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Over the past 2 months or so, I’ve been finding and stumbling upon ways to help my 5-year old cope with my breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and recuperation period and now chemo and post-op treatment.

I found the 6 best things that have worked well with him to date:

1. Preparing your Kid in Advance

From the moment I received my diagnosis, I spoke to Caleb about it and prepared him for my upcoming surgery. All in age-appropriate terms.

“Mummy will need to go for surgery and stay in hospital for a week or so. The doctor will cut out the bad cells which are making me sick. I will be well after that.”

I also prepared him for my hair loss from chemotherapy so he wasn’t afraid or confused when I went bald.

I spoke to him several times and answered all his questions about it so he had an understanding of what was to come.

 

2. Keeping to routine

As it was during the month-long June holidays when I was in hospital and then recuperating at home, I kept Caleb to a fixed routine for the entire month. He went to Chinese enrichment class for 3 hours daily in the mornings (similar length of time as his Kindy) and visited me in hospital in the afternoons.

He also continued his gym, taekwondo classes and Sunday School.

 

3. Finding something he could latch onto

Ben bought a few big Star Wars Lego sets, which Caleb built in my hospital room every day. It was the thing he looked forward to doing when he visited me daily, along with us watching a Pixar or Disney movie together.

My mum bought him a junior monopoly set which he loved. That became his game with grandpa every day for my 9 days stay in hospital.

Interestingly enough, the moment I returned home from hospital, he stopped playing monopoly and switched to building Lego in my bedroom while I rested.

With Christopher

Godbrother Christopher, who was supposed to be studying for PSLE, came over to give Caleb a Superman Lift-off

 

4. Letting him have a voice

Caleb was very chatty with friends who visited me in hospital if he wasn’t in the middle of a movie.

When my friend Hwee visited me the day after my surgery, he introduced her to my hospital room because he was so familiar with every nook and corner.

He greeted Hwee with, “Come, I show you my mummy’s urine packet!”

Fortunately, Hwee is very well acquainted with Caleb’s personality from all the anecdotes I’ve shared with her.

She very sportingly followed him as he led her to the left side of my bed and obliged when he asked to her squat down to get acquainted with my urine packet.

“I feel like our friendship has just moved to a more intimate level,” I told Hwee.

with Angel & Christopher

Having a playdate with God sister Angelina and God brother Christopher

 

Two days into visiting me, Caleb met the lift attendant when he and his grandparents were on the way up to my ward. Someone before then had pressed all the lift buttons so the lift attendant came in and dis-enabled the buttons. My dad told me that Caleb watched intently as the lighted buttons all went off.

“How did you do that?” He asked the lift attendant.

Amazingly, the lift attendant taught him.

The next day, armed with his newfound knowledge, he put it to use.

They pressed the 10th floor to where my ward was. My mum then pressed level 2 because she wanted to go buy lunch at the food court.

Caleb did not want the lift to stop because he had to run to my toilet. He dis-engaged the 2nd floor stop so the lift went straight up to my floor!

Unfortunately he applied his newfound knowledge the next day too, which stopped a nurse going to another floor.

After I explained to him that he shouldn’t be stopping other people from going to their floors, he settled into a more lift passenger friendly routine.

My parents told me that he took on the role of a lift attendant. He asked every person who came into the lift where they were going. He pressed the lift buttons for them, and pressed door open and door close for them.  He also engaged some of them in conversation. “I’m visiting my Mummy. Who are you visiting?”

 

5. Informing his Kindergarten

Once Caleb returned to Kindergarten, I notified Caleb’s teachers about my situation and sought their help to keep a close eye on him through this period, especially if he had any emotional issues in class.

His teachers got his class to pray for me and also read him stories which helped him relate to my situation. His teacher also called me a few times to update me on how he was doing in class. I was relieved to hear that he was very settled in and happy in class and had in fact matured even more in his social interactions with his classmates during this time.

 

6. Encouraging Expression of Emotion & Openness 

I reminded Caleb several times that it was fine for him to tell me how he felt. Caleb’s Inside-Out board helped him express his feelings well in the first week I returned home.

For the next couple of weeks, he also had at least one emotional outburst a day on something seemingly unrelated where he became angry or sad. I just let him get it out of his system and he was fine after.

I knew he was expressing and saying what was on his mind (in a healthy way) when I sent him to Kindy for the first time in 7 weeks since my surgery.

When I reached the drop-off point for him to enter the Kindy gate, the staff opened the door for him to get out. The first thing he said to her was, “My Mummy is a Botak Head. But you cannot see because she covered it up!”

