Chope Food for the Needy founder dies of brain cancer
Boutique owner who started Chope Food for the Needy pay-it-forward initiative dies of brain tumour
Once boutique owner Michelle Tan had her mind set on doing something, there was nothing that could stop her, said her husband, especially if she was told it could not be done.
One instance of this was the Chope Food for the Needy movement, which she "ran completely from her iPhone", said Mr Mark Maguire, 45, her husband of 14 years. (See report below)
Ms Tan, 43, died yesterday morning of brain cancer.
The mother of two, a former lawyer, had a strong personality, which friends and loved ones described as witty, determined and, above all, loving.
Mr Maguire, a former architect, said with a laugh: "I've never won an argument with her."
He told The New Paper that symptoms first appeared over a year ago when his wife didn't feel like herself, but was not quite sure what it was.
"She had the feeling of deja vu at least 10 times a day but the dentist, the doctor and even the gynaecologist she visited couldn't figure out what was wrong with her," he said.
It was only after a trip to visit his family in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that she had the first real sign of the seriousness of the problem.
After arriving in Belfast, she was violently ill and was in bed for two days.
On the third day, when they went out to a park, Mr Maguire noticed his wife was leaning heavily in one direction when she walked and had to be supported by a friend.
That was when his sister, a nurse, recommended she be admitted to the Accident and Emergency unit for a test. At the hospital, scans revealed a glioblastoma tumour about 9cm behind her right eye. (See report below.)
Despite her strong wish to return home for a second opinion, doctors advised against it because the increased air pressure on the plane might aggravate her condition.
She agreed to an operation to remove part of the tumour, as well as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, spending five months in the UK before she was well enough to come home.
"Even then, she told the doctors she didn't want to know exactly what she had and how long she had to live," Mr Maguire said.
This stemmed from a traumatic experience when she was 13 - she was told her father had months to live because of his kidney disease.
She did not want her daughters, Jade, 12, and Hailey, nine, to go through the same pain, especially when her elder daughter was sitting for her Primary School Leaving Examination.
"The girls knew that mummy was ill, but we were very careful not to use the C-word around them," said Mr Maguire. He said his daughters were only told that Ms Tan was dying weeks ago.
Furthermore, he added, being the tour de force that she was, not having control of the situation frightened her.
Despite another operation and more treatment back in Singapore, the tumour was back, and moving aggressively. She was in a wheelchair by April and in May, was sleeping in a hospital bed in the living room of their Sophia Road house.
Her tumour was causing a change in her behaviour, which sometimes made her lash out at those at home, including her children.
"It took her away from us... I kept telling my daughters 'this is not mummy, this is the sickness'," said Mr Maguire, adding that his girls had been brave and helpful throughout their mother's illness, giving her massages and sleeping on a sofa bed beside her during the weekends.
COSTUMES AT WAKE
Mr Maguire stopped work to care for his wife, along with his mother-in-law and two domestic helpers.
Old friends also stopped by often to spend time with her, especially when her eyesight started to fail and she found it difficult to type.
Ms Nurhani Z. Shatifau, a travel consultant who was classmates with Ms Tan in Cedar Girls' Secondary School, said her friend tried to keep her wit and humour even in her final days.
"A few weeks back, she saw me wearing a leopard print headscarf and she even made a Ris Low reference and said 'boomz'," said Ms Nurhani with a laugh.
Besides Chope Food for the Needy, Ms Tan also ran vintage shop Nostalgia Queen in Sunshine Plaza.
One of her final wishes was for friends to be dressed in bright colours at her wake, and those in Halloween costumes will be rewarded with extra nuts and candy, her husband said.
A few weeks back, Michelle saw me wearing a leopard print headscarf and she even made a Ris Low reference and said 'boomz'.
- Former Cedar Girls' Secondary classmate, Ms Nurhani Z. Shatifau
Neurosurgeon: It's aggressive form of cancer
Unlike other forms of cancer where the illness sucks the life out of you, brain cancer robs you of who you are.
- Neurosurgeon Ivan Ng of Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital
Glioblastoma (GBM) are tumours that form in the brain and are highly cancerous because the cells reproduce quickly.
Furthermore, the tumours are supported by a large network of blood vessels which some doctors describe as "finger-like".
Neurosurgeon Ivan Ng of Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital said GBM is the most aggressive form of brain cancer. It is very difficult to eradicate because the cells can go far beyond what MRI imaging is able to show.
Every part of the brain controls a different function so whenever there's a tumour on any part of it, some part of a person's behaviour would be affected, whether in terms of personality or motor function.
"Unlike other forms of cancer where the illness sucks the life out of you, brain cancer robs you of who you are.
"If the tumour destroys your brain, it robs away your person," said Associate Professor Ng, adding that it can be a very traumatic experience for the family of the patient to see their loved one slip away like that.
Chope food for the needy
The Chope Food for the Needy movement was started in April 2013 by Ms Michelle Tan, a lawyer who became a vintage store owner.
It involves people paying a meal forward, or a suspended meal, where customers pay hawkers for meals in advance.
These meals can then be given to the needy who may not be able to afford a proper meal at a food centre.
The idea was that hawkers would know best who needed help.
The Facebook page she set up had, as of last night, more than 12,000 likes.
Ms Tan had written on the page that she was shocked into action while eating with her husband at the Pek Kio Market on Cambridge Road. She saw a cleaning lady open her packed lunch of plain rice to which she added packets of sauce from McDonald's to make it tastier.
Chope Food for the Needy was inspired by the Cafe Sospeso ("suspended" coffee) movement in Italy. There, after buying your own coffee, you can leave money to pay for a cup for anyone in need who asks for one.