Issue 6 - GO-Getter

Li Leng (left of National Development Minister Khaw Boon Woon) at the SG50 Myeloma Charity Walk & Cycle Event organised by her and her husband in aid of Myeloma research. A total of S$420,000 was raised during the event.


“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” 
– Theodore Roosevelt


Someone once said, the power of words can move you to tears, evoke absolute joy or lead you in action, and in Li Leng’s case, Theodore Roosevelt’s words of grandeur to aspire and dream beyond have become her personal mantra to triumph over her battle with cancer.

 

Li Leng piqued our interest when we saw her featured in the local news. The article headline which read “Blood cancer sufferer fights back” grabbed our attention immediately with its oxymoronic choice of words and it tickled our curiosity as to how a sufferer could put up a fight against a disease that to this day, holds no cure.

 

Upon meeting Li Leng and getting to know her story, we deem her a far worthy opponent, as she put up a fight that could possibly contest with the epic Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight of the century, and this is her story.


Li Leng (second from left) and her family

60 this year, Li Leng is married to her husband of 36 years and counting, Paul. The couple is blessed with three children, an eldest daughter and two sons, aged between 27 to 33. Currently a retiree, Li Leng was previously in corporate banking, where she built her career in financial control and regulatory compliance. A loving wife and dedicated mother, Li Leng made the hard decision to leave the corporate world 13 years ago and center her attention on the well-being of her family as a full-fledged homemaker.

Li Leng (left) with her friend on one of their weekly tennis dates

Although retired, Li Leng was not one to idle. She kept herself busy managing the affairs of her family, reading, attending weekly bible study sessions and keeping an active lifestyle by playing her favourite sport, tennis, once a week. Life after retirement came with an expanse of hope, opening windows of opportunities for Li Leng to pursue the things she loved, with the people that mattered.

 

Unbeknownst to Li Leng, her life was about to take a 180 degree turn, five years later.


A Twist of Fate

It was the year 2007 when Li Leng started experiencing constant backaches that resulted in compression fractures of her spinal vertebrae. She experienced three compression fractures within two months of each other before deciding to consult an orthopedic who recommended running some blood tests. The blood tests proved to be the pivotal turning point, as they found Li Leng to be diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer characterised by abnormal expansion of malignant plasma cells in the bone marrow.

 

Li Leng and her husband Paul on one of their holiday trips before she was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma

The news took Li Leng and her husband by surprise as they found themselves unarmed in a fight they had been thrown in, with a disease they had no knowledge of till now. However, a practical woman whose mind rules over her heart, Li Leng did not let the news get the better of her and decided to embark on treatment immediately. Her mind was set on emerging victor of this fight – and she equipped herself with 3Fs – Faith, Family and Friends.

Li Leng and her daughter during her hospital stay

The months went by like a whirlwind, Li Leng’s lifestyle now revolved around a cocktail of potent drugs, countless injections, multiple trips to the hospital, hospital stays that lasted up to two months, side effects such as diarrhoea and peripheral neuropathy, all of which exposed her frailties and weaknesses out in the open, a situation the independent Li Leng was not used to, but somehow, became her “new normal”.

 

A “New Normal”

It was a distressing period, but through it all, Li Leng saw the silver lining – the unwavering dedication and selfless sacrifices of her husband, her primary caregiver, and her three children, who accompanied her for her weekly doctors’ visits and took turns to accompany her on overnight stays in the hospital during the two times she was warded.

 

Li Leng with her proud work of art

Being sick restricted Li Leng’s mobility and confined her within her home most of the time, but she was not one to be bound to the chains of the disease. She uncovered newfound hobbies such as knitting, which she learnt from scratch from her sister. It started with small knitting projects such as simple patterns before progressing to more complex knit creations such as mittens, socks and gloves.


To Li Leng, knitting is her therapeutic past-time where she gets a sense of accomplishment by creating a complex final product strung together by single strands of yarn, spurring her to believe that she can achieve so much more.

Crochet beanies that Li Leng knitted for her grandsons when they were toddlers

Apart from knitting, Li Leng also assimilated herself in the digital world by starting her own blog documenting her journey with Multiple Myeloma as well as sharing her personal thoughts and feelings. Writing is cathartic, she said, especially when there is little energy to talk while on treatment, and it provided her with an avenue to release her feelings.


Li Leng’s inspiration for setting up her blog came from reading patient blogs from the Myeloma Beacon and International Myeloma Foundation (IMF)websites, as she sought comfort and support in patients going through the same journey, and wanted to give back in her words as well.


Li Leng’s grandsons donning the dinosaur sweaters she knitted for them

Putting up a Fight

It was also through the IMF website that Li Leng found another way to up her fight with the disease. It all started when she came across an article in February this year documenting a fundraising activity by a group of cyclists in the United States for the IMF. This struck a chord with Li Leng and she felt able to do the same in Singapore, especially since cycling is something both herself, Paul and their circle of friends who are avid cyclists, enjoy.


“A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.” – Cobb, Inception


Li Leng (in red) with the participants of the SG50 Myeloma Charity Walk & Cycle Event

Making Things Happen

Not just a believer of dreams or a victim of the disease, Li Leng immediately set the cogs in motion and set her plan in action to rewrite the rules and turn her dream into reality. Li Leng’s objective was straightforward – to organise a fundraising event that will benefit Multiple Myeloma research, which she firmly believes will translate into better clinical outcomes for patients. It took three months of hard work, rallying support and sponsorships to kick-start the SG50 Myeloma Charity Cycle and Walk Event, but it all paid off on 16 May, when the event which was flagged off by Singapore’s National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, saw an overwhelming turnout of 200 cyclists and walkers who combined forces to raise over S$420,000 for Myeloma research.

 

Li Leng credited the success of the event to the joint efforts of Paul’s ex-colleagues, her church friends, her Myeloma support group and all those who helped, in one way or another to push this through. Her first attempt at organising a fundraising event and Li Leng has already left a legacy that will benefit generations to come.


Li Leng (centre) at the SG50 Myeloma Charity Walk & Cycle Event

A Go-Getter

Not one to rest on her laurels, Li Leng already has her mind set on her next “project” – to spend time interacting with fellow cancer patients and sharing her experiences with them to motivate them to keep up the good fight. She has already made some headway, having made some house visits to fellow Myeloma patients to cheer them on.


When thrown in a tough fight, especially against a formidable opponent like cancer, it is easy for most to throw in the towel and make an easy retreat. But to Li Leng, she will continue fighting as long as she still has breath in her.


Today, Li Leng’s cancer is under control, but she’s still fighting, hard, to achieve remission. And what does our female Mohammed Ali have to say to fellow cancer patients?

 

"Know that your life is going to change, in a big way, so you have to reorganise your time. The days are still going to be the same, 24 hours every day. You may not be at your full capacity but if you’re able to reorganise, it will be easier going forward.


 

Once you’re in a stable situation, you’ve got to keep on living. Live your days to the fullest. We all have bad days, and with any kind of cancer diagnosis, just appreciate all the days you have and live it well with your family and friends. Get yourself out of the withdrawal mode and receive and welcome the support and kindness of others around you. If you’re feeling down or struggling, know that whatever you’re going through will pass, and there will be better days ahead."


To learn more about Multiple Myeloma, click here.