Later, when he returned home, I spoke to him about it. “Caleb, so have you told everyone that Mummy is a Botak Head?”

“Only that teacher (at the drop off point), my class teacher and ….my whole class.

“Oh, that’s all?” I said.

“Yah, that’s all,” he said.

Well, that was definitely all.

 

Related Links:

Inside-Out Kid #4 – I’m Happy & Loving You! The Inside-Out Board

Inside-Out Kid #3 – Mummy, you can take out your Pretend Hair at Home

Tibby the Tiger Bunny, the 1st in my Tibby picture book series, has now been published in Tamil translation by Crimson Earth! Yay!

Tibby Tamil

I also had a glimpse of another rainbow which made my day. I saw illustrator Jade Fang’s amazing storyboards for our 3rd Tibby title- Tibby & Scaredy Snout.

The idea of using a boar for the 3rd book came about when Jade asked if I was going to base the next book on a boar. We had a wild boar in the 1st Tibby book which Jade had drawn the boar so endearingly that it deserved a book of its own.

Tibby & Scaredy.png

A sneak-peek at Tibby & Scaredy Snout’s black & white storyboard

 

Tibby & Scaredy Snout has been my most challenging picture book manuscript to date. It took me 1 year to write this 500-word story as I grappled with how to depict the theme of fear in a way that a young child can understand and relate to.

With Jade’s amazing artwork for this book and the pain it took me to write it, this is shaping up to be my favourite of the Tibby books.

Tibby & Scaredy Snout will be out in October! Just in time for my birthday!

 

 

 

When I was afflicted by a rare voice disorder in end 1998, I grappled hard with a few questions. Why me? Why did this happen? Is God going to heal me? I didn’t know if I was a Christian then. I followed my husband (then boyfriend) to church so I could see him on Sunday mornings and have lunch with him after.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, last month, I did not ask “Why me?” because this time, I believe God is for me and not against me.

My key question was “How is God going to heal me?” I believe He will. It was the “how” that I grappled with.

This time, the answers came to me much sooner. Through 3 wise women, a visiting preacher and my breast surgeon A*.

3WiseWomen

On the Sunday before my diagnosis, a visiting preacher came to my church service. He has a gift for healing people of their sicknesses. He said something interesting about that- that he did not know why some people he prayed for healed miraculously and some did not. He just knew that his job was to pray for these people. He also said that God can heal supernaturally as well as through doctors as channels for healing.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I approached my pastor and church elders to pray for me that next weekend.

I knew someone personally from my past work life (in senior management) who was healed miraculously. She gave a public testimony to her church congregation of how people prayed over her when she was diagnosed with an unusual tumour. Not long after, someone had an image of a man in shining light reach out to her and remove that tumour from her. She went back to her doctors who found that the tumour was gone! She had been miraculously.

I wanted that miracle.

Two days before my mastectomy surgery, Ben decided that we should go to church to pray before we saw my breast surgeon A*. It was the first time in our lives that we were going to church when there was no church service, programme or meeting.

As we arrived in the carpark, we bumped into our pastor and a church leader leaving for a meeting. They decided to pray for us in this chance encounter. I found out then that my church leader had a double mastectomy 15 years ago. So before Angelina Jolie’s double deed, my church leader did.

Another lady from church (whom I did not know well) visited me in hospital after my surgery to pray for me. She shared that she too underwent a mastectomy.

Together with my friend Theresa, these three wise women’s frank essence in sharing about their mastecs gave me assurance that I wasn’t of lesser faith because I was going for surgery. It was reassurance of the “go” for me surgery-wise.

My final source of assurance came unexpectedly during my final consultation with my breast surgeon pre-surgery. With this question still on mind, I asked my doctor how she thought faith could factor in doctoring and God’s healing.

She shared with me about an overseas patient who came to her with an 8cm tumour jutting out of one breast. It looked really bad. So my doctor’s plan was to use chemotherapy to hopefully shrink the tumour slightly and then remove the entire breast. The patient went through chemotherapy and the tumour shrank to nothing.

A miracle.

The lab report came back with a statement that all the cancer was gone and all that remained was the empty cast that had held the cancer cells. My doctor immediately called the lab to enquire about this strange occurrence. The lab told her, very matter-of-factly, that this was unusual and so they included it in the report.

Another miracle. And there was even medical evidence to support it, with the empty cast as a reminder and proof that she had been fully cleaned out of cancer.

The Christian couple was jubilant to hear this. They left their high-powered jobs, became full time missionaries and planted a church in another country overseas.

