something we like to think about, because it’s scary and it makes you feel helpless and thankful all at the same time. It’s not something that’s within our control, like we can prevent it by feeding only organic food or taking more multivites. We don’t know why it happens to kids and how we can stop it from happening. So we hope and pray that our kids stay strong and healthy and that we don’t ever have to sit in the doctor’s office to hear those scary words, ‘I’m sorry, it’s cancer.’

“Some parents have been through that, though. More than a thousand of them. According to the Childhood Cancer Registry, 1,103 children were diagnosed with cancer between 1997 and 2005 in Singapore, with more than half below the age of 5. That’s over a thousand parents being told that their kids have cancer.

“For them, happy days are hard to come by. They’re happy if their kid makes it through another round of chemotherapy or even just another day without puking or needles or mood swings or pain.”

Mother Inc. is doing its part for 30 kids with cancer on 31 October. It will be a mini carnival at Hort Park, with mascots, balloon sculptors, face painting, magic shows, a truckload of balloons and tons of more cool stuff, and Daphne and Kelvin are calling it HAPPEE DAY. Daphne had gone to the Children’s Cancer Foundation to ask if there was anything she could do for these kids and she was told: “How about organizing an event to bring a little joy to them and give them a reason to smile, even if it’s just for a while?”

What you can do:

1. Be there and volunteer.
Mother Inc. needs help with the logistics, carnival booths and most of all, to make friends with the families who are attending the event. Bring your kids, who will have a blast at the carnival and they’ll get to make some new friends at the same time. Also, if you have some ideas or skills (like if you can eat fire or juggle chainsaws or sing with helium) that you would like to contribute, just email her at daphne@motherinc.org.

2. Donate.
If you can’t make it down but would like to help anyway, you can do so by donating to the Children’s Cancer Foundation. They provide financial aid to families who struggle with the burden of chemotherapy treatments and surgeries and your donations will go a long way in showing that you care. You can donate anytime from now until 31 October. Give a little and make someone’s day a little happier.

3. Pass on the message.
You can do like me and publicise HAPPEE DAY on your blog. Blog about the event and share it with your readers, tweet about it, share in on Facebook (you can use my share buttons at the bottom right hand of the page) tell other moms you know, shout it from the rooftops.

Just to be clear, proceeds from the fund-raising go directly to the Children’s Cancer Foundation and not to the running of this event. Mother Inc. is riding on sponsorships and personal donations for that.

Help Mother Inc. make 31 Oct a HAPPEE DAY for the kids from CCF!

Go to Mother Inc. for updates and further details.

The Making Of: My Breast Cancer Story In Lifewise Magazine

The cover of Lifewise, Sept/Oct 2010

My ex-boss Agatha Koh-Brazil (the woman responsible for encouraging me to be bold in the way I write, having been my boss at 8 Days, M3 and ETC magazines) came to visit me two weeks after my breast cancer surgery, together with my good friend and former colleague Joyce Lim.

I told them my gory story, and then Joyce told me hers (she had a bypass surgery done in January and showed off her scars to me — very macho I must say).

A week later, Aggie calls me and asks if I would agree to be interviewed for a custom magazine that she was helming, called Lifewise. It’s a publication for the National Healthcare Group.

Of course, one does not say no to Agatha Koh-Brazil. She has the skills of a hostage negotiator.

Assistant editor Nellie Tay emails me a list of questions, which I quickly answer, and then she warns me there will be a photo shoot soon.

About a month later, I am summoned to MediaCorp Publishing’s new office at the old radio building on top of Caldecott Hill. It was a highly nostalgic and dusty hike for me to go back there, seeing that I used to weave in and out of those studios during my rookie term at 8 Days. And having just left MediaCorp after Vanilla less than 2 years ago, many of my old friends could still be found in the hallowed hallways of Caldecott Hill.

The infamous (haunted) MediaCorp Publishing photo studio, where many of the 8 Days and iWeekly covers you see at newsstands have been shot, now takes up a large studio with a high ceiling. I really like it, but Steve Zhu, the head photographer for MPB, wrinkles his nose when I tell him. He then offers me some mooncake (I love Steve, he always has food).

Nellie brings me to meet two other lovely breast cancer ladies: Veronica Ang and Linda Ng, both of whom are Pink Paddlers, members of the dragonboating team of the Breast Cancer Foundation. (Hmm… I think this is destiny calling me. More on Pink Paddlers later.)

We all sit to have our makeup and hair done by Manisa Tan — we used her a lot for Vanilla so it was lovely to see her again. Then my ex-colleague and partner in my writing agency Michelle Bong comes to chitchat with me — we NEVER meet for fun so this was a real treat.

Suddenly I’m told, this is for the cover.

Yikes, nobody said anything about a cover. Secretly, I hope they have picked nice clothes for me! For all of us!

Stylist Gina Koh is a whip-thin, tall young lady who looks like Patti Smith in her younger days, so I was quite hopeful. However, I have to say the clothes were rather… safe. But still, the idea was, all shades of pink for the cover of Lifewise’s Sept/Oct issue, with different colours on the inside pages telling each of our stories.

