M'sian blogger Choo Mei Sze and S'pore DJ Rosalyn Lee talk about the huge impact of cancer on their lives
She was only 27 when she was told she had colon cancer last June.
Her world came crashing down, but Choo Mei Sze fought back hard with positivity and has gone public so that she can help others who are in the same situation.
The motivation is spurred by her experience at the lowest point in her life, the 28-year-old Malaysian blogger, emcee and TV personality told The New Paper in a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur.
"When I had my colostomy bag, all I wanted was to talk to someone who was going through a similar experience," said Choo, who is recovering after two operations.
"I wish I knew what it was like before the surgery, as I would have been better prepared for it."
She hopes that by charting her battle on her blog and Facebook accounts, the social media platforms can act as a magnet for other cancer survivors and their family members to share their experiences.
Her story has gone viral and has been a source of outreach even to readers here.
Choo said: "I'm actually amazed with the reach this article has. Now, my readership in Singapore has surpassed the readership in Malaysia."
She recounted how her nightmare began from a colonoscopy after a long bout of diarrhoea.
The PhD student in psychology said: "The specialist discouraged me from having the colonoscopy as it was an invasive procedure, and I was too young for it. But my father insisted."
Then came the shock.
Choo added: "I think my doctor didn't know how to tell me. He came in looking at my folder and said, 'Mei Sze, you are so young but you have a tumour a third the size of your colon'."
For a moment, the words did not sink in, until she heard the doctor say "biopsy".
It was then that the severity of her condition registered.
"That's when I knew it was serious. I started crying," said Choo.
After she got over her initial shock, she did not allow herself to sink into despair. Determined to fight the cancer, she adopted a positive approach and focused on getting better.
She said: "When it was confirmed that the tumour was cancerous, I made a vow not to cry, but to find a solution.
"I knew if I cried every day, it would have made me feel worse."
Her boyfriend, real estate agent Ben Lim, 28, said: "I was really upset when the doctor broke the news to us. She had to console me."
Choo also did not let up on her work commitments. In the eight days between her diagnosis and first surgery, she hosted two major events with a smile. She did not tell her clients about her illness and no one suspected it.
But she was taken aback when she had to wear a colostomy bag for almost two months, following complications from her first surgery.
Choo said: "I did not expect that. I had no one to share my fears and pain with. My insides were literally sticking out into a bag.
"It was the most challenging period of my life, mostly mentally and psychologically."
But Choo is now able to look back at it with a laugh. She said: "My mother and boyfriend had to become part-time nurses during the first few weeks, to help change the dressing."
Mr Lim said: "Over time, after seeing how positive she was, it encouraged us to be more positive and support her."
After her second surgery - a colostomy reversal in August - she took the time to recover before sharing the major event in her life on her blog last month.
Mr Lim said: "Her mindset was right. She really wanted to recover and to leave the hospital as soon as possible. And she did."
Added Miss Choo: "By sharing now, I hope others who read my blog and may be going through this can find someone to talk to."
She has yet to meet a fellow young colon cancer survivor online, but she has received many comments from other types of cancer survivors, citing her positivity as a source of inspiration.
She said: "I have cancer survivors who are in their 20s telling me that I give them inspiration and hope."
There are also others who approach her for advice on getting tested.
Choo is touched by every e-mail or comment she gets, so she takes the time to respond to all of them. The key message she tries to deliver to all those who have approached her is: Positivity.
She said: "Think positive and live each day as it comes.
"I truly appreciate the little things now. Walking, eating, drinking and even driving."
"Think positive and live each day as it comes. I truly appreciate the little things now. Walking, eating, drinking and even driving."
- Malaysian blogger, emcee and TV personality Choo Mei Sze
National Cancer Centre Singapore helpline:
Singapore Cancer Society:
She still keeps her mother's number
MEMORIES: Radio DJ Rosalyn Lee (above and top) with her mother, Madam Lee Kim Geok (top). - PHOTOS: TNP FILE, ROSALYN LEE
It has been 11 years since her mother lost her battle to breast cancer.
But local radio DJ-host Rosalyn Lee still has her mother's mobile number saved in her mobile phone's contact list.
Whenever she scrolls through it, the entry "Mum" jumps out at her.
"I would think, 'This hurts.' But I don't want to delete it," Lee, 36, told The New Paper yesterday.
Her mother, Madam Lee Kim Geok, fought her illness, which spread to her lungs and brain, for a decade before she died at age 52 on Feb 4, 2004, a date that coincides with World Cancer Day.
On Wednesday, Lee, her boyfriend Justin Vanderstraaten, her brother Ryan and his wife, as well as her good friend, former DJ Chew Soo Wei, paid their respects to Madam Lee at Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium.
Lee posted a picture of the moment on her Instagram page, together with a tribute post: "I do miss Mom. Not just today, but every single day. I miss hearing her voice, of which I have no record of. I miss seeing her move and I miss her smile.
"She was sad for a very long time cuz (sic) she had a pretty rough life, and her smiles, though rare, were the most beautiful flashes of pearly whites I've ever seen".
Netizens shared with her encouraging words and stories of their own loss after TNP ran the story on our website tnp.sg.
Mr Phil Yoon commented on Facebook: "I can understand you fully. It isn't easy to lose your loved one, I am going through the pain too. When I lost my husband last year, I, too, died with him. It was too painful."
Another user, Ms Iszan Wan, called it "touching" and said she cried when she read the post.
Lee and her brother would also visit on special occasions like Mother's Day and Madam Lee's birthday, bearing her favourite flowers - pink roses.
In her early stages of grieving, Lee would dial her mum's number and hang up after a few rings.
"One time I was feeling really down, so I sent a text message to the number, saying that it used to be my mum's number and that I felt a bit sad. Of course, there was no reply. I felt a bit stupid after that," she recalled.
Lee has since stopped doing that, describing it as morbid. Now she relies on old family photographs and handwritten letters to keep her memory alive, but she wishes there were videos of them together.
Sadly, the only clip in existence is on her brother's mobile phone and it is of Madam Lee in her weakest state at the hospice, a memory Lee refuses to revisit.
"It's not how I want to remember Mum. My advice is to take as many videos as you can. You will really miss all those little things about them when they're gone," she said, adding that the hardest part was watching her mother progressively weaken.
"It came to a point when she wasn't able to talk and walk. She was always on morphine. That was upsetting and traumatising.
"I felt like that wasn't Mum any more and I wished she would let go because I felt so sad seeing her helpless."
Lee could not cry for months after her mother died as it was her instinct to block out sadness.
"One of the lowest points in her struggle? When I helped her wipe her bum and she started crying.
"She couldn't believe it was happening. She was a proud, strong woman who disciplined me with a cane and she was losing control," said Lee, who had a cervical cancer scare in 2008. She received pre-cancer treatment for it.
"Let's face it, the feeling of loss never goes away. But this quote (by the founder of US state Pennsylvania) William Penn helps me: 'They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. Death cannot kill what never dies'.
"It helps me through moments when I feel wrecked."
"One of the lowest points in her struggle? When I helped her wipe her bum and she started crying. She couldn't believe it was happening. She was a proud, strong woman who disciplined me with a cane and she was losing control."
- Rosalyn Lee, who lost her mother to breast cancer 11 years ago