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.

Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life

Who could make a sun and sky so perfect but God?

I woke up this morning to an amazing clear sky and a beautiful sun. There was a light breeze blowing and the air smelled so fresh and clean. This is what I imagine Heaven would be like.

One year ago today, at this time (8am as I am writing this) I was in Gleneagles Hospital being prepped for my mastectomy. The sky was pregnant with storm clouds when I left home, and by 8, it was raining sheets.

My heart is filled with gratitude and with joy that I am alive today. What the devil meant for evil, God meant for good. Losing all my breast tissue felt like hell for me that day, but today, one year on, I thank God for the wisdom of my doctor. Because the cancer cells were already present in so many of my milk ducts, had he tried a lumpectomy, I would now have not just a deformed breast, but I would have lived in fear that some cancer cell did not get caught and was multiplying happily in what was left of my breast. Instead, the removal of my breast tissue cleared every doubt, so much that I didn’t need chemo or radiation or even hormone drugs.

A tiny butterfly flew into our house and settled in a spot of sunlight. This photo captures how I feel sometimes.

Last week I had an opportunity to share my cancer story with the Women & Parent Advisory Teams of Great Eastern. I never imagined, one year after my cancer, that I would be talking to life planners. But that’s just how God works – you never really know what He’s putting you through something for. After my short presentation many of the life planners came to talk to me and ask questions. Some shared that they were very touched. One woman, whose husband died recently of cancer, cried as she told me how fortunate I was.

Seeing the reactions, I was in my heart grateful to God, because I knew that if these planners could understand what their clients are going through, or what their clients are trying to avoid — if they have a family history like mine — then, they would be better equipped to really help these women buy the kind of protection that gives them complete peace of mind.

French fries at the beach with Little B

One year on, I thank the Lord for the many hours and minutes I have had to share with my children. I am so grateful I get to be at home with them when they are awake. It has meant that sometimes I need to start my work at 10pm (and crash at midnight because I no longer have staying-up power!), but it’s worth all the moments they share their deepest wishes and worst fears with me, even as we do the most mundane things like supermarket shopping or dreaded homework!

Watching Taylor Swift in concert with Middle B was one of this year's big highlights.

I’m super, super glad that I can go to church every weekend and worship God! The weeks after my operation that I had to stay home and watch service on the Internet were some of my least favourite (though I have to thank God that I could listen to service at ALL!). I’m grateful that I could hobble back to church after a few months, and now, I don’t need anyone to hold my arm as I get to my seat.

Big B letting his baby sister's classmates turn him into a "muscleman". Love the good sport that he is!

I’m grateful for my husband, whose sweet face I stare at every night before I fall asleep (he’s always asleep before I am), who has been my driver, my cheerleader, my Magic Milo Maker, my joke-teller, my movie companion. I’m so happy I get to spend time with this awesome person God made just for me.

The man God gave to me

I did share this with the Great Eastern planners: One never knows if one will get cancer again. The only protection against it is to be prepared: eat well, rest sufficiently, manage stress and know that if God has brought you through it once, you can trust that He has your best at heart, always.

I thank God for this blog, through which I have met some of the bravest, most resilient women and men I have ever had the privilege to meet.

I pray in the next year I will be diligent to keep this blog going, and even hazard a meetup! (if everybody is game)

Thank you for being with me through the last 365 days of my life. I hope you’ll join me for another 365 and beyond.

In Remembrance Of My Mom, Ann Phua (4 Oct 1939-2 Nov 2003)

My mother with Big B, 1999. Her hair was just growing back from chemo after her 2nd mastectomy.

This is my favourite photo of my mother, Ann Phua. She was really terrible at having her photo taken, so it was the candid shots that were the nice ones. Here, my father had captured her laughing with my son, her absolute favouritest little person in the world — he was about 8 months old then.

My mom passed away 2 November 2003. She had been in a coma for five days before she finally gave up the ghost, on All Souls Day which is celebrated by Catholics to mark the “departing of the faithful”, just as the sun came up.

