When Madam Frances Sng saw the double lines on the pregnancy test kit, she was ecstatic.
She and her husband, Mr Khoo Mun Seng, had been trying for a baby for three years. But their joy was short-lived.
“Twelve days to be exact,” recalls Madam Sng, 37, who was then working in a bank.
She found out that she had Stage 4 breast cancer after going through a series of medical check-ups following her visit to a private obstetrician and gynaecologist.
About one in every 3,000 pregnant women will get breast cancer, and most are in their 30s. At Stage 4, the cancer has spread throughout the body, and just one in five patients can expect to live after aggressive treatment.
“I was told I could treat it with radiation therapy, but that meant I would lose my baby. I didn’t want to,” says the frail woman, who is propped up against three pillows on her queen-sized bed as we visit her.
During our two-hour interview in her Simei home, Madam Sng reveals how she went through “battle after battle with my health, with my loved ones and with myself”.
She asks in jest: “Do you think if I can live till March 8 next year, I’d stand a chance to get an award on International Women’s Day?”
March 8 will also mark baby Rafael’s first birthday.
For the first three weeks, the couple, supported by both sets of parents, went on a “miracle search expedition”, says Madam Sng.
“A second opinion, a third opinion, and the results were the same. Then, my parents took me to temples, we consulted mediums, and my father even went to Bangkok to offer prayers to the famed Erawan Shrine.”
One month later, she was physically exhausted and emotionally drained from “all the moving around, from crying my heart out and fighting the objections”.
Her parents, her parents-in-law and even her husband wanted her to terminate her pregnancy.
Tears flow freely as Madam Sng remembers the endless arguments. “My mum told me, it’s okay, it (the foetus) is just the size of a grape, you can let it go.
“But hell, I could not. She or he is my baby, not an ‘it’.”
Her husband was also not supportive.
She says: “He kept telling me, ‘This is no Korean drama, a miracle will not happen and you will die. Then what do I do?’ “He said we could always try again, but I didn’t think so. It took us three years before I became pregnant. I was more confident of having our baby than getting pregnant again.”
LOSING MY WIFE
In a separate interview, Mr Khoo, 38, concedes that he was “very selfish and made practical considerations”.
The private bank financial consultant says: “My wife and I dated for 10 years before we got married. That’s 13 years of our lives together. I didn’t want to lose her to ‘someone’ I had not even met yet.”
But he soon realised that his wife would not waver from her decision. He says, with a wry smile: “I know this woman. I can move a mountain but not her once she makes up her mind. If she can be brave, the least I can do is to be with her all the way.” The couple decided to leave Singapore.
Madam Sng says: “It was a decision we came to together one night, after I had collapsed in the balcony from crying. I didn’t want to see anyone any more, I told Mun. I didn’t want to take any phone calls or read text messages.
“I didn’t want the words of concern for me to turn into hateful thoughts.”
Except for one phone call to her parents from Changi Airport while waiting to board the flight to Perth, Australia, Madam Sng says she “cruelly cut off all forms of communication” with her parents and her younger sister. They depended on updates from Mr Khoo’s mother, whom he contacted once a month.
Madam Sng says: “The time in Perth was the happiest. I didn’t think of the real ‘it’ – the cancer – because I felt it was pointless thinking of something that you have no control over.
“Instead, we took evening strolls. Mun would read to our baby all kinds of stories, sometimes nursery rhymes or he would tell silly jokes.”
TIME RUNNING OUT
Two months after baby Rafael was born, they returned to Singapore. And a week later, in May, she received confirmation that “no treatment could help” her and she had six months to a year to live.
“But I have no regrets,” she says. “When I first listened to the heartbeat of the little one during a pregnancy scan, it was the most beautiful music I had ever heard in my life.”
They now depend on help from their two maids, one with some nursing experience, to care for mother and son.
Madam Sng has since made peace with her parents and sister, but she also knows that they need time to accept her baby. She says: “I hope it will be soon because Rafael needs all the love that he can get.”
Her cousin, who is her best friend, and her cousin’s husband are the baby’s godparents. They have a 13-year-old daughter, who “loves and adores her little baby brother”.
Madam Sng says: “Together with Mun, I know that Rafael will grow up to be a strong and well-loved child.”
In her laptop is also a folder that reads “For my darling Rafael”, which contains video recordings of the things that marked the different stages of the pregnancy right up to Rafael’s birth.
But the filming stopped after her condition worsened. Now she records only her singing and voice messages.
Madam Sng says: “I know some people will say I am selfish to bring my baby into a world where he would soon lose his mother. But I think of it differently. If I had known I’d have cancer, I would not have got pregnant.
“But there was no way I could kill my own baby just so that I could have a chance to live.
“Each day I wake up to the smile of my baby, to me, is a year earned in my life.