Issue 7 - Through Thick & Thin

 

Paul & Li Leng during their courtship days, back in 1976


“…To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”


What if – What if you had to put your life on hold? What if you had to leave behind unfulfilled dreams? What if you had to turn your life around? What if you had to take on more than you ever could? What if you had to let your hopes turn to regrets? What if you had to do all these for someone else? Would you? That’s exactly what Paul did. And this is his story.


A picture of Paul & Li Leng taken this year
(Pic credit: ST)

Meet Paul. Paul is Li Leng’s (whom we featured in the last issue) husband and primary caregiver. Paul took us on a trip down memory lane as he reminisced on how their love came to be. It was the year 1974, he remembers clearly, when he met Li Leng, his junior, through the varsity Christian Fellowship in University. Suffice to say, it was love at first sight and as all fairytales go, the couple unraveled the start of their happy ending when they exchanged vows in 1979.


Little did they know, as sacred as all marriage vows go, the vow Paul made to Li Leng in front of the altar was about to undergo the test of time, faith and mind.


A Test of Faith

In 2007, Li Leng was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer characterised by abnormal expansion of malignant plasma cells in the bone marrow. Paul, who was with Li Leng when the news broke, recalled how his mind remained calm and collected at that point in time.

 

 

Paul & Li Leng on a family trip in Pemberton in Dec 1994

There was no going through the classical denial phase, Paul said. A pragmatic like his wife, he was not one to let emotions rule over his head. To Paul, the only logical and rational things to do next were to research on the nature of the disease, and explore ways on how to get it treated. A staunch Christian, Paul saw this as a test of his faith and maintained confidence that if his God put them into this situation, he would also bring them through it. Furthermore, Paul remained positive that the medical advancements of today would translate to his wife’s swift recovery.

 

Paul (left) with his ex-colleagues

A New Chapter

When Li Leng’s treatment begun, so began the next phase of Paul’s life. Paul was no longer just a husband, and a father, but he was now also Li Leng’s primary caregiver. Adjustments had to be made. Once packed with business meetings and trips, Paul’s calendar was now marked with dates for Li Leng’s hospital visits, visits that happened multiple times a week.

 

Paul cooking up a storm

At home, Paul took it upon himself to shoulder extra responsibilities too. Ensuring that the children had more attention from their Father since their Mother was ill, while making sure that his wife was properly cared for. Managing Li Leng’s medication schedules, chauffeuring her around for hospital visits, providing her with constant physical and emotional support, constant researches on the disease and latest treatment breakthroughs; these were just some of Paul’s new routines that were about to become a part of his lifestyle for the years ahead.

 

Timeless Love

In the flesh, Paul’s affection for his wife was clear as day. A representation of how true love withstands the test of time – although the years have taken its toll on both Paul and Li Leng, all we saw was an unabashed schoolboy stealing constant looks of adoration at his wife, while making sure to pay her a sincere compliment every now and then.

 

Paul & Li Leng on a family holiday with their children in Tasmania

When Li Leng spoke of her knitting endeavour, Paul cut-in and insisted she was being too modest with her expertly honed skills and let us in on how her crafts have blessed many people around them. When we spoke of Paul’s caregiving duties, Paul proudly exclaimed that as Li Leng grew stronger by the day, she regained her independence and started taking on majority of his duties. When we asked Paul what he discovered about Li Leng through this experience, he beamed and exclaimed that his wife is a great organiser and a very strong and highly determined woman, able to overcome any obstacles and adversities along her way. In his words, “she makes things happen”. When Paul excused himself to go to the washroom, we asked Li Leng the same question about her husband and it was then we knew, Paul was the one too modest of his own sacrifices.

 

Through Thick & Thin

Li Leng shared with us Paul’s passion for mountain biking and how during one of his cycling trips along Bukit Timah Reserve, he met with an accident and hurt his head. For fear of incurring new injuries and not being able to properly care for Li Leng, Paul decided to put a halt to his mountain biking activities and switch to more laidback hobbies such as casual cycling and cooking instead. An avid mountain cyclist, Paul’s love for thrill and adventure was uncontested against his love for his wife.

 

Paul on one of his mountain biking trips

Apart from sacrificing his passion, Paul had to make hard choices at work too. Li Leng shared of how Paul turned down several overseas board opportunities that would have added different dimensions to his portfolio so that he could stay by her side to care for her; despite Li Leng’s encouragement and reassurance for him to pursue these opportunities. However, Paul’s dedication to his wife never once frayed, and it is her husband’s selfless sacrifices and immense dedication that moved her the most.

 

Journeying Together

8 years on, Paul still remains Li Leng’s boulder of support and strength and the dynamic duo recently organised a SG50 Myeloma Charity Walk & Cycle Event which raised over S$420,000 for Myeloma research, a cause the couple firmly believes will help translate into better clinical outcomes. The moment Li Leng expressed her desire to organise the event, Paul was the first to rally his cyclist friend, Han Jok Kwang for support in making the event a success.

 

Paul (in blue) with National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan & Li Leng at the SG50 Myeloma Charity Walk & Cycle Event that he organised with Li Leng

The caregiving experience was no doubt trying, but Paul acknowledges and appreciates that in the face of mortality the disease has placed them in, the couple has learnt to treasure each other more while drawing strength from each other. It has also shaped Paul’s mindset of life, and he truly understands how precious life really is. He now prefers to live life with a more candid attitude, being more open about his feelings.

 

“WE ARE OUR OWN ADVOCATES”

A strong believer that “we are our own advocates”, Paul repeatedly stresses on the importance of having a good grasp and understanding of the disease so as to be able to care for the patient better. A better knowledge of the disease, he said, will help facilitate consultation sessions with the doctors, be it primary physicians or even other medical professionals as well as help improve the patient’s quality of life.

 

Paul doing what he loves best at the SG50 Myeloma Charity Walk & Cycle Event

 

To other caregivers, Paul has this to say –


“If you look beyond yourself and help others, it will actually come back full circle to benefit yourself. If the process is too strenuous or trying for you, don’t feel the need to manage it or bear the burden all by yourself. Share the load with other family members and don’t neglect your own health, otherwise, you will not be at your full capacity to help your loved one. Also, don’t forget to make time for yourself. Try to take at least a day off from caregiving and do the things you like to do so as to maintain your sanity and well-being. Surround yourself with people who can uplift you and don’t be afraid to trust others to fill in your position and cover your duties. If you lack family support, there are volunteers out there who are willing to make house visits to help out. If you find yourself in a bad situation, take some time off to stabilise your emotions. As your loved one is already ill, you can’t afford to be down as well, as you need one person to be up in order to lift the other one up. Stay strong.”


Missed out on Part 1? Click here to read Paul’s wife, Li Leng’s story and her journey with Multiple Myeloma.