All these instances said this to me:

God can heal miraculously.

God can heal through doctors.

God can heal miraculously through doctors.

And I did experience a miracle – I did not experience  any post-operation pain.

God will heal me and is healing me fully even as I go through chemotherapy and post-operation treatment now. The New Testament of the Bible lays out God’s will on healing for me as a believer. My job is to pray and appropriate His promises in the Bible.

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

Today is TGIFFFF – Thank God for Favour, Family & Friends Friday!

This has been a rough waters week. I caught a strong flu bug on National Day which has me coughing through the night and getting very little sleep. It’s definitely knocked me out in this first week post-chemo and post-op treatment.

It hasn’t helped that my 5-year old’s emotions mirror my physical and emotional state. He’s five. He will have tantrum moments. But this week has been his perfect storm of emotions and I simply haven’t had the patience to handle it calmly in the text-book way. It’s worn me out as much as the flu.

I suppose I can keep my eye on the miserable waters or look upwards to where my help comes from. I prefer to look up with praise and thanksgiving because that is what will lift me up from a weary week.

Family

I thank God for:

  • My dad who has taken over ferrying Caleb to Kindy and other activities
  • My mum who has been stocking the fridge with healthy foods to build me up
  • Ben who has accompanied me for every visit to the doctors in the past 2 months (and there has been lots of visits and lots of doctors)
  • Caleb, my happy pill, even when he has been more of an emo-pill all week

Friends

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been surprised with thoughtful packages and gifts from friends which has brought much cheer:

  • Arlene who made me an origami bouquet of 36 cranes – one for each month of our friendship – inspired by the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, where the cranes are a symbol of hope and healing

Arlene gift

  • Hwee who gifted me a big books bundle of Kenneth Hagin Jr’s Health Food and No Matter What picture books. I had asked her to help me order as I wanted to gift these away.
  • Diana, who in true Raffles style, brought me a specially curated hamper of anti-cancer foods as well as a new journal. Her timing was perfect because my old journal was down to its last page.

DET gift.png

  • Sin Yue who brought me bottles of Aloe Vera to cool the body during the heaty days post-chemo

MGS food spread

  • My MGS friends who brought a buffet of goodness for my surprise party pre-chemo week to perk me up

 

Helen gift.png

  • My literary agent Helen who brought spa goodness of lavender and camomile right when I needed it

Denise gift.png

  • Denise who brought a hamper of organic snacks and 15 types of tomatoes in a box

And many more…which my flu-fuzzed memory cannot recollect at this moment.

Favour

I thank God for favour with an amazing team of doctors who have been only one Whatsapp away when I need to check in – like this week when I needed advice with what to take for flu which doesn’t negate my recent chemotherapy/post-op treatment.

 

chemo chair

My 2nd round of 5-hour chemo & post-op intravenous injection, at the price of an SQ 1st class ticket (to nowhere in this case). Thank God for Medisave’s Shield Plus insurance!

 

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.                                                                                                                              –        Psalms 9:1

Prior to my mastectomy and reconstruction surgery, I bought 2 things to prepare Caleb for my recuperation time at home – signage for my bedroom door.

One was a small crayola board which I had planned to stick on my bedroom door. I told Caleb that if I needed to rest, I would write, “Sleeping. Don’t come in.”

He had a better idea – if I was sleeping, I should just draw a face with eyes closed.

“I like that. And I’ll add ‘zzz’ coming out from the mouth,” I said.

And if I was awake, he wanted me to draw a face with eyes open. “And we add ‘ooo’ coming out of the mouth,” he added.

But that plan changed when he fell in love with a door hanger I bought. It has Singlish (Singapore English) on it and also our family name on it leh.

 

So, that became the official sign on my bedroom door on whether I needed alone-time to rest and he could come in or not.

That was when I decided to turn the crayola board into Caleb’s Inside-out board, as inspired by the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, the brilliant movie which gives an amazing sight into a child’s emotions.

“Caleb, you can draw how you feel on this board to tell me if you are happy, angry or sad, ok?

He liked the movie and having the board named after him appealed to him.

On the first day that I returned home from hospital, I asked Caleb to draw how he felt about me returning home.

He drew a face enveloped in a red heart.

Inside Out Board Day 1

“That’s nice,” I said. “What does this mean?”

“It means I’m happy and loving you, Mummy!”

 

On Day 2, he was sad because he made a tactical error in Othello which reversed his winning game. He drew a sad face followed by an angry face. Then, he went to a corner to sulk.