She died of metastasis of her second breast cancer. She had had two mastectomies by then, and even with no breasts left, the cancer came back and developed in her lung. Refusing chemo injections (she had had them twice already) she opted first for oral chemo, then as the cancer only raged harder and faster, she chose pain management and to spend her last months with me in my home.

My mother discovered her first lump at the age of 49. Even back then, that was considered very young — breast cancer was and still is more of a disease that strikes women 55 and above. I remember the fear that gripped my heart like an icy hand when my father paged me with a “999” message. It was the day my mother had to go back to the doctor for the diagnosis after her biopsy. I had never, up to that point in my 19 years, heard my father sound so vulnerable as he told me “Your mother has breast cancer. Can you come home now?”

I was terrified. I had seen cancer take the life of my uncle, my mother’s brother, only a few years before. It was so swift and brutal — he had retired and was exercising and staying fit when boom! The cancer hit and within months, he was gone.

I wasn’t prepared for my mom to die. I was in my second year at university and my brother was still in secondary school. I mean, yes, I could cook and clean and do the laundry, but I wanted my Mommy to see me graduate, to be there when I got married, to carry her grandchildren. I didn’t want to be robbed of all that.

The biopsy showed Stage 1 cancer. When my mother had her operation a month later, the histology showed Stage 2, and her lymph nodes were affected. She had a mastectomy and lymph node removal, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

I remember the day I saw my mom’s mastectomy scar. It really scarred me for life, pardon the pun. Because of her lymph node removal she had problems lifting her arms and getting her shirt off. I helped her and when I lifted up her shirt, the left side of her chest was flat, with a scar diagonally across it. I did all I could to help her wash up, tuck her into bed and kiss her goodnight — then I went to my room, shut the door and cried for hours. It felt to me like my mother’s womanhood had been destroyed by this horrible cancer, and it was so painful and unfair for her to endure this.

The operation wasn’t the worst of it. The chemo and radiation started a few weeks later. I watched my mother turn from her pink-cheeked elfin self to an exhausted figure whose skin turned darker shades of grey by the week. Her nails turned black and brittle. Her beautiful head of hair started to shed — clumps of hair would fall off. That broke her heart the most. Finally when nearly all of it had dropped off, I remember one Saturday morning trimming off the few longish rogue strands that remained as if to mock the memory of her former beauty.

She had a special bra in which she could fit a prosthetic breast. It used to make me sweat just watching her put it on because golly, that bra was warm. On some days, when it was too hot and humid and Mom had been fidgeting, her prosthetic would pop out of place. She also had a wig — my hairdresser Ashley Lim created a fabulous one for her when he heard she had cancer — which she wore religiously. I think, if I had had to have chemo and my hair fell out, I would wear a cool bandana and be done with it (actually I already planned for it when my doctors and I were discussing the possibility of a lumpectomy). The wig too, would tilt in all kind of funny angles when it got too warm and Mom wiped off her sweat. It was terrible. I was so happy when her hair started growing out after the chemo.

Chemo changed my mom’s tastebuds forever, she said (okay, she was given to exaggerating but I have to say it’s true that she never quite enjoyed her durians after that). She said everything tasted like cardboard. Water was the worst thing – she couldn’t even drink a mouthful without wanting to vomit. So I made her Ribena and Milo round the clock. She hated the thought of eating, especially those first few weeks of chemo. But she would get terrible hunger pangs and then be yelping for me to quick make her something. My first meal for my mother during chemo was mee sua with prawns and an egg. I remember she gave me a tired smile and said, “At last, you have to cook for me.”

Radiation brought its own set of pains. The “sunburn” feeling was so acute some times Mom found it hard to sleep at all. We bought an aloe vera plant and I would cut off the sheaths and put them in a plastic bag in the fridge. Every day I would cut off about an inch or two of the cold sheath and scrape out the pulp and mash it up to apply over my mother’s scorched skin. It helped to relieve the pain.

