Donor's card, boss' words kept his hopes up
All the card said was "Xi wang ni kang fu" ("Hope you recover" in Mandarin).
It was a simple message brought all the way from Taiwan but it kept Mr Simon Tan, 54, going.
"It was from my bone marrow donor and it accompanied the stem cell more than 3,000km to save my life," said the vice-president of corporate governance at Li & Fung, a consumer goods design, development, sourcing and logistics company headquartered in Hong Kong.
Mr Tan had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a fast-growing cancer of a type of white blood cells that crowds out the bone marrow, preventing it from making normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets that the body needs.
He only found out in November 2011 when he went to have his appendix taken out. Before that, he had never been sick.
"I had been flying here and there for work. I ate normally and looked perfectly healthy," the divorcee told The New Paper.
It was only when he flew back from a trip to Hong Kong that year that an "unbearable" pain in his abdomen forced him to make a trip to the hospital straight from the airport.
That was when doctors told him he had ALL.
LIFESAVER: (Above) Mr Simon Tan holding on to the card given by his bone marrow donor from Taiwan which reads ''Xi wang ni kang fu'' (''Hope you recover'' in Mandarin). PHOTO COURTESY OF SIMON TAN
"About 97 per cent of my blood had been compromised by white blood cells," he said.
After surgery, he was kept in an isolated room with no visitors allowed.
"That was the hardest part for me, especially when it was over the festive period. But luckily I had my mobile phone with me. It was my only link with the rest of the world," he said.
Mr Tan was given three options by his doctor: chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant or not do anything and just succumb.
"As someone who assesses risks, I did my own assessment and picked the obvious one - option two. That started the ball rolling to search for a potential donor," he said.
It was in February 2012 when the Taiwanese woman donor was found.
He said: "I had to die first before I could live. My immune system and marrow were blasted and killed. Then the stem cells were transplanted in me."
It took just 45 minutes for the bone marrow stem cells to be successfully transplanted into Mr Tan.
"The stem cells took less than 14 days to replicate, what doctors called an Olympic Gold," he said, but Mr Tan did not get to "keep that medal for long".
Four months after the transplant, he developed Stage 4 lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph nodes. He had to fight again and fortunately, he won that battle too, with the help of strong antibiotics.
Today, Mr Tan is cured of his cancer and has gained some weight after dropping 20kg from 90kg.
"My hope now is to meet my donor and say thank you. I hope I will be able to pay it forward," he said.