In Loving Memory of Phelane – Beautiful Wife, Caring Mother, Loving Daughter and Courageous Cancer Warrior
“How did you cope with your loss?”
“It’s not easy…especially when you’ve been married to someone for 28 years; they’re already a part of you. I’ve heard this saying that when someone gets cancer, the whole family does too. And that is so true.”
William met Phelane in the most unconventional manner. Call it fate or chance, but it was meant to be. It was 1987. William had gone for a facial session to pamper himself, but little did he know, he was about to find the one who would pamper him and be pampered by him for life.
Her name was Phelane. She was a beautician who enjoyed helping others look their best. She had been in this line for as long as she could remember, and unaware to her, she too, was about to meet the man of her life.
This is the story of William and Phelane. Their love story.
Love At First Sight
Our story picks off where William met Phelane during his facial session. When asked how they fell in love, he chuckled and said “there was electricity”, and as they say, the rest is history. The couple dated for a year before finally deciding to get hitched.
It was as though they were made for each other. They shared the same passion of wanderlust, the same interests of good food and movies, and they complemented each other’s flaws. While both loved karaoke, William laughed as he reminisced how Phelane used to tease him for being “tone-deaf”, but admitted that she was a good singer.
William’s face lit up as he continued to talk about his wife. She was a very beautiful woman, he said, and that is what attracted me to her in the first place. But after I got to know her better, I found that she was not only beautiful outside, but inside as well. She was friendly, compassionate, and above all, brave.
After a year of marriage, the couple welcomed their bundle of joy, a son, to complete their family. To William, it was the perfect family unit. Their son drew the couple closer together, and they enjoyed their time together, preparing meals and going on holidays together. Phelane would be in-charge of cooking, and he would be responsible for helping her prep the ingredients and clean-up. But he accepted his tasks dutifully, repeating a line Phelane used to say – “she’s the chef, and I’m the cook”.
An Unexpected Twist
The years were kind to them and the family continued their wonderful time together. However, everything took a turn seven years later, when Phelane was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 1998. When Phelane was first diagnosed, the couple was shocked but remained optimistic. After all, the cancer was detected early. William went to bookstores to read up more about the disease while Phelane started on chemotherapy, and as fate would have it, everything went smoothly and she achieved remission five years later.
Just when the couple thought their lives was back to normal, Phelane suffered a relapse seven years later. The cancer was back, in the same breast. Phelane then went through a mastectomy but after the operation, she experienced unbearable pain in her back and she was once again rushed to the hospital. The doctor found her suffering from spinal decompression which made it crucial for her to be operated on as soon as possible, or risk being paralysed.
This time, William was fearful; he thought he was going to lose Phelane for good. He immediately applied for three months sabbatical leave to be by Phelane’s side and care for her daily needs.
William broke into a small smile as he commended his wife on her bravery throughout the entire process. Despite having undergone two major operations in a short span of three weeks, Phelane did not fuss over it at all and her spirit never wavered. That was her nature, he said, she took things in her stride and never liked to bother anyone unnecessarily. Throughout her stay at the hospital, Phelane did not want her family to visit her because she did not want them to feel pained seeing her in that state.
Phelane’s will to live was strong, and after being warded at the hospital for over amonth, she was finally discharged and she resumed work. The cancer was gone, but the couple never took her health for granted. Phelane continued going for her routine check-ups and scans for peace of mind.
Everything was going well, and the scans showed up empty over the years; until 2012, when their worst fears came true, the cancer cells had spread to the liver. This time, William was crushed.But Phelane never gave up. She continued to keep her spirits up by reading motivational books and listening to music.
A Husband’s Sacrifice
Once again, Phelane embarked on treatment and this time, William decided to make the hard choice between his banking job or caring for the love of his life full-time. He chose the latter. William devoted all his waking hours to caring for Phelane – accompanying her to the hospital, assisting her with daily tasks that she was unable to do on her own such as showering, and performing all the household chores. William also engaged a holistic healer for Phelane who would make house visits to condition her emotionally.
When asked if Phelane ever experienced mood swings or unhappiness during this time, William said not once. But he abashedly added that it was him who lost his patience once or twice instead. On top of his caregiving duties, William squeezed in whatever little time he had left for his exercise regimes, something he never let up on, as he knew he had to be physically fit in order to properly care for Phelane. The hours were long, and William had little time for rest or time to himself, but compared to what Phelane was going through, to William, this was just a “minor discomfort”.
In early November 2015, Phelane’s condition worsened. One evening, she experienced tummy pains despite already being on morphine drips. William immediately called for the doctors and they administered her with more morphine drips. There was a sinking feeling in William’s gut. Deep down, he knew, it was anytime now. He whispered to Phelane to wait for their son to come back and the next morning, with both her husband and son by her side, Phelane passed on peacefully.
Despite his pain and loss, William wants to remember the life and legacy that Phelane left – her spirit and her will, which is why he is sharing his story. One of his best memories with her was a self-drive trip the couple took to Hokkaido, where the memories will forever live on in his heart. To him, Phelane will always be the beautiful, active and brave woman that stole his heart.
Love Never Dies
William was recently awarded with a Healthcare Humanity Award for his role as a caregiver which he accepted with mixed emotions. He hopes to keep Phelane’s courageous spirit and legacy alive through the acceptance of this award.
The ordeal has given William a wake-up call to renew his passions in life. He is now taking a break from work and taking up culinary courses partly because Phelane is no longer around to cook for the family, and because it is a shared memory and passion with her.
So far, he has already completed his basic certificate and will be embarking on his higher certificate soon. His son, who inherited Phelane’s finer palate, has complimented his cooking skills. William also looks forward to spending more time with his in-laws, who were equally distraught by this ordeal, having lost their only daughter.
To fellow caregivers, William has this to say:
“As caregivers, we have to remember that our loved one with cancer is facing a huge struggle to overcome. Even though there is currently no cure for cancer, this should not deter the patient or caregiver to give up hope. Every single day your loved one is around is a bonus. We should be grateful.
Make sure you are physically and emotionally available for your loved one, as they may not be able to do things on their own. There comes a time when you may have to re-weigh your life options – whether you want to proportion more time to your loved one and give up some things in the process. For me, I chose my wife.
When someone gets diagnosed with cancer, normally they’ll experience denial, shock and fear and they don’t know who to rely on except for the doctors. But caregivers and even the patient themselves can make an effort to research about the disease and find out more information about it as possible so as to work hand-in-hand with the doctors and explore treatment options.
Also, as caregivers, we must be very mindful of the patient’s well-being. We must learn to pick-up early telltale signs that our loved one is not feeling well, even if they are minor symptoms. We’ve got to be a few steps ahead of the disease and take precautionary steps as cancer cells evolve very quickly and even the littlest problems need to get picked up before they blow up.
Lastly, caregivers ourselves need support too. For me, I drew strength from my religion as well as support from my siblings who helped out with the logistics and meals especially when Phelane was warded in the hospital so that I could fully concentrate on taking care of her.”
*Update on 25 July 2016
As part of a feature on a study conducted on cancer caregivers, William’s caregiving experience was also profiled in the local news. Read about it here:
The Straits Times (25 July 2016).