“So today is a sad and angry,” I said.

“Wait five minutes,” he said. “I think I will have a happy face.”

And he did.

Inside Out Board-Day2.png

And so, the first week of me returning home from hospital saw Caleb go through a myriad of emotions through the week.

On day 7, when I felt much better, I spent a big part of the day with Caleb. And when the day came to an end, he drew how he felt.

It brought a big dimpled smile to my face.

Inside Out Board.png

Related Posts:

Inside-Out Kid #2- It’s not fair, I didn’t want you to be in Hospital! 

God Knows Leh #8- When My Tummy was Tucked and Promoted to Left Breast

It’s been 8 weeks since the mastectomy and reconstruction surgery that nipped, tucked and rearranged my body parts.

There’s a 12cm scar under my left breast where the surgeon slit to clean out the entire cancer mass and a round piece of skin from my tummy that patched up the hole where my nipple used to be.

For the breast reconstruction, I had asked my plastic surgeon to use my tummy fats. He had pinched a handful of my fats and established it was enough to build 85% of a new breast. “Yes, you have a spare tire.”

So, as a side benefit of the surgery, I now have a completely flat tummy. My plastic surgeon will do a liposuction (post-chemo) to fill up the remaining 15%. I asked him to take it off my ass but he said it had to be off the thighs. Can’t complain about that.

surgery 2 cartoon

A 41cm scar runs horizontally from one end of my tummy to the other. Through that long slit, my plastic surgeon cut out my right six pack muscles with nerves intact, folded it and tunneled it internally within my body towards my cleaned-out left breast. So my tummy has been promoted upwards to become the new left breast. A mesh has been put in to support my organs in place of where my right six pack muscles used to be. My belly button was lost in the whole process of nipping and tucking so I now have a new one stitched a few cm higher. And it looks like the exactly like the old one.

So, my body is not quite ready to do intensive sit-ups. Not that I need to, now that I’ve been tummy-tucked🙂.

Near my left underarm is a 3cm scar where my breast surgeon removed three lymph nodes for biopsy.

 

Before the surgery, I had given a cursory glance to the step-by-step surgery photos in the excellent Mayo Clinic Book Breast Cancer Book. The photos looked like a crime scene from CSI when they were performing an autopsy on the dead victim. It was too gory to imagine that was going to happen to me so I blocked out the images.

Mayo Clinic Breast Cancer Book cover

The hour of the surgery was surreal. I was wheeled, lying down in a bed, into an operating theatre for my first time. A reception with the words OPERATING THEATRE announced the destination. I was wheeled into a brightly lit room where several staff were busying about.  I went in carrying the bible verse Isaiah 41:10 which says “Do not fear…” and indeed I had very little fear.

My plastic surgeon came in and had me walk to a corner of the room. There, he used a black marker pen to draw circles and mark an X where he would operate for the reconstruction. He drew a vertical line down my body, then stepped back and told his nurse, “You see the line is not straight. Her spine is not straight.”

Thanks, just add that to my list of imperfections.

After having been tic-tac-toed, I  walked across the room to the operating table on my own. As I climbed back on the operating table, I felt like Isaac getting ready to be the sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered by his father Abraham.

surgery cartoon

The anesthetist appeared, put a needle in my arm, as three to four nurses stuck tubes and tape on me. Within a few minutes, I knocked out.

When I came around, I was back in my hospital bed. It’s over? I didn’t feel a thing.

When I woke up, my first caller was my 5-year old. “Mummy, show me your cut tummy! Quick!”

I tried to move but I couldn’t. I was hooked up to one antibiotic drip and one saline drip. There were three “ketchup bottles” draining blood from tubes inserted into my left breast, tummy and abdomen. Bandages covered my tummy and left breast. Osim-like airbag massagers were strapped to both my legs from the thighs down to the ankles.

Even I didn’t see my cut tummy till 9 days later.

 

Since then, I’ve been armoured up, as my breast surgeon called it.

For the past six weeks and more, I’ve worn a medical sports-like bra and a tummy guard 24-hours a day to support my reorganized body parts. The bulge from my right six-pack, lying diagonally across my tummy, has since flattened and been “absorbed” into the body.

I’ve not experienced any physical pain from my surgery which has amazed me and the nurses. My breast surgeon concluded that it was because I have a high pain threshold.

Shortly after she said that, I was prompted to the day I gave birth to Caleb. The anesthetist gave me 3 types of painkillers and twice the dosage of epidural that he would normally give. He was amazed that it had little effect on me and I was still in pain. And that was even before the delivery process where I thought I was going to die from pain. And I continued to be in pain for weeks after.

