Issue 9 - Setia Cinta ("Loyal Love")

 

Erma Maulood, popular local singing sensation who was diagnosed with Lymphoma at the peak of her career

 

31 year old Erma Maulood has it all. At the tender age of 17, Erma already established herself as a household name within the Singapore entertainment scene with a solo record under her name. At age 20, Erma married fellow celebrity singer Idi Hakim and the power duo went on to scale their careers to new heights by joining forces to top the local charts with their power ballad duets.  Today, Erma and Idi remain happily married after 11 years, are proud parents to three young ones, and recently released their latest hit ballad “Setia Cinta”, another chart topper, last May.

 

To the outside world, it looks like Erma has it easy. However, what people don’t know is that Erma has been a fighter all her life – fighting for her career, fighting for her children, fighting for her life; and this is her story.

 

Erma, the petite lady with a BIG dream

Big Voice, Big Dream

 

Unlike most teenagers who grapple to find their place in society, even as a young girl, Erma had no doubt in her mind what she wanted to do – she wanted to be seen, and more importantly, she wanted to be heard; she wanted her voice to resonate in concert halls, be broadcasted over the radio and television, touch hearts and souls, and inspire other little girls around the world with big dreams like hers. After all, if her idol Mariah Carey did all of these, why couldn’t she?

 

There was no stopping this little girl with a big dream. Right after graduating from ITE Clementi at age 16, Erma with the strong support of her family worked from scratch to carve her dream into reality. It wasn’t easy from the onset. Erma was her own singer, producer, marketer and advertiser, a challenging feat for the petite teenager who had to juggle many hats.

 

Dream Come True

Alas, her hard work paid off and a year later, Erma was slowly gaining national recognition. At age 17, Erma was already getting media requests to be on Suria television shows, radio programmes and live performances. She also successfully released her very own solo album entitled Akur.


Erma & Idi in the Ria FM Studio for a radio interview

It was the time of her life. Erma was at the peak of her career, amassing a wide fan base and her life took an even happier twist when she met the love of her life, Idi in 2003. As fate would have it, both Erma and Idi were scheduled to be guest performers for a talent-time performance at Pasir Ris. Idi cheekily added that he caught Erma’s eye when they first met, and it was Erma who made the first move to get to know him. The two hit it off and struck up a friendship and it wasn’t long before they fell in love and became a couple a year later. And as they say, the rest is history. It was a match made in heaven – Erma and Idi found in each other not only a spouse, a best friend, but also a singing partner.

 

Erma & Idi’s three young bundles of joy

Perfect Harmony

In 2004, the couple welcomed their first bundle of joy, Hans Rafael, their eldest son, who is now 10. Little Haniq Mikhael and Ellis Aisha, their younger son and daughter, were welcomed into the family a few years later, and are now 8 and 4 respectively. To care for their three young children, Erma decided to retire from singing temporarily and become a full-fledged homemaker during the children’s tender years. However, a passion that has been deep-rooted in her since young, Erma never once retired her love of singing.

Erma & Idi with their fan

It was in 2012 when Erma decided to make a comeback since the children were more independent. Her comeback was nothing short of spectacular as Erma and Idi decided to marry their careers by performing ballad duets together.  It was the perfect musical harmony – Idi’s husky voice complemented by Erma’s soulful rendition marked the beginnings of their successful musical journey together.

Erma & Idi in the news for their hit song Setia Cinta

In May 2014, the couple went on to release their first single together – Setia Cinta, also known as Loyal Love, which tells the story of a pair of star-crossed lovers whose happy ending wasn’t meant to be. The song was widely raved, topping charts in Singapore and getting widespread attention. Once again, the media was all eyes on Erma and Idi, the power couple with power voices. Their marriage and careers were stronger than ever, and they couldn’t be happier.



However, little did they know, their lives were about to take an unforeseen twist.


Out of Tune

It started with unsuspecting symptoms disguised as common illnesses early this year – the constant fatigue, breathlessness, intermittent backaches, fevers and coughs, insomnia, and panic attacks – these plagued Erma for months on end till she could take it no longer and decided to get checked. An x-ray was performed and a 10cm growth, or as Erma put it, “the size of a donut”, was detected close to her lungs.

 

The next day, Erma was scheduled for a biopsy which confirmed that she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), a type of blood cancer that starts in cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system.


Erma and her pillars of strength

When Erma heard the diagnosis, there were no tears. Her first thought was of her three young children, and what would happen to them if she passed on. Idi was next to hear the news and unlike Erma, he found the news very hard to accept, particularly since both of them had no clue what Lymphoma was and Erma had no family history of cancer. When the news had finally set in, the couple found peace by accepting that it was all part of their God’s plan, and that they had to move forward, especially for their kids.


The next step was seeking treatment, but Erma had her fears and reservations having seen her friend with cancer suffer during treatment. However, after googling about the disease, the cure rate and her treatment options, as well as under Idi’s constant encouragement, Erma decided to overcome her fears and give treatment a try for the sake of her children.


