“It doesn’t matter how much time you have left, it’s about what you do with your time that matters.”
Lely (second row, fifth from right) at her book launch ceremony. Lely wrote her first book,
“When Life Gives Me Lemons” to document her battle with Uterine Cancer.
>100 hospital trips
Up to 50 days’ worth of hospital stays
3 major surgeries
25 times of radiation therapy
6 sessions of chemotherapy
7 PET scans
4 CT scans
1 MRI scan
1 bone scan
10 chest X-rays
Consulted at least 11 Doctors
18 weeks of being bald
Infinite amount of tears shed
53 year old Lely Simatupang is three times a fighter. Why? Because she has fought and beaten cancer not once, not twice, but thrice and this is
Lely (centre) playing around with her nephew and niece
Born and bred in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lely was raised in a big close-knitted fun-loving family who in her own words, “love to party”. We believe Lely, as she radiates a fun-spirited personality, exuding a girl-like charm as she playfully snaps a couple of “selfies” and “wefies”, saying that this is her way of cheering herself up.
Lely and her friends celebrating Chinese New Year
Flashback to January 2011 and Lely was getting ready for her own birthday party with her family and friends. It was her 48th birthday and just like every other birthday, Lely wanted a big bash pumped up with an evening of full-blown celebrations. Lely had been eagerly anticipating this day, so much so that she had pushed her constant tummy aches that had been nagging at her for three months to a far corner in her mind, so she could enjoy her special day wholeheartedly.
And that’s what Lely did. She partied her heart out and reveled in the joy and celebrations with her loved ones, till her tummy ache got the better of her and she collapsed on the bed, cutting the party short. Lely described the pain she experienced similar to birth contractions and she was immediately rushed to the hospital.
A consultation with the doctor revealed that Lely had been experiencing heavy bleeding for three months, which she took lightly, as she assumed she was graduating towards menopause. Lely was then put under a series of tests, and as if fate had played a cruel joke on her, the test results which came back a few days later found her diagnosed with Stage 1 Uterine Cancer.
Lely and her sister-in-law who accompanied her to Singapore for treatment
Lely had no time to process her emotions towards her diagnosis; she was in too much pain. Her immediate thought was to put an end to her pain and she was referred to Singapore to commence on her treatment.
The First Fight
The treatment process went well, and Lely had high hopes of recovery. Two months later, in March 2011, Lely achieved remission. She was grateful, and she saw this as her second shot at life. This inspired her to author her very first book depicting her battle and triumph over cancer, titled “When Life Gives Me Lemons”.
Lely celebrating her fifth year of survival with her family
Book sales were very positive, and Lely donated SGD$5,000 generated from the sales towards a children’s cancer fund in Jakarta. If the cancer taught her anything, it was to give back and pass on a positive chain effect of hope to others.
Lely on one of her volunteer trips to distribute brea to patients at the cancer hospital in Jakarta
Lely then joined a local cancer support group, giving inspirational speeches on her journey with cancer and also started volunteering at cancer hospitals on top of her full-time job as the founder of a cooking school for professionals – the ChezLely Culinary School.
"The Cancer is Back"
Lely was starting life anew, living more for herself, and the people around her. Fast forward to February 2012 and she was in Singapore to catch the hit musical “Wicked” at the Marina Bay Sands. She remembered excitedly waiting for the musical to start when she received a call from her Doctor who said the words no cancer patient wishes to ever hear –
the cancer is back.
This time, the news sucked the life out of her. The musical flashed past her eyes in a series of blurred movements and Lely found herself losing the will to live. She had already fought once, and she did not think she would be up for it again.
Lely and her friends having fun together
Memories of her cancer treatment sprung into mind like it was just yesterday; she vividly remembered the pain, the fear, the hopelessness as well as the hefty cost of treatment, all of which she could not bring herself to go through again.
To Lely, this was the end, she would just have to accept her fate and deal with it. She recalled having this conversation with her friend.
“I don’t want to seek treatment.” “Okay, then let’s go to Switzerland.” “Why Switzerland?” “Because over there you can get euthanised.” “I’m not going to kill myself.” “But isn’t giving up on treatment the same as killing yourself?”
Her friend's words served as a clarion wake-up call for Lely. It awakened her desire to live and her desire to fight so she decided to go ahead with treatment. However, this time, the prognosis was far from optimistic. Lely was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and the cancer cells had viciously attacked three parts of her body – her intestine, colon and bladder. This time round, Lely was far less positive about her fate.
Despite being diagnosed with cancer three times, Lely continues to keep up the good fight
A pragmatist, Lely decided to make plans for the worst case scenario. She made a bucket list, and started living her dreams, ticking each item off her list, one by one. Lely did not think about the days she had left, for she was already living a fulfilled life, by her own standards. She embarked on more volunteer work, keeping the words of a friend close to heart – “Do things for others to the best you can with whatever time you have left.”
Fight or Flight
Lely’s determination and will paid off. In August 2012, she once again achieved remission and she authored her second book entitled Merajut Waktu. The next few years flew by like a breeze, and Lely was optimistic about the future ahead.
But her happiness was short-lived. In 2014, Lely started experiencing shortness of breath and a check discovered the presence of tumours in her lungs.
Lely was in an emotional conundrum. She did not want to give up, but to fight on required so much effort, and so much determination, and she did not know how much fight she had left in her. She felt emotionally drained, but yet she knew there was no time for rest. It was déjà vu, and once again, Lely braved herself to endure the treatment process. She jokingly shared that her father “paid” her to go through chemotherapy, to placate her mood swings, which she refers to as “tantrum money”.
Three Times A Fighter
Today, Lely has been in remission for one and a half years and has also picked up crocheting. But there is always a part of her that fears the cancer will find a way back again. But she knows she is not alone in this journey as her family has always stuck by her, making sure she never flies down for treatment alone.
Lely (centre) staying positive despite her circumstances
And what does our three-time fighter have to say to other cancer patients and survivors?
“Cancer shouldn’t define you. It’s an illness that needs to be cured, but it isn’t what you are. You’re still you and hopefully through the experience you’ll emerge as a better person. Try to cope by taking a break and re-charging yourself by doing things you like to do and are comfortable doing. I’ve always wanted to holiday in Japan but this experience has taught me not to put myself first, but rather, use myself for the good of others.
Also, support from family and friends is very important. For me, I had to travel back and forth frequently from Jakarta to Singapore for treatment and I don’t think I could have gotten through that without my family and friends sticking by my side throughout the entire period. Not many people have my fortune to survive cancer three times, so I represent hope and I hope that others can feel encouraged by my story.”
Lely’s sister-in-law also added that the most difficult part of the caregiving process was seeing Lely in pain and trying to comfort her. “They don’t want to hear your words of comfort, because they don’t think you understand what they’re going through. So just stay by their side and let them cry it out.”