There’s no other explanation for experiencing no pain this time around other than that it is because of the many praying for me and God’s grace.

The only thing I felt was tightness at my tummy because it had been tucked in. So on Day 3, when I got off the hospital bed for the first time after my catheter was off, I had to walk at an incline of about 120 degrees so as not to tear open the long surgery wound on my tummy. I straightened up bit by bit till I was walking fully straight by Day 9, the day I checked out of hospital.

Because I did not experience any physical pain despite the two concurrent surgeries, I was able to spend my days in hospital recovering from my spiritual heart surgery which took place 2 days after my physical surgery.

For the first time in my entire life, the wifi-signal to Pearly Gates Mansion became very strong. I didn’t hear any audible voice from Heaven but it was clear enough. I was prompted to issues of my heart. Unforgiveness, bitterness, disappointments and hurts. Room 111 became my prayer room during this time as I released all things negative from my heart and mind and made peace over things that I was prompted to recall.

My journey of healing over this period has been both physical and spiritual.

With a clean left breast, I am reminded of this “new” breastplate of righteousness that covers my heart ie. I have focused on getting right with God.

As King Solomon said in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Every thought and action flows from the heart – anger, bitterness, unforgiveness and on the good side, love, joy and graciousness.

With my tummy guard, I am reminded that I need to protect my tummy with the belt of truth. I am what I feed on and satisfy my appetite with. And so, I cast out lies, doubts and falsehood that distract me from my faith and instead feed on God’s medicine i.e. bible truths.

And for my mind, I have put on the helmet of salvation, knowing that Jesus’ death on the cross has already paid the price for my sins, iniquities, sickness and disease.

Although my scarred and even more imperfect body may not look it, I hold on to the knowledge that I am a new creation. My healing has already begun and I am being fully healed and fully restored as God’s peace guards my heart, mind and body.

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” – 2 Corinthians 7:1

Related Link:

I really did not want to Drink this Chemo Cup

Inside-out Kid – It’s not fair, I did not want you to go to Hospital

 

I’m excited to share that I have signed a translation rights agreement with leading Slovakian children’s book publisher Verbarium who will publish two of my children’s picture books in Slovakia. This series comes under my self-published Mustard Seed Books imprint.

The two titles, Prince Bear & Pauper Bear and The Tale of Rusty Horse are part of my bestselling 4-picture book Toy Series which has sold over 45,000 copies to date. Slovakia will mark the first entry for my books into a European country and the 5th country to publish my Toy Series, following Singapore, Korea, China and Malaysia.

Children's Picture Book on friendship, forgiveness & second chances

Children’s Picture Book on friendship, forgiveness & second chances

Children's Picture Book on friendship, sacrifice and self-acceptance

Children’s Picture Book on friendship, sacrifice and self-acceptance

Vebarium is the only publishing house in Slovakia that offers high quality children’s literature of awarded contemporary and classical authors. It aims to strengthen the diversity of high quality literary works for the young in Slovakia and to reach new audiences by introducing quality children’s literature from Asia.

Vebarium is helmed by Managing Director Petra Nagyová Džerengová, the ex-Deputy Mayor of Bratislava and still the member of city parliament and city cultural and social affaires committees. Petra is also a bestselling author for adults and children’s books in Slovakia.

Petra says, “I was an invited guest to the Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2014 in Singapore and met Emily Lim when I attended a panel that she spoke on. I found her books very appealing for our Slovakian market. We look forward to successfully launching her books in Slovakia next year and introducing our children to quality children’s literature from Singapore.”

Book Council Executive Director Mr Ramachandran accompanying Petra Nagyova Dzerengova, Deputy Mayor of Bratislava, Slovakia on her visit to Minister of State, Prime Minister's Office & Ministry of Culture, Community of Youth, Mr Sam Tan during AFCC 2014

Book Council Executive Director Mr Ramachandran accompanying Petra Nagyova Dzerengova, Deputy Mayor of Bratislava, Slovakia on her visit to Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office & Ministry of Culture, Community of Youth, Mr Sam Tan during AFCC 2014

 

I received Petra’s offer terms a week before my breast cancer diagnosis and worked through the contract within a few weeks. I’m thankful for my lovely literary agent Andrea who helped me get the contract work in place quickly in the midst of me signing consent forms for my mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries!

As I lift my eyes up to what’s ahead after my chemotherapy is over, I am thankful for this rainbow that brightens my horizon. I believe there are more good things to come.

 

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