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Cancer Information

Issue 3 - A Purpose - Driven Life

Issue 3 - A Purpose - Driven Life

Madam Usdiati (left) mentoring the kids in her Green Montessori School
"Pablo Picasso once said, the meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give it away."

However, far too often, many of us struggle to reconcile with our gift, and as a result, find it difficult to find meaning and purpose in life’s existence. In this issue, we meet with one of our patients, Madam Usdiati, a steel-willed woman born and bred in Indonesia, who relishes in her gift, and builds her life’s purpose in giving it away to better the lives of others around her. Obstinately defying whatever lemons life has thrown her way and making the most of it, we meet the inspirational warrior with a powerful gift of hope, and this is her story. 

There is little time to waste as we settle down for the interview as Madam Usdiati has squeezed time in for us between her Doctor’s appointment. Unlike the two survivors we featured in our previous issues, Madam Usdiati is a patient of Multiple Myeloma, a type of bone marrow blood cancer characterised by abnormal expansion of malignant plasma cells in the bone marrow. Since her diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma back in 2012 in Singapore, Madam Usdiati shuffles in between countries every few months to seek treatment.

Madam Usdiati at our Health Resource Centre

In the flesh, you would never think of Madam Usdiati to be suffering from any illnesses, much less cancer. Fresh-faced and constantly breaking into a smile, the grandmother who will be turning 55 this year mocks her age with her youthful looks. 

Eldest daughter to two entrepreneurial parents who run a taxi business and a beauty parlour back home in Bandung, Madam Usdiati attributes her entrepreneurial spirit to them. Despite her motherly and affectionate façade, Madam Usdiati is hardly domesticated as she is the proud co-founder and owner of her own school – the Green Montessori School in Jakarta.

The Green Montessori School, Jakarta

The Seeds of Passion 

Her passion and activism for education began through the founding of a different Montessori School 13 years ago. Madam Usdiati shared the story of how the school came to be. It all started when she was a student herself; even as a young girl, Madam Usdiati loved going to school as she found joy in the process of learning. She gleefully reminisced about her gardening and swimming adventures in school and expressed how grateful and lucky she was to be able to have had the opportunity to attend school, especially when there were many others back home who did not get to share her good fortune.

Madam Usdiati as a young girl

It was then she decided to pass on the gift of learning. With keen determination ingrained in her mind, Madam Usdiati set-out to achieve her objective. After she graduated, Madam Usdiati pursued a career as a psychologist, before going into full-time volunteerism to provide aid to rural families through various innovative fund-raising activities such as developing an energy-independent village in West Java through animal husbandry and utilising the Biogas generated for electricity and cooking purposes. 

A self-sufficient driven woman, Madam Usdiati also believes in empowering women holistically, developing a series of parenting, entrepreneurial and cultural courses infusing art and music back in Rancamaya, West Java. Their children are not left out, as Madam Usdiati keeps them busy with a series of educational activities. 

Chidren in the Green Montessori School practicing Angklung, a musical instrument made out of bamboo

Turning her Dreams into Reality 

Not long after, Madam Usdiati decided she could no longer put her dream on hold. Against the odds despite no formal working experience, she courageously endeavoured to rent a house and converted it into a school. Channeling the teaching style of Maria Montessori, the school’s cornerstone is founded on the emphasis of lifelong learning and the imparting of life skills, to ensure a holistic and well-balanced development of the child. 

Undertaking the role of Principal, Madam Usdiati slowly grew the school from cradle to where it is today, a learning ground for 65 children under the tutelage of 15 teachers. Madam Usdiati beamed with pride and joy as she shared with us her satisfaction of running the school, and how she feels her life’s calling answered by passing on knowledge to the young ones. She fondly spoke of her school children as if they were her own, eyes gleaming as she tenderly mused over how the children who have graduated still pay her visits and keep in touch via email. 

Madam Usdiati (left) with her sister, Meizani, who accompanied her to Singapore for treatment

Behind the Smile 

A woman with a big heart, unbeknownst to most, hides a story beneath her cheerful veil. It was just 4 years ago when Madam Usdiati’s body started to falter. It all started with electric jolts shooting up her back unleashing currents of unbearable pain that took a toll on her. Visits to her Doctor in Jakarta diagnosed her with cancer but were unable to pinpoint the exact cause. Under her Doctor’s recommendation and the encouragement of her children, Madam Usdiati decided to seek treatment, and it was through thorough medical examinations conducted there which found her to be diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. 

Madam Usdiati on a family outing

When asked how she first took the news, Madam Usdiati maintained her upbeat persona as she exclaimed how lucky she felt to have gotten a proper diagnosis and to know that there is a cure to look forward to. Brows furrowed, she told us treatment costs were a primary concern then, especially since she did not have insurance coverage, but she found solace in the unwavering support of her family and placed in faith in her God. 

Madam Usdiati looked back on her early days of treatment, and beamed as she shared of how her entire family flew down from Jakarta to Singapore to act as beacons of support with her second daughter, Tazkia, literally going the extra mile to accompany her for three months in Singapore, working long-distance while providing her mother with emotional and physical support. 

Madam Usdiati (centre) & friends volunteering in West Java, Indonesia

Circle of Support 

The treatment process was not easy, but Madam Usdiati said with firmness that it was only after her diagnosis, that she found clarity, a clarity that opened her eyes to her purpose and mission in life. Tears welling in her eyes, Madam Usdiati told us of the guardians who accompanied her throughout her journey. Her friends, who helped her purchase insurance to tide her through her financial constraints and her primary physician. 

An afternoon with the children at the Green Montessori School

A member of the Multiple Myeloma support group, Madam Usdiati appreciates the support and bonds that were forged over the various support group activities. She chuckled at the activities they bonded over – such as balloon sculpting, batik painting, music therapy etc, albeit simple, but was what truly touched her heart and enriched her soul. Madam Usdiati expressed high hopes of implementing a similar support group back in Jakarta, to keep the circle of hope going. 

Once an avid workaholic, Madam Usdiati now sees this as a second chance for her to live life to the fullest. If this experience has taught her anything, it is that time is precious and she wants to give it the best she can. Today, Madam Usdiati devotes her time to pleasures closer to her heart such as enriching her spiritual journey, singing, reading, painting, gardening and spending quality time with her toddler grandson.

Madam Usdiati with her team of teachers at the Green Montessori School

The Path Ahead 

As for her Green Montessori School, Madam Usdiati has since stepped down as Principal, and instead, provides training and learning resources while she leaves her daughter-in-law to helm the undertakings of the school. She gleefully exclaimed that they are currently in the process of upgrading and expanding the school, so as to increase their intake and pass the gift of learning on to as many children as they can. 

With a twinkle in her eye, Madam Usdiati chirped that she recently planted some fresh flowers in the school, and that she looks forward to seeing the childrens’ excited reactions when they see the butterflies and birds flock to the flowers, one of life’s simplest pleasures. Still on the route to recovery, Madam Usdiati embraces whatever the future holds as her life’s motto is underlain by the belief that there is a time and place for everything.

And her message to others who are in the same plight?

“It is okay to be scared, but try to seek support and solace in support groups to tide you through the journey. Everybody comes laden with their own burdens; however, you need to accept the disease and move on, knowing that there is a plan for all of us. Sometimes, things do not happen the way we want, but everything happens for a reason, and maybe it is a chance to re-connect with yourself. As long as you surmount the strength to fight it, half the battle is already won. Most importantly, know that time is still on your side, so treasure every minute of it while you can.”

To learn more about Multiple Myeloma, click here.