SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

July 2023

Dare to Feel: When My Daughter Has a 15-cm Tumour

Bel is an easy-going, athletic 13-year-old who avoids conflicts with a smile. Of my five children, she would be the one to question why I was so curt with a waiter. She is always there to comfort her siblings and tactfully break up arguments before they even start. The ever-dependable daughter whom this mother constantly turns to for help.

But that Tuesday night, she was in so much pain, she point blank refused to walk to the clinic. As she groaned while clutching her right side, I noted her cold, clammy palms. We drove to the nearby clinic, where a recommendation letter sent her straight to the A&E at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.


I asked if I might take her to the nearby Sengkang hospital instead. The clinic receptionist explained that children under 16 years would still be transferred to KKH if they needed to be warded. I heeded her well-meaning advice and boy, am I glad I did.

What I had suspected was appendicitis turned out to be a 15-cm mass that warranted immediate surgery. I was awed by the medical team’s decisiveness, touched by their professionalism, and comforted by their efficiency. At 8am, less than an hour after the diagnostic ultrasound, my daughter was wheeled into the operating theatre.

Junia's daughter getting a scan

Giving in to Grief

In a daze, I retrieved my wallet from the ward, slowly walked to the Kopitiam, and bought a bowl of mee rebus. Then I sat in a corner of the food court and allowed huge tears to roll down my cheeks. I was afraid. I was fearful of losing her. Instead of letting the voice of reason speak, I unleashed my emotions.

I cried as scene after scene flashed through my mind. On an MRT ride where she assured me her “blue-black tooth was gonna be alright”. The memory of her dancing into the kitchen when I hollered for help. I pictured her toothy smile, I heard her jovial voice, I saw her cheeky wink.

And I grieved. I sobbed so hard, my whole body was shaking. I bowed my face so no one would notice because I wanted privacy. Privacy to fully experience the heart wrenching pain of (potentially) losing her.


You might think it was a normal reaction for any mother. But for someone who’d been socialised to only show her strong side, who easily rationalised everything, it was unfamiliar.

Yet for the entire duration of Bel’s operation, I refused to heed my inner voice of logic. Instead, I allowed myself to freely express my rawest emotions. “Why didn’t I notice it earlier? What could I have done to prevent it? Was I so busy I’d neglected my kids? I was such a lousy mum, I couldn’t even protect my kids!”

Accusing guilt, overwhelming fear, profound sadness, and intense pain flowed out as tears. I cried and cried till I reached a calm. A deep sense of peace.

Minutes later, I received a call. The operation was complete. I could go up to see her.

Junia seeing her daughter after the surgery

Processing the Crisis

The head surgeon showed me pictures of the tumour. It was huge, bloody, and heavy. They had removed her entire left ovary and fallopian tube. She’ll still be able to reproduce, they assured.

Then the oncology team told me to prepare for chemotherapy. They said the tumour was likely aggressive because of its size. While they still needed the biopsy results to confirm this, their language reflected a pessimism I was not used to.


The helplessness was unbearable. I wished it was happening to me — not my daughter! I would willingly trade places in a heartbeat. And I hated that I had no control over her condition. What I experienced in those past eight hours left me with a sanguine melancholy.

Everything happened so quickly, I felt half-dazed. It was the June school holidays and we were supposed to be vacationing in Malaysia with the rest of the family that very morning! I asked my husband not to tell the other kids anything because I had yet to process what was happening.

But as I took the time to process, the lessons soon became clear.

#1 – Dare to Fully Experience Your Emotions?

woman covering face
Image: KamranAydinov on Freepik

Too often, we suppress negative emotions. We hide anger, we mask sadness, we numb pain. So that we can survive life by fitting in and not drawing attention. We only express what society and we ourselves deem acceptable. That causes us to lose touch with our emotions. 

Crying was pivotal, necessary, and part of the process towards my healing. Because I allowed my feelings to take over and run their course, I eventually reached a point of inner calm. Instead of resisting or rationalising the emotions, I gave myself permission to cry like a baby. That one hour in the food court was sacred because I connected with my humanity.

