Issue 11 - Unbreakable

 

Joan snorkeling in Pulau Tengah

 

51 year old Joan Ng leads an active life. Her skin a shade of sun-kissed golden tan, Joan is an avid lover of the outdoors, especially diving, a sport that holds a special place in her heart, since it was where love blossomed between her and her husband. Besides diving, Joan also enjoys swimming, trekking, ballroom dancing and waltz, of all which keep her busy when she’s not working.

 

Joan, who is currently in the sales line, has been in the same company for close to 15 years. The nature of her job fuels her passion, her bosses and colleagues are supportive and caring and the best part? She gets to travel on the job, another perk for her.

 

Not only is Joan active, she is also health-conscious. Despite being a foodie who loves going around Singapore and documenting her favourite eats in pictures, Joan makes a conscious effort to eat healthy for her weekday lunches by preparing nutritious salads in the office, only indulging in good food over the weekends as a treat to herself.

 

Having lost her mother to Cervical Cancer and her father to Leukaemia, Joan always had a subconscious fear and paranoia that she would fall prey to the disease too. Thus, she made a point to conduct regular breast self-examinations on herself in the shower to keep abreast of any changes in her body. This went on for the most part of her life, and Joan was finally starting to have some peace of mind until one self-examination changed her life.


Joan, an active lover of the outdoors and sunshine

Keeping Abreast of Change

It was July 2009. Joan was 45 years old then and on a solo work trip to Bangladesh. After a long day in the city, Joan was looking forward to relax in bed after a warm shower. As per her usual routine, she started feeling her breasts for lumps in the shower. And that was when she discovered a huge, hard lump at the side of her right breast.

 

Joan was grappled with shock. How and when were the first two questions that sprung to mind. After all, she had been performing self-examinations on herself regularly and never detected any abnormalities in her breast. But the growth she had just uncovered was definitely hard to miss and a definite cause for worry.


Immediately after Joan flew back to Singapore, she went to see a General Practitioner who referred her to a specialist. After a series of scans and tests, Joan was found diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer.


Joan on a white water rafting trip in Bali

Nightcome Come True

It was her worst nightmare come true. The invisible enemy that she had been willing against for majority of her life had finally attacked, and it was a hard blow to take. At that moment, Joan felt a wave of darkness overcome her, and she felt at a total complete loss.

 

Joan soon spiraled into a state of depression; she lost her appetite and starting developing insomnia. To Joan, the struggle was real. She had witnessed first-hand her mother’s life withering away at the last stages of her life and she didn’t want to put her family members through the same unbearable pain she had gone through. Joan’s days became darker, and at her lowest point, she even thought of taking her own life to end it all.

Joan (left) & her best friends

Circle of Hope

But Joan was not alone. Her husband, family, friends and colleagues all chipped in to keep her afloat. Previously a backslider, Joan was encouraged by her sister to return to church and it was there she sought solace and hope in her faith to keep fighting for her life.


Joan then proceeded to seek treatment. She remembers very clearly the first words her primary physician said to her – “If you are not positive in your thinking, no amount of medicine will help no matter which stage of cancer you are at.”



Joan (centre) & her family
These words sunk into Joan’s mind very strongly. She then decided to change her mindset and look at her quagmire optimistically. No doubt, she had cancer, but she still had a will to live, as long as she willed herself to do so. She now saw that she had a second chance at life, and she was not going to squander it away.


 

Living Strong

The treatment process wasn’t easy. Joan underwent many cycles of chemotherapy and radiation therapy sessions. During her second chemotherapy session, her hair started to drop in clusters. Then, her eyebrows and eyelashes started to drop too. This was all very scary to Joan, and she decided to make the bold move of shaving off all her hair with her sister’s help.


Joan with her freshly shaved head after losing hair to chemotherapy

Soon, Joan’s nails also started turning black. As the side-effects of chemotherapy kicked in, Joan found herself losing appetite and becoming more fatigue. Despite all this, Joan still wanted to continue working. To accede to her request, her boss granted Joan with special rights – to be able to come in for work at 10am and leave at 4pm so that she could avoid peak hour crowds and minimise any possible infections.


Self-Discovery

The support and encouragement her friends, family and colleagues showered on her moved Joan very deeply. It made her appreciate her life and the people around her even more, which gave her a desire to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate around the world.


Joan (extreme right) with her supportive bunch of colleagues

After Joan completed her treatment, she bought a DSLR camera and enrolled herself in a photography course. With her newfound passion and skills in photography, Joan embarked on mission trips to impoverished countries around the world to distribute necessities to the needy communities and take photographs of the town folk.

Joan embarking on a “Love Without Borders” volunteer trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

To Joan, this endeavor is immensely gratifying and fulfilling – to be able to play a part in benefitting the less fortunate, to bask in their joy when they receive the donated items and to feel a sense of belonging when she is warmly welcomed into the community. All these, are priceless to Joan.


 

Making A Difference

 

Joan’s greatest happiness comes about when she shows the town folk pictures she has taken of them in her camera. They are thrilled, she says, especially the children, as they’ve never seen a camera in their lives before, much less photographs of themselves captured in such vibrancy. To Joan, these photos capture so much more than the moment, they represent collective emotions and memories, something that will remain etched in her heart forever.


Joan with the children of Phnom Penh


A candid photo of the children of Phnom Penh, as captured by Joan

Joan recently raised funds to build temporary shelters for earthquake-hit Nepal and she regularly organises donation drives for used clothing for the needy in Cambodia. She also sponsors needy children under World Vision. Despite all that she has done, Joan hopes to continue with more charitable work in the future.

Another heartwarming capture by Joan

Unbreakable

In an unfortunate twist of fate, Joan lost her husband last year. But Joan is a survivor, and while she still grieves, the memory of her husband lives on, and she now devotes her time and energy to her family and friends, helping the less fortunate, and inspiring fellow cancer patients and survivors with her story. And of course, Joan still hasn’t given up on the outdoors and dance, her primary passions in life.


To view more of Joan’s beautiful captures on film of the townsfolk and children of Phnom Penh, click here.


“I’m happier because I’ve learned what matters. I stand taller because I am a survivor.” – Joan Ng, Survivor of Stage 3 Breast Cancer


A woman of steel who has turned adversity into strength, Joan has this to say to fellow cancer patients and survivors –


“Be patient and don’t give up. It’s never an easy journey, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m braver because I fought. I’m stronger because I had to be. I’m happier because I’ve learned what matters. I stand taller because I am a survivor.”


 

 *Editor’s note: Joan has also been featured in the local news for encouraging women to get screened for breast cancer early. Read them here: