Cancer and miscarriages did not stop Yvonne Lian from conceiving a child naturally and setting up a business. This unstoppable woman — mother, survivor, and mumpreneur — shares her story with us.
She’s may only be 30, but Yvonne Lian has already lived through more than most women her age. Cancer – check. Marriage (to 34-year-old bank manager Jeremy Yap) – check. Miscarriages (that’s multiple, not single) – check. But she thanks God that she has her miracle baby Chloe, who was conceived naturally after cancer. Chloe turned three on October 4 this year.
Chloe’s first photoshoot at age one
And now, Yvonne is living life large. The mother and cancer survivor is also an insurance agent and the founder of Supreme Parents, a brand under her newly set up events management company, Bizvents Pte Ltd. As she counts down to her first official event, Before We Meet (a seminar and bazaar for parents-to-be and parents later this month), Yvonne takes time out to share her story and tell us how she overcame her hurdles to become a successful mumpreneur.
Discovering the Cancer
“During a routine yearly employment X-ray and medical check-up in 2007, I found out that I had Stage 2 Hodgkin disease (also known as lymphoma cancer). I had just enrolled in UNISIM to do a degree in Marketing, started a new job, and was in a new relationship with my (now) husband Jeremy. The young and happy me – I had just celebrated my 21st birthday — never expected that my job, my studies, and my relationship would be affected overnight. For that first year we were together, Jeremy and I spent most of our “dates” at SGH/National Cancer Centre.
It started with a lump that I found above my right breast. It was about 10 cm by 4 cm large. Over time, it expanded and filled up my upper chest area. Prior to that, I had runny nose and coughs very often. But since I have had weak health since young, I did not think much of it. I actually had a health checkup and X-ray done before this. The results from those were okay. A few months later, there was another health checkup at my workplace. I wanted to take a break so I went down to have an X-ray done again (yes I know I’m a slacker!). I was told to go to the hospital “urgently” few days later.
When I was first told the news, it was like being in one of those drama films. I tried to escape the building while still dressed in my hospital gown. I cried like hell. My first thought was: “Why me?” Then “I’m dead”.
After the diagnosis I had to go for checkups, go through CT and PET scans, and have a biopsy to test the cells. A piece of my top rib was removed. I also did a bone marrow test and the anesthesia failed! I screamed! There were six to eight nurses and doctors pinning me down.
My family broke down. Within my family and relatives, there is no history of lymphoma cancer. They accompanied me through every hospital visit and stay, almost round the clock. My boyfriend slept in the hospital on a sofa outside the ward (so you see, I just had to marry this love of my life).
I had 12 chemotherapy sessions and 12 radiotherapy sessions between August 2007 and June 2008. Some sessions failed as I couldn’t endure them. It felt like burning pain through every part of my body, including my skin and female parts. It was excruciating. At times I threw tantrums or burst into tears. When you get agitated, the medication flows less smoothly and you need to re-do it!
So I tried to keep myself happy even though on most days, I lost my sense of taste and smell. Till today, my sense of smell is very bad. Luckily, my tastebuds still work fine. Radiotherapy was not painful though I would occasionally vomit. Towards the 11th session of chemo, the doctors suspected that I had had a relapse, and a biopsy was done again. Thankfully, it was just a blood clot.
Yvonne with friends at Christmas 2008, just after completing her cancer treatments
Preparing to have a Baby
I gave myself a waiting period of five years after my last chemo session to try for a baby. Firstly I had to finish my studies. I was also very upset that my hair was not growing out. Secondly, I had to rebuild my career. I had only worked a few months in my first job before going on a break for almost two years.
Thirdly and most importantly, I was dating and I needed to convince my soon-to-be hubby that I was physically ready and prepared to be a mum. He was really worried I would pass away while pregnant (we are Hong Kong drama fanatics). Finally, I was concerned about the level of chemicals in my body. So I waited five years. I only found out how conceiving after cancer could be more difficult when I got pregnant with my first child. So to me, Chloe is a miracle baby!
I got pregnant after the first try. However, things did not proceed smoothly after that. When I first thought I could be pregnant, I went to a clinic to confirm it. But I was referred to another clinic to take a urine test and have a pap smear. Here, they told me I could never conceive. If I did, I would have a miscarriage within the first few weeks, they warned.
Outside the clinic there was heavy traffic. All I could think of was death and how to explain all this to my family. I felt very lost and incomplete. But please, don’t follow my negative example. Child or no child, life goes on.
That Confirmed Positive!
But it turned out that I really was pregnant! Then at a karaoke session about two weeks later, I started bleeding. There was no pain at first. I was rushed to the nearest hospital where I had to wait over two hours to be seen. I was thinking that even if I really did have a baby, it was probably gone. But there, I finally heard the precious heartbeat. She was five weeks old then.
By week 10, I had already visited a few gynaes and was told that I would most likely deliver at week 20-something. The gynaes couldn’t see my womb clearly. They suspected that I have a bicornuate uterus. This is a condition commonly known as a “heart-shaped” uterus, where the uterus consists of two “horns” separated by a septum. (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicornuate_uterus)
(See also: True Story: Baby Premature, Mum in a Coma)
The bleeding came and went, and my gynae, Dr Benjamin Tham from Thomson Medical Centre, suggested bed rest in the hospital for the rest of my pregnancy. He was really patient with my “ganjiong-ness” but I couldn’t take not staying in the comfort of my home sweet home. Even though the food was really yummy, it was not home. So I did my bed rest at home instead, with my doctor’s approval.