I also learned to boil bird’s nest for her. Every day I would put 7 pieces of whole bird’s nest in the crock pot fill with water, along with a few pieces of rock sugar. By the time I came back from campus 5, 6 hours later, it would be ready for her. The bird’s nest seemed to help a lot — the chemo effects seemed to wear out faster and faster by the week.

My mother’s cancer brought our family close together. We were eager to see her get better. My dad really rose up as the head of the household and every night we gathered together to pray.

It was the cancer that also revealed to me the depth of my father’s love for my mother. He would come home on the dot at 5.30pm and she would be lying on the couch, exhausted or in pain, and he would scoop her up in his arms and carry her up to their room.

Once, a few years after my mom’s first cancer was over, she told me that after her operation my father would make love to her, and always told her she was beautiful and how much he loved her. I believe it was his love and unconditional support that made her determined to get well. And it made me determined to marry someone who was going to love me like that (I did! Thank God!).

My mother took about a year to recover from her cancer. She went back to work but requested for lighter duty — she had been a very hands-on nurse at SGH. She was posted to the old (haunted) Changi Hospital for a while, and then later, to Changi Women’s Prisons (many exciting and depressing stories from that posting that we don’t have space for here).

Mom was cancer-free for 10 years. She had been given a clean bill of health. She was eating healthily, drinking a lot of green tea, and exercising regularly.

She discovered the second cancer — this time in her right breast — when I just became pregnant with my first child in 1998. I was editor of Female then, and it nearly killed me having to deal with a high stress job, my first pregnancy and a mother in hospital. But the good thing was that Mom, knowing that her first grandchild was on the way, was determined to make it. She dreaded the chemo, but she didn’t put make a fuss. She endured it all, focusing on the vision of carrying her grandchild in her arms. In fact, she was most worried that after her operation she wouldn’t be well enough to hold him, but boy, she was determined!

Many times I felt pangs of guilt at now not being able to fuss over her and cook for her and boil bird’s nest for her, now that I had moved out of my parents’ home, was married and (extremely) busy with work. But Mom really didn’t complain. She just focused on getting well.

On the day I had to go into hospital to have my emergency C-section to get Big B out (yes, stress will cause your placenta to malfunction. Be warned. The liquor level in my amniotic sac had dropped to 2 — the norm is 12), my mother was in the same hospital seeing her oncologist, who had told her she was recovering well. Husband and I bumped into her as we were rushing to go home to pack and come back for surgery — I recall the rush of relief when I saw my mother, and the excitement of telling her “Baby’s coming out today, Mom!”

My mother was rewarded with the best grandchild ever (her words). Big B was a cheerful bouncy bundle of joy that ate everything Mama put in his mouth (or hand). Over the next three and a half years, my son grew up in my parents’ home (I would attempt to finish work by 6.30 and pick him up, just in time for his bath, bedtime story and lights-out). I often think my mom was responsible for Big B being the bright boy he is — she read to him and he started recognising words at 11 months (“exit” was his first word). They sang together, they counted, they chased each other at the airport where she would bring him to watch planes take off and land.

In November 2002, three months after I quit my job at ELLE, my mother collapsed on the MRT. Good thing she was with my brother, who dramatically carried her out of the train like it was a Bruce Willis movie. She had been telling me for months that she felt the cancer was back again. I told her she was being silly, but if she was so worried, to go for tests. She had CT scans, X-rays, blood tests — nothing showed any signs of cancer. But when my brother rushed her to the hospital this time, they found her right lung was filled with fluid (always a bad sign).

There was no mass but her cancer had come back as little dots all over her right lung. Her doctor at Johns Hopkins did all he could — he suggested chemo again and she flat out said no. So she went on oral chemo but that did nothing much.

