Saturday, May 12, 2012
Singapore - She touched others with her strength
SINGAPORE - She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and doctors gave her only months to live.
Three times she proved them wrong, tackling the disease head-on with a grace that proved inspirational to everyone around her, including her three young daughters.
On Thursday morning, five years after she was first diagnosed, Ms Evelyn Teo Swee Lin's battle with the disease finally ended.
The 39-year-old died in Assissi Hospice, with husband Alan Yong and daughters Sarah, 12, Nicole, 10, and Vera, seven, by her side.
On Friday, at her wake at Eastwood Terrace, Mr Yong, 41, told The New Paper how his wife's blog (evelynfeels.blogspot.com) had inspired many.
Readers would comment that they were touched by her strength and faith, and that they learnt to cherish what they had in life.
The regional IT director for a UK company said: "They became her close personal friends. Some were cancer patients too, and she would visit them."
Ms Teo, an ex-IT project manager, spoke openly about her illness through her blog, as a presenter with the Catholic marriage enrichment programme and as an ambassador of a National Healthcare Group (NHG) health awareness campaign.
Even while she was touching other people's lives, Ms Teo didn't forget about her loved ones.
Mr Yong spoke fondly about how he and his wife started writing love notes to each other in 2008, when they joined the Catholic programme Marriage Encounter.
The couple later became presenters for the programme.
Mr Yong has about 11 books filled with these notes. Ms Teo even kept a book each for their daughters.
The couple would pen their thoughts at the same time before exchanging books. And they would share excerpts with others at the marriage programme.
"Through her cancer experience, she was able to draw out what our struggles were as acouple," said Mr Yong.
"There were struggles with chemotherapy, end-of-life issues..."
The couple had been discussing such issues for a long time, Mr Yong said.
"But as the time draws nearer, emotion takes over. Things you talk about while your wife is healthy are different when she's sick."
Mr Yong said his wife was a determined person who lived her life in the manner she wanted.
She even planned her wake - for example, on how she would be clad in her favourite Nonya dress.
Mr Yong said he was making good on her request to have a rock band at her wake: the band will play her favourite songs on Sunday, including songs from Snow Patrol and Coldplay.
The band request was just one item on Ms Teo's bucket list, a catalogue of things to do before you die, drawn up when the couple found out in 2009 that hercancer had returned after a year and had spread to her lungs.
Another item on the list was a trip to Europe: Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Paris and Lourdes.
Said Mr Yong: "Doctors said she had six months to live, so we left the kids with our parents and went for the trip of our lives."
Since the couple only had a simple ceremony when they were married in 1999, their friends threw them a big church party to fulfil a third item: To be married in church.
Life as a couple aside, Ms Teo kept busy in her last years.
In 2010, she was approached by NHG to be an ambassador for its "Caring It Forward" campaign, in support of people passing on good health practices.
Photos of Ms Teo and her family were put up around MRT stations and she was interviewed on radio and television talk shows.
She also contributed a recipe to the Nanyang Technological University's "Sharing Plates" cookbook project, which contains anecdotes and recipes for cancer patients.
Mr Yong said that his wife had prepared their daughters well for her death.
Said Mr Yong: "We didn't hide the truth from them, but said it in a way they would understand.
"As for her projects, Mummy did them as deposits into the memory of her children."
He added: "To achieve what she did within a short period of time was amazing. For me, I was proud and privileged to have married her.
"All I did was go along for the ride."
Regular screening, early diagnosis important
From 2006 to 2010, 51,657 cases of cancer were diagnosed among Singapore residents.
Of these, 25,087 (48.6 per cent) affected men and 26,570 (51.4 per cent) women, while 12,680 men and 10,243 women died from the disease.
Colorectal cancer was the most common cancer in men, but lung cancer had the highest mortality rate. For women, breast cancer was the most common and had the highest mortality rates.
Dr Wong Seng Weng, medical director and consultant medical oncologist at The Cancer Centre, said the three top cancers for which screening is encouraged are breast cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer.
As many as eight out of 10 breast cancer cases may be completely cured if diagnosed early, he said.
Ministry of Health recommends women to start screening for breast cancer when they reach 40. A mammogram is recommended every two years for women 50 years and above.
Men and women 50 years and older are advised to go for regular screening for colorectal cancer, through either a screening colonoscopy every 10years, or an annual stool analysis.
Women should also be screened for cervical cancer, said Dr Wong. Sexually active women above 25 years old should go for pap smears every three years, the Ministry of Health recommends.