During bedrest I was like a zombie. I didn’t really have morning sickness. I craved soup-y things daily. I could even eat five big plates of horfun a day. I spent my time Googling, shopping for baby things, and watching television dramas. I had migraines throughout the entire pregnancy and could not sleep. As my bump got bigger, the pain got worse. Due to my allergy to painkillers, I had to endure it. My friends kept me company by coming over to play mahjong and board games with me.
I was running a clothing shop — my first business — when I got pregnant. Eventually, due to bad business traffic and the bed rest, I shut it down. No job equals no money, so I had to take care of myself. My mum cooked most of my lunches, and my hubby and my dad would cook or buy back my dinners.
There were significant sacrifices throughout this time. During my cancer period, I was classified as “weak” and because of that, I realised there would be minimal chance of ever being promoted despite knowing my bosses thought well of me. As the years passed, I realised that people were worried to give me extra work. During pregnancy, well, look at my panda eyes, I barely slept for those eight to nine months. Towards the end of pregnancy, I probably slept two to three hours daily.
The best part of pregnancy was that I barely had morning sickness, and that I could ‘nuah’ (‘relax’) in bed. I also loved seeing the baby move. But I was scared that she would drop out of me. I was also scared that there would be no heartbeat one day. Google was my best and worst friend during my pregnancy. The Doppler was my favorite toy.
To those who are TTC-ing after cancer, do not give up. I would recommend doing a pap smear and a women’s body check to find out if your body/ womb is fit for conceiving. Don’t stress. Don’t doubt. See both TCM practitioners and gynaes. Seek second opinions.
Starting Over Again
I was inspired to start Supreme Parents because I’m a mum myself. I lead a hectic life trying to earn my bread and butter, and take care of baby and chores. When I go to seminars or bazaars, I look out for great deals and goodie bags. However, I’m often upset by the long queues and the disappointment of having to queue for such a long time, or of not getting the goodie bag especially after going all the way there with a heavy bump.
I want every parent to be happy when leaving my event. My aim is for every event that I organise to be filled with educational fun, and bonding activities for parents and their babies. My other dream is to offer freelance jobs to mums. Having not worked for a year when I was pregnant, I felt the loneliness and stress when one needs to start finding job and get in touch with society life again.
It took one month from planning to execution to set up Supreme Parents and Bizvents. I incorporated the company in September 2016, then started doing marketing and looking for vendors and sponsors. I invested $40,000 — most of it for the parent brand Bizvents Pte Ltd — to create a website (it’s not up yet). It is a one-woman operation for now, but I have outsourced bits and pieces, such as collecting sponsorship items, to friends or vendors.
Enduring the pain without painkillers
Before this, I also had two miscarriages. The first was in end November 2015. I used a pregnancy test kit in the morning and discovered that I was pregnant. At about 4 pm I started bleeding while I was queuing to see a gynae to confirm the pregnancy. The gynae said that there was a high chance that I had lost it, and the scan showed nothing in my womb. They call it a chemical pregnancy, I think? I was probably only one to two weeks pregnant. There was very bad pain and a lot of bleeding. I couldn’t walk, welling up in tears. No surgery was required. The gynae just said I had to rest. I rested and didn’t do confinement.
On January 9 this year — my birthday! — I discovered I was pregnant again. Lovely present! This time I used over 20 pregnancy test kits, just to make sure! I also went to three to four different gynaes for scans. Some people told me that I “scan until foetus passed away”. The gynaes could see a sac, but no heartbeat. By eight weeks, there was still no heartbeat, but the sac had grown.
One of the many ultrasound scans
Losing the Baby
My gyane advised me to be prepared. He asked me to consider a jab to abort or wait for a natural evacuation. I decided to wait. One night at the end of February, I had massive bleeding at midnight and my hubby rushed me to hospital.
When I went to the bathroom to check on the state of the bleeding, my foetus slipped out. At that point, I was still waiting for an operating theatre to be available. This second miscarriage almost took my life as I bled too much and lost a lot of blood. The pain was unbearable.
I was told it was probably not a bicornuate womb problem. However, my cervix had started to dilate and I was bleeding badly. I’m allergic to painkillers so I could only endure the pain. Beside me, there were fellow mummies losing their children too. I bit onto a towel and tried my best not to scream.
My husband lent me his arm to bite and held me tightly. The pain was excruciating. Just imagine a natural birth at 8 cm, that’s what the gynae told me. After almost eight hours, I was finally pushed into the O.T. and a D&E was performed. The doctor said that I seemed to have an ectopic pregnancy on my left fallopian tube and a 13-week-old foetus on the right side of my womb. They cleaned everything out.
I would say that this miscarriage is the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life, worse than the cancer. It was part of me, it was a life. And it was so precious as my fertility is low because I had cancer before. I may seem to be able to get pregnant easily, but I lose the pregnancy equally easily.
I had two months of confinement after that. I had postnatal depression too. I coped by watching Hong Kong action dramas and Chinese films like 步步惊心, and with support from my hubby and my family. My hubby cooked most of my confinement meals and longan drinks. My greatest joy now is being alive, waking up to see my daughter healthy and happy, calling me “mummy” and persuading me to bring her go out and play. Family support is really important.”
Yvonne’s first event, Before We Meet, is a bazaar and seminar for parents and parents-to-be. It will be held from 21 – 22 October 2013. Get tickets and more details here
All photos courtesy of Yvonne Lian