I guess we all knew this was the end. I didn’t want to know it, but there it was in my face. She told me, “I just want to go Home.” I wasn’t a Christian then (born a Catholic but long story…), so I had no idea what she was babbling about Jesus coming to receive her when she died. I just thought it was morbid. I moved my mother in to live with me – I could not bear the thought of leaving her at home. My father was by then also in late stages of Parkinson’s Disease and could not even go to the toilet by himself or feed himself. I was forced to put him in a nursing home near my place, while I looked after Mom at home. It was far from ideal, but I knew I couldn’t look after them both.

Plus, they fought ALL THE TIME towards the end.
Dad: You mustn’t die and leave me.
Mom: Stop talking rubbish and eat your kway teow.
Dad: You are so bad you know – how can you leave me? How can I live without you?
Mom: I’m not dead yet okay? Eat your kway teow! Now!

Dinner on Sundays (I would go to the home and wheel my dad over to my place) was both emotionally and physically exhausting. But still, I could not bear for my parents not to have time with each other. Though, I have to say, as the months wore on, my mom wanted to see my father less and less, thinking (rightly or wrongly, I can’t tell) that the less he saw her, the easier it would be when she finally passed away.

Having Mama in the house was a treat for Big B. I would find the two of them sitting on her bed singing “How Great Thou Art”. He was four then, but in his bright little mind, he already knew Mama was going to go to Heaven to be with Jesus. There was one night, I woke up to check on him and Middle B, but couldn’t find him in his bed. Finally, I discovered him curled up, asleep under Mama’s bed. I burst into tears.

Mom’s condition got worse by the week. We had some palliative support — they brought her oxygen tanks and masks for the nights she felt as if she couldn’t breathe. A nurse would come and check on her pain levels. She had to take more and more morphine, which sucked, because it would make her hallucinate. Okay, there were funny moments from the hallucinations. Once, I walked into her room and she said, “Why did you keep ringing the doorbell, don’t you know I’m bathing the baby?” And then, she snapped out of it and said, “Oh! I’m awake! The dream was like real you know!”

The day Big B got chicken pox was the beginning of the end. Mom couldn’t be in the house with him, because chicken pox could kill her. At the same time, she had developed a chest infection. That year – 2003 – was the year of SARS. I brought Mom to hospital and had to queue six hours to get her registered. She collapsed after the third hour and I had to scream at somebody for a bed to lie her down on — all very drama! Anyway, Mom eventually ended up staying in hospital for nearly a month. It was exhausting for me as now I had to travel to see her every day (queue, take temperature, put on sticker) and then after I left her, I had to go and see my father.

Just as Mom got better, I was looking forward to having her back in the house again, she told me she had got the social worker to get her a bed at Assisi Hospice. We fought over this so much — if she hadn’t had cancer I would have fought much harder, but I didn’t want her to get too upset.

“I cannot die in your house, do you understand?” I didn’t, but you don’t argue with a dying woman.

Assisi turned out to be the best thing that happened to Mom in her last days. She had her own room in the lush compound — Assisi is located next to Mount Alvernia and the whole place just smells greener and lusher than other parts of Singapore. There was a nun who would visit her every day and pray with her, and that Sister must have had some kind of super anointing because my mother would be so cheered up and joyful it was as if she wasn’t even sick at all.

The doctors and nurses at Assisi were also so caring and concerned for me and the family. They would tell me funny stories of what my mom got up to, and I could confide in them that it was hard for me that my brother lived and worked in Melbourne so I pretty much had to care for both parents.

This whole journey with my mother having cancer led me to seek God with all my heart. He arranged it so that I met someone who met someone who could answer that one question that stood between me and Jesus Christ. On 6 October 2003, two days after my mother celebrated her 64th birthday, I received Christ.

The final week of October, I was preparing to bring Mom home. She was so fine on Friday that the doctor called me and said, “I think you can come and get your mother on Monday, we’ll pack all her things and get her ready.” Then on Sunday night, they called me and said, “Her breathing and heartbeat have become irregular. I think it’s time to get your brother home.”

