Choy Sau Wan

Choy Sau Wan's love for travelling has taken her all over the world, from Korea to the United Kingdom. She has covered most of Southeast Asia, and cites Nepal as the place she would most like to visit again. “I'm living the life I want to live. I can go where I want, when I want,” she says, smiling.

Her most recent journey was to the Sichuan province, where she and her friends visited the earthquake area. It was a moving sight for Sau Wan. “I consider myself very lucky,” she says, empathising with the people who did not survive the disaster. “At least I still have some years to look forward to.” For Sau Wan, every day is a bonus.

Sau Wan was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in 2009. The life expectancy for someone with Stage 4 cancer is a year – Sau Wan is approaching her 4th year “cancer-versary”, far exceeding anyone's expectations. Palliative care and help from Hospis Malaysia on administering medication for pain management, as well as a determination to look ahead have been important factors in her resolve to live life to the fullest. “I am still here, and I will keep positive for as long as I can,” she declares. “One cannot let their own mind defeat them.”

When Sau Wan was first diagnosed with cancer, the reality of her condition took its shape in her life slowly. It did not hit her like a ton of bricks like it would many others. Instead, Sau Wan took it in stride. “Of course, there are moments when I feel down and angry about it,” she admits, “But I cannot give up.” An independent woman who diligently took care of her health, the word “cancer” never crossed her mind even when the doctor first pointed out a white mass in her lung x-ray back in 2009.

Despite the changes she has had to make in her life, Sau Wan found ways to stay active. Not long after her first surgery to remove the malignant tumour, she travelled to Macau. “I really didn't have much of a choice,” she laughs. “I had booked the flight tickets ages ago, and had to change the date twice before already. I had to go this time!” It was this feistiness and fighting spirit that set the tone for the rest of Sau Wan's journey.

Knowing that Sau Wan's active lifestyle was something she valued very much, her brother-in-law introduced Sau Wan to the Qigong cancer support group in Lake Gardens when she had recovered sufficiently from the surgery. He drove her to classes every morning until she was well enough to go on her own. “I am really blessed,” Sau Wan echoes this sentiment over and over when thinking about the people in her life who care about her and provide her with emotional support.

Going for Qigong helped her regain her strength, as well as meet people in similar situations. Being around people with the same problems but a positive demeanour gave Sau Wan a foothold in the slippery slope her life had become. Fast friends were made and mentors were found in this tight-knit group that stay accountable to one another. Sau Wan remained undeterred to keep living her life to the fullest. She was allowed to go back to work after the surgery, although at first her doctor initially reluctant. “My boss was kind to me, so kind. Even though I had been gone for so long to recover from the surgery, he still gave me my job and was so generous to me.” The gratitude in her voice is tangible. Today, Sau Wan is fit enough to work part time as a personal assistant.

Sau Wan also has the love of her life to keep her occupied – in fact, she now has three! Her dogs are her biggest passion, after travelling. She is most attached to a big black labrador, named Oscar, who she has taken care of since he was a puppy. Dogs are known to have therapeutic effects on patients of any disease, as they form strong bonds with people. Sau Wan's beloved pets keep her active and healthy, as well as provide a welcome distraction from aches and pain.

Sau Wan takes her dogs out for long walks every day. “My dogs are like my children, I love them so much,” she says, looking fondly outside where they lay. Having to spend a lot of time at home can get lonely, but with her dogs to keep her company, Sau Wan is anything but. “If it weren't for them, I don't think I would be quite as happy,” she says. She sometimes spends hours grooming and chatting with them, and spoils them with treats.

She started going for the Day Care sessions at Hospis in 2010. The cheerful environment there provided her with the perfect opportunity to socalise and meet new people. “I have made so many friends there,” she beams. The friendships made in both Hospis Malaysia and Qigong are significant inspirations in Sau Wan's life. She says she will always remember these people fondly, no matter where life leads them.

When a patient first enters Hospis Malaysia's Day Care programme, they are encouraged to set goals to achieve within a set timeline. The nurses and volunteers of Hospis Malaysia then do all they can to support and help the patient achieve these goals, at which point the patient graduates from Day Care.

Sau Wan graduated from Hospis Malaysia's Day Care sessions in the past year. She smacks her forehead when she remembers she left her certificate elsewhere after showing it to a friend. “I even laminated it!” she says proudly. Not everyone walks out of Hospis Malaysia, most pass away before they can graduate. “I am happy that I left on my feet and not horizontally!” She still misses the patients – who she now calls friends – and the volunteers at Hospis Malaysia. Sau Wan finds any excuse she can to visit them.

Even when the cancer spread from her lungs to her bones in 2012, Sau Wan keeps her spirits up, refusing to let herself wallow in self-pity. She sees no point in it, and is not one to play the part of the victim. “I always say to my cancer: you can come and live in me, I don't mind. Let's be friends. Don't try to be naughty, and we will live together. If I die, you die!” Sau Wan still has many travel plans to make, and she's looking forward to them all.

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