A Journey of Strength

Erma embarked on six cycles of chemotherapy. The first three, Erma said was bearable, as she still remained well enough to go about her daily activities. However, this took a turn from the fourth cycle onwards. Erma recounted how she was plagued by the side effects, such as fever, as well as skin sensitivity which caused pain even at the slightest touch.

 

Despite Erma’s strong mental capacity, her will was tested as despite undergoing intense pain, she still had to put up a strong front in front of her children. For someone who spent time with her children every day, it was difficult to keep her distance from them physically during this period. However, Erma took comfort at how understanding her kids were despite their young age, and chuckled as she recounted how her second son asked out of concern if she needed medication for her hair when he saw her balding state.


Erma at her lowest point in the hospital

Erma also tenderly remarked how her children would without fail, pop by her room every single day, just to greet and check up on her, but making sure to keep their distance. Erma was also touched by the heartwarming support of her mother-in-law, who came over to her place to help look after the kids and help out with their household chores. Upon Erma’s discharge from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), her other-in-law also specially gave her house a special makeover to brighten her spirits for her homecoming.


But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Erma remembered how her own mother broke down in front of her for the first time upon seeing her in her sickly state. Erma also acknowledged that the sickness made her irrational and cranky, and she found herself losing her temper and having emotional breakdowns more than she should.


Ray of Sunshine

However, Idi provided her with a ray of sunlight in her period of darkness. Never once did Idi break down or show his vulnerability in front of her since she was diagnosed, but rather, made it a point to remain upbeat and positive every single day so as to lift her spirits. Erma gleefully recounted how during her stay in the ICU, Idi would greet her with a cheerful smile on his face, rain or shine.

 

Erma and her “bionic man”

Idi chuckled as he labeled himself a “bionic man” as he shared his daily routine. 3:00am: Idi wakes up and rushes down to their family-owned business to tend to the shop. 7:00am: Idi drives home to pick his eldest son up and send him to school 10:00am: Idi accompanies Erma at the hospital all the way till 8pm in the evening. 10:00am: Idi reaches home and his routine begins all over again in five hours’ time.


Idi laughed as he shared of how he would sometimes make a dash from the carpark if he was late from work in case Erma’s temper flared up. Such unwavering dedication is testament to Idi’s love for Erma, and we see Erma’s appreciation and gratitude as she tenderly looked at her husband as he shared his story with us. Erma’s chemotherapy treatment required her to be warded five days a week and during the entire time, Idi is there beside her, her ray of joy within the hospital walls.


Apart from the support of her family and loved ones, Erma also found support in places she never expected to find. Erma shared of how she found comfort and hope in The Lymphoma Club after reading about others’ lymphoma journey and how they overcame the disease. Erma also found support in fellow patients hospitalised in the same ward and she shared of how she would lighten up the atmosphere by befriending those around her to rally a positive state of mind. Idi nicknamed her the “leader of the ward” as she cheered those around her up.


Erma & Idi with their fans who showed their support for her when she was sick

One of Erma’s biggest pillars of support are her fans who after learning about her disease, dropped her messages on Facebook to encourage and motivate her to stay strong and positive. What Erma found most comforting are fans who have battled cancer themselves sharing their own journey with cancer with her.


Moving On

Now, 5 months since her diagnosis, Erma is recovering well. Erma recalled the day her doctor informed her of good news and she was expecting her tumour to have shrunk. Never did she expect that she would be declared free of cancer cells in her body and she was so overwhelmed, she broke down in tears, which she held back at the point of diagnosis. Looking back, she realised the treatment was all worth it.

 

The power duo at a press conference

Erma is now happy to move on with her life and is anxious to start on her vocal training and resume singing again as she has not performed since she was diagnosed. Idi gleefully remarked that Erma has been particularly noisy of late, singing at every chance she got. It is clear that through this ordeal, the couple’s relationship have been renewed and toughened to withstand anything that comes their way.

 

To others battling cancer, Erma has this to say:


The happy trio

Go through each day positively. It may not be an easy or fun process but not everybody is lucky enough to get a second shot at life. Every day is a blessing and you never know if you’ll get to wake up tomorrow but it’s a journey where you’ll learn the value of life. Stay strong, especially if you have kids. And if you have loved ones, just know that they are praying for your recovery so you must do your part by staying strong and thinking positive. Support is very important especially for younger cancer patients. Just know that time will pass quickly and with each day you will emerge stronger. Every person diagnosed with cancer will change, one way or another, and for myself, it has changed me for the better, and I have become more appreciative, selfless and patient.”


And to fellow caregivers, Idi’s words of advice are:


“Just lead your lives per normal. Don’t worry because there is always help out there. You need to be strong and learn to tolerate any mood swings or tempers that come your way. Just remember that you cannot let it get to you as you need to be the rational pillar of support to lift up your loved one. Also, it is important to properly plan your schedule so that you are overwhelmed by stress during this period.”


*Editor’s Note: Erma has been featured in the local news for speaking about the importance of support during her cancer journey. Read about them here:




To find out more about Lymphoma, click here.