On Monday I called my brother in Melbourne and said, “It looks bad with Mom.” He was in a dilemma because he had applied for his green card and if he left Melbourne now, he would not get it. But God really started revealing Himself in our lives — when my brother called his lawyer to see how he could leave Australia on compassionate grounds, the lawyer said, “Oh! I forgot to call you! You citizenship was approved on Friday!”

By Tuesday morning he was back and we went to see our mother together first thing in the morning. She made us join hands and promise we were going to look out for one another always, and never to fight. We did it. And by Tuesday afternoon she slipped into a coma and never woke up again.

The doctor took her off all the supports and fluids, but she lasted all the way till Sunday morning. My Catholic aunties quipped that Mom wanted to die on All Souls Day so that in the event we forgot her death anniversary at least some people at a Catholic church somewhere would be praying for all the faithful departed like her.

But I haven’t forgotten — I never will. I thank God for my mother, who bravely battled cancer three times. I thank Him for the woman who stood me in front of a mirror and taught me how to do my breast self-exam and who always told me to take my health seriously. I thank Him for my late father, who demonstrated what a Godly husband truly is, who loves his wife as Christ loves the church. And just as my mother fought, I will also fight the good fight against this terrible disease.

Love you Mom. I miss you.

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.

The Vampires Strike Back (And Some Umpires Too)

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No, that’s not the vampire who called me. I wish!

The last 48 hours, my mobile has kept ringing. I am almost thankful my Blackberry Bold is on its last legs and the battery zaps out around 12 noon if I’ve engaged in more than 30 minutes of talk time.

The callers: friends or friends-of-friends who are insurance agents, determined to set me straight after reading the New Paper article yesterday about my failed claim for DCIS under my critical illness policies.

“You should have read the fine print” was quite a common (exasperated) response. “Everybody knows DCIS is not covered.”

I guess I am not everybody, then. And if you walk down the street and ask 10 people, if you can get 1 who can tell you what DCIS is, I’ll buy you two pints of Haagen Dazs Caramel Biscuit And Cream.

Other priceless responses from insurance agents included:

• “But this other plan covers you for DCIS what.” (erm, hello, that’s not the plan my agent sold me despite knowing my risk for breast cancer. That’s my whole point. Why did 3 agents sell me the same thing knowing I should buy something that covers me for every stage of cancer? And now that I have had DCIS and a mastectomy, can you get your other plan to cover me? If not, shut up.)

• “DCIS where got mastectomy one? No need lah, chemo and radiation can already, for DCIS and Stage 1.” (Okay lah, you get cancer across 5cm of your breast tissue and tell me if you want to take the risk of chemo vs removing the d*** cancer from your body.)

• “I can’t speak for Prudential but if you had bought from my insurance company you would get blahblahblah…” (Where were you when I was draining my hardearned cash into dud policies?)

But to their credit, some friends who are agents were upset for me, and gave me some great tips, including:

• Don’t surrender my policies yet. Surrendering is a sure way of losing out because the break even point is something like 15 years or above. I am only considering cashing out one policy, but we’ll see how it goes, now that I have sincere advice, I am not rushing into anything just yet.

• Make sure my hospitalization plans (Medishield Plus) are auto-renewed. Any lapse in payment will make your policy null and void. And don’t be too confident that your GIRO/CPF “automatically” went through. My friend Karen (from Great Eastern) gave me an example of a CPF-deducted plan in which CPF did not automatically transfer the annual premium to the insurance company, and this lady who had cancer could not claim for her hospitalisation.

• Looking out for my children’s plans. Make sure your children are covered for hospitalisation. My Three Bs are all included in my Medishield Plus policies. I will be going through them with my financial planner to make sure they’re water-tight.

But the call I didn’t expect that came, and made me glad, was my woman Prudential agent. She explained that the terminology that doctors use in their post-surgery reports is the only source upon which decisions are made for payouts (or not). I’m not 100% sure what she means, but I’ve sent all my lab and histological reports to her, and she’s making an appeal.

Even if it doesn’t happen, I am just happy she made the effort to call me, touch base, make the effort to repeal the rejection.