Pain is a relatively easy emotion for many to express. But while we mostly accept sadness, we judge other emotions as ‘unacceptable’ — anger, jealousy, lust, pride, insecurities, and irrational fears. In an attempt to stay in control, we then put a lid on them, to never have to face up to the emotions that scare us.


As parents, we also teach our children socially appropriate behaviours. When they ‘act out’, we scold them for not having self-control. In truth, we are uncomfortable with their expressed emotions because we have not processed those within ourselves.

What if we dare to allow ourselves (and our children) free expression?

Here’s an example. One of my girls was angry at her younger brother for hitting her. Instead of scolding my son or insisting she forgave him, I put myself in her shoes and experienced her anger. I smacked the table and told her I would be super angry if someone hit my head too.

In that moment, her anger dissipated. She felt someone else validating her anger without judgement instead of brushing her feelings aside. She looked surprised, and then moved on to another topic instead of insisting on ‘justice’, like she normally would.

#2 – Dare to Fully Own Your Conscious Decisions?

woman looking at map
Image: jcomp on Freepik

Embracing my feelings could mean I am so angry that I want to punch the wall. Instead of hurting myself or others in the process, I can find ways to safely vent my rage. For example, punching a pillow, screaming under a shower, or even smashing objects in a ‘rage room’. 

The calm and freedom that follows is powerful because I am no longer spending unconscious energy suppressing certain emotions. I can be present.

While I was fully feeling fears of the treatment process, I talked to a friend who had survived cancer. He shared how he cut sugar and dairy products from his diet, and refused to do chemo in spite of the oncologist’s advice. Listening to him, confidence crept in. I did not want my daughter to undergo chemo and hearing from someone who’s walked the path with positive results encouraged me out of my fears into certainty. I was clear on what I would do.


Of course, different individuals have different convictions. In this case, I just happen to prefer alternative forms of healing to conventional methods. There is no right or wrong; just another adventure going down the path you choose.

Likewise, in parenting, everyone has their own style. You do you. Making choices means we will make mistakes, so we can learn from them. But let’s be conscious of the choices we make, and not blindly allow others to make decisions for us. Because living our best life requires taking responsibility for our choices. No matter how well-meaning, sincere or confident others may be, conformity requires little courage.

Choose your path and own the results of your choices.

#3 – Dare to Fully Support Your Children’s Life Choices?

Junia and daughter Bel after surgery

Fully conscious of the choice I’d made, I took congruent actions. Instead of sugarcoating the truth, I told Bel what the oncologists suspected and their recommended treatment. I also told her what I believed in and asked which she was more comfortable embracing.

She chose what I preferred (in this case). Yet, there will be many times our children have a different opinion, decision, and choice. As parents, are we secure enough to allow them to follow their own lead?

This doesn’t mean letting them recklessly run across the road for ice cream or close one eye when they cheat in a test. But do we honour them by giving them space to exercise autonomy in life? Do we trust them to journey on their own unique paths towards their own exceptional futures?


I draw inspiration from Kahlil Gibran’s poetic parenting advice:

Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.

– from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Indeed, children are mirrors, pure reflections of our humanity. When we allow them to be our teachers, there is so much they can give, and we receive. Our children are here to raise our levels of consciousness. Whenever I am triggered, it is the perfect opportunity for me to look within, and not reflexively try to control them.

Your level of consciousness depends on your self-work. Life goes beyond good grades, acceptable behaviours, and coveted careers. Our lives are for accomplishing our individual purpose.

So embrace all of life’s adventures — your body, your nationality, your painful past, your plodding present, your unfulfilled future…. And trust that you (and your children) have a bigger purpose than merely surviving life.

Author of “The Naked Parent”, founder of Mum Space, and mother to five amazing children, Junia is a respected thought-leader in the parenting space. Recognised for empowering parents and kids with her 21st-century parenting model for over a decade, she now brings her ‘Modern Asian Mother’ expertise and experience to this exclusive SingaporeMotherhood column.

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Dare to Feel: When My Daughter Has a 15-cm Tumour