Sharon and her husband Shek Seng have a beautifully decorated traditional Chinese tearoom in their home. They share a love for brewing tea and have an assortment of traditional tea-making utensils and tea leaves bought from their travels overseas. They often sit together in the cosy space. “It’s our favourite room,” she confesses, like it’s a secret between just them.
They first met as students in Universiti Malaya. Even then, Sharon’s charm had an immediate effect on Shek Seng. “You know how seniors usually ‘rag’ on freshies? That’s what I was doing,” he says with a laugh, adding, “I’m not sure about her, but I fell in love at first sight.”
The bond between husband and wife is very strong. Despite her illness, she remains his pillar of strength. He tears up at the thought that he might lose her someday. “When the oncologist told me the news, I cried like a baby. She hugged me and told me ‘It’s alright’. In dilemmas, people usually go through stages such as denial and anger before reaching acceptance. But she went straight to accepting, whereas I was the one who went through the stages! The doctor told me, ‘Your wife is stronger than you’,” he says with a laugh.
The couple had so much love, positivity and support for one another that they decided it should be shared. They started a cancer support group of their own. “People who come across Sharon are amazed by her strength, both emotionally and spiritually. She might be unwell, but off she goes organising trips to the organic farm, and getting speakers to talk to the group,” he says with more than a hint of pride in his voice.
A strong, independent woman by nature, Sharon has never let the bad times get the best of her. She lost her sister to cancer several years ago. The experience has helped her understand what to expect from her own condition now. “I was with her at the eleventh hour, singing to her. When I think of my sister, I know there’s nothing to fear. I know that when the end comes, it will be just taking a step over the threshold to the other side,” she says calmly.
Sharon witnessed first-hand how a palliative care team had taken care of her sister. They did everything, from providing advice on the right medication, keeping her pain and symptoms under control to facilitating end-of-life discussions with the family and the bereavement care that followed. She now welcomes receiving palliative care for herself.
There is a sense of practicality in the couple’s positivity. “It’s important for folks like us, a patient and a caregiver, to accept the fact that you may have good days, and not so good days,” says Shek Seng. While they admit that changes to their lifestyle are unavoidable, the pair aren’t fazed. “It might get a little restrictive; she tells me I’m a bossy ‘food policeman’ when I tell her to go easy on some meals or remind her to eat healthily. But we’re trying to lead as normal a life as possible. Emotionally and spiritually, the little restrictions don’t affect us much.”
Their religious beliefs also helps ground them while giving them the strength they need: “We don’t necessarily keep up with all the religious rituals, but do we believe in God deeply, and do we trust God? Yes, we do,” says Sharon.
Sharon passed away peacefully in April 2014.