I love photo shoots because you never come out looking like you feel. I quite like being “surprised” when I look at the shots on the hooked-up computer as we progress — it’s such a departure from the days when we had to do a “test shot” with a Polaroid camera, and walk around the room waving the Poly to dry it so that the image would come out. These days, you can shoot and delete on the spot, no surprises.

Linda and Veronica are very photogenic, and so game. They are changing poses like pros. I, on the other hand, am what you call a “kayu” during photo shoots, ie I find a position and hold it, just like my stocks. You would think after working so many years in fashion magazines I would know how to pose, but noooo…

Photographer Roy Lim (a real sweetie) gets us to squeeze together for a Charlie’s Angels shot (sans guns). This works best with Linda in the middle – she is such a good-looking girl. I’m shocked later to find out that her oldest daughter is 23 — and Linda is only 43! Good grief, my eldest is only 11! So it’s true that women who have their children early will always maintain their youth.

Roy works hard making us laugh and look like we’re best friends. Really, photo shoots are hard work — for the models but most of all for the photographer.

After our cover shot, we do our individual shots. Gina puts me in a diaphanous blue blouse from Dressy (it’s really cute). The colour looks good on me, so it’s all over very quickly, chop chop curry pop.

The photo crew & I, from left: photographer Roy, designer Frances, Gina (in hat), me, makeup artist Manisa, and asst ed Nellie.

Before I vamoose I visit Aggie and Joyce in their new office. It’s true, there is not a single window to be found. So I am quite relieved that I am no longer working at MPB. I’m a living thing – I need my sunshine to grow.

We sit and mock each other and laugh about old times, and our other pal Phyllis appears, looking like a million dollars as always. These are three of my oldest friends, and just being with them really made my day.

I love it that having had this cancer has allowed me to spend time with the people who mean something to me, who have left their marks on my life. In many cases, I might have quite happily gone on living from day to day, and missed every chance there was to connect with them again, to talk, to share, to be friends. That I’ve had the opportunity to stop and reconnect, to me, has been one of the greatest gifts to come out of this whole experience.

Joyce aka Xena (left), Aunty Aggie (middle) and I.

Lifewise’s full feature on Breast Cancer is an informative piece. You can read it here.

Time Is Short: Live Hard! (Or: “Have You Lived Your Dreams Yet?”)

Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture

I chanced upon this book at Kinokuniya two months ago. It’s called The Last Lecture, and it’s literally the last lecture by a college professor named Randy Pausch.

The title of the lecture was “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. He gave it on 18 September, 2007.

Thing is, Randy Pausch was dying of terminal pancreatic cancer when he stood before that audience at Carnegie Mellon University, showing them images of his CT scans, and telling them he only had a few months to live.

But he didn’t talk about cancer in his lecture. Instead, he talked about his childhood dreams (among them, experiencing zero gravity, becoming Captain Kirk, and working as a Disney imagineer), and how he lived (or did not quite) each one.

The closing words of his book will haunt me forever. Pausch died on 25 July, 2008 at the age of 47, leaving behind his wife and three young children. Plus hundreds of thousands of fans of his book (probably thanks to Oprah, who had him on her show).

I thought I’d share this YouTube video with you. It makes me tell myself: “Life is short – live each day as if it’s my last. Make every minute count. How am I living my purpose today? Have I fulfilled my childhood dreams?”

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

Zoe Tay Plays Me! (Not)

I’m kidding, of course! What human could be more luminous than Zoe Tay?

But the beautiful Ms Tay does play a breast cancer patient in her new movie Love Cuts. She is a friendly seamstress whose positive nature touches lives all around her, from acquaintances to foreign workers.

I admire Zoe Tay greatly. When I began my writing career at 8 Days, she was already the Queen of Caldecott Hill. I remember our best-selling issue of that year was the one with Zoe on the cover in black and white. The photos were shot by Derrick Tay, and in the (then-rather-scandalous) spread within, in one particular shot, she wore a really sexy corset and fishnet stockings.

In the accompanying interview, she talked about getting whatever she wants — she was, then, the very picture of a Material Girl.

But today’s Zoe Tay is soft and gentle, a mother of 2.5, an actor who has in the last 15 years worked hard to push herself beyond the cozy comfort of being the biggest fish in the Singapore acting pond.

For her to take on this unglamorous role of being a cancer victim, I think it must have taken guts. (I adore Fann Wong but I doubt she would ever play a character that has cancer.)

I’m also happy to say the script was co-written by my churchmate Danny Yeo, who also goes beyond his own comfort zone in this effort.

Critics have mauled it for being schmaltzy, but most cancer movies sort of are (Beaches, The Bucket List, Love Story… and not just movies but reality shows too. Who can forget Jade Goody, the British “Big Brother” reality show star who died of cervical cancer in 2009).

If you ask me, I’d rather that movies about cancer were suitably sentimental, than over-truthful. The fact is cancer is an ugly, painful disease. It robs families of mothers and fathers, even children. It causes unimaginable stress not just to victims but more so to caregivers.

Love Cuts reveals the best sides of living with cancer — especially the longsuffering husband. He reminds me of my late father, who tirelessly cared for my mother and who stopped at nothing to make her feel his love.

And when you have someone who truly loves you, I guess, even a cancer victim can feel beautiful.

Catch Love Cuts now before it ends! Click here to buy tix.