But she was the only one out of my three agents who were notified by Prudential that my claim was rejected, to do this.

So, not to sound sexist, but if you are a woman reading this, I would suggest that you buy your life/health policies from another woman. Only a woman can truly comprehend the severity of losing a breast. Not that male agents cannot be sympathetic, but they would not feel for it the way they would if their client had testicular cancer.

I’m grateful for all the knowledge that has come flooding into this blog. I hope whoever reads it will gain something from it, pass it on, link this to a friend’s FB/Twitter/email, and make a difference.

While you are in good health, make sure your insurance coverage is really sufficient. It’s worth the while to do your homework, and I hope this blog will be effective “required reading”.

Pam & Ning Come To Visit

My sweet and super-gifted former colleague from Vanilla, now 938LIVE Living Room host (and one of the most awesome WMD volunteers I ever had the privilege to have) Pamela Ho and her bestie Ning (aka Magic Babe Ning, aka tech queen, aka future Le Cordon Bleu patisserie school graduate) came to visit today.

Not being able to get out of the house has driven me slightly batty so I Whatsapp Ning and beg her to swing by a McCafe and buy me a lowfat caramel latte.

Which of course takes them out of the way to East Coast Parkway McCafe, which of course of all days, did not have lowfat milk…

Anywayyyy, I got my coffee (thanks guys, kiss kiss kiss) and I got to see these two beautiful chicks who made me laugh and wonder and miss being in a room full of super-women (Vanilla magazine’s team really was All That!).

They let me tell them the blow-by-blow of my cancer story, and Ning shared some pretty scary stories of her own. It was like that scene in Lethal Weapon where Mel Gibson and Rene Russo compared scars. Ning has a back problem like mine too — we could be sisters!

She later blogs about this — I’m really touched by this young woman, who has the wisdom and demeanour of such an old soul. (No wonder Neil Gaiman is not-so-secretly attracted to her! And come on, have you seen Amanda Palmer?)

It’s really nice to be able to tell your friends the truth without mincing it or acting “hero” — that it sucks losing your nipple. It blows having your 43-year-old breast that deserves a long-service medal, removed. And it’s sad that no matter how gifted Dr Andrew Khoo my plastic surgeon is (and he is remarkably talented), my breast will never be as perfect as the one God gave me.

And [cussword I promised never to utter again] I miss my breast. So there.

Ning then astutely notes that nipples are just Braille for “suck here”. LOL! She has a point. Two, actually.

And as Pam always does, she brings out the positive in me. I share with them how discovering it before it’s even a real mass really saved me. So I lost a breast — but I have my life back. I don’t have to undergo chemotherapy, which I was really dreading, or radiotherapy, which I watched destroy my mother’s skin. I’m as good as cured! My cancer was really a parenthesis in my life.

Ning has brought me a really special gift: a fantasy wand she handmade! She even had it all wrapped up in a black felt pouch with a red drawstring — move over, Harry Potter. Kiss my heinie, Hermione.

We share chocolates and black coffee (except for Ning who’s “allergic” to coffee – bring me that wand, I’ll cure you of it!), and laugh about other people (yes, Gossip Girl’s older siblings).

I feel good after having these two crazy BFFs over. It’s been therapeutic just telling it as it is, instead of worrying about how my friends or relatives are going to take it. If they think I look sickly (which I don’t — till I stand up and they notice I walk like Sheriff Woody). If they are secretly afraid that by breathing the same air, they are going to get cancer too (I sh*t you not, someone actually said that to me).

Worse, I don’t think I could deal with PITY. As someone who doesn’t believe in pity — self or any other variety — pity is the worst baggage any visitor could bring me. So, in fact, I will be radically honest and say that I haven’t accepted visits from people who might potentially hold me a pity party.

I’ve done well — I haven’t heard “You poor thing” from anyone else apart from Dr Khoo, and he was talking about my crooked spine.

Pam and Ning have made me decide I’m okay with having friends over now. Thanks guys. I love you both.