Chor Meng ain't heavy, he's my husband

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Simply Her put the spotlight on some of the best stories that graced its pages.

The following article - in which Deon Tan spoke candidly about being the wife of well-loved actor Chew Chor Meng, and how they both coped with the degenerative muscular disease he was diagnosed with - appeared in its April 2011 issue.

"It was 1995. I was 20 and modelling part-time. I was offered a three-day assignment at a trade show, but I declined as I wanted to study for my polytechnic exams. I eventually agreed when the organisers told me they didn't have enough people to work at the event.

"At the show, I snatched time to revise my work in a corner. Chor Meng, who was the host at the event, came to talk to me. Then 27, he was already famous (he had won the Star Search contest in 1990). We felt at ease with each other.

"On the last day of the show, I gave him my pager number - my instincts told me Chor Meng was genuine, and a nice, truthful guy. His schedule was erratic, but he called me almost every day. We went out a few months later.

"Chor Meng's a no-nonsense guy. His nightlife involved going straight home after work, or having coffee with close friends. I also knew I couldn't go wrong with someone who was super-filial - I don't know of another person who would rush home in between work sessions with lunch for his mother.

"Chor Meng proposed to me with a bouquet of flowers after we had been dating for four years. We got married the next year, in March 2000.

In Sickness and in Health

"In 2008, Chor Meng was already experiencing the symptoms of muscular dystrophy. We hadn't told anyone yet that he was getting weaker and couldn't stand for long.

"That same year, we were introduced to a pain specialist - Chor Meng was in pain most of the time, every day. This doctor squeezed in an appointment for us the next day. He said that Chor Meng's muscles were degenerating fast, and he would soon need crutches or a wheelchair. The muscles that helped him breathe and eat would also be affected. The doctor then told us Chor Meng would only have 18 months to live.

"We broke down when he advised Chor Meng to spend more time with our children. I was only 33 then, and we had two young girls: Chloe, then six, and Cheyenne, then four.

"A neurologist we went to for a second opinion came to the same conclusion as the first doctor. Our whole world collapsed. We then asked to be referred to the most senior specialist in Singapore. We saw these three doctors in one week and were emotionally drained. We didn't have much hope then, but we could only pray.

"The good news was that Chor Meng's muscular dystrophy was a progressive sort called Kennedy's Disease (also known as spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy) and might not affect him until he is in his 50s. 60s, or older.

"There was no need to take medication for it, and therapy was proven not to help. My husband was told to make sure his life wasn't so hectic, learn to relax, and swim to keep fit.

Angels and Helpers

"I became the muscleman of the family, carrying the girls and other things as my husband could no longer do that. But I discovered lots of angels around us after news about his illness broke. For instance, I was about to load a study table we had bought at Ikea into the car when a man came along and loaded everything into the vehicle for me.

"We told our daughters that their dad was not well, and his legs were not strong so he couldn't carry heavy things. Our girls, who are quite sensible, then refused to let him carry their schoolbags.

Out of Their Comfort Zone

"I told Chor Meng that he didn't need to work as I could support the family with my work at a bank. I often left home at 8am, before the girls woke up, and returned at 11pm, exhausted, after they were asleep. Sometimes, I didn't see them for three days in a row. I felt lousy as a mother.

"My wake-up call was when my own body broke down. In the office one day, my heart tightened and I couldn't breathe for a while. Then, towards the end of 2009, I menstruated heavily, - three times in one month. The flow was so heavy that we suspected I had suffered a miscarriage, but the pregnancy test came back negative. I was even sent for a scan to rule out a tumour. The third time it happened, I went to see my gynaecologist, who said it could be due to my high level of stress and warned me to start changing my lifestyle.

New Beginnings

"I resigned from the bank in April 2010. Three months later, I was offered a job at a property consulting firm. I love that my company is family-oriented. I don't get the pay I used to in the bank, but I get more time with my family.

"I believe in miracles. The first has already happened - it's been more than two years since my husband was told he had only 18 months to live. Chor Meng has also stopped taking painkillers (he used to take about six tablets a day).

"He is still limping slightly, but he looks healthier. I think it's due to our outlook and mindset - he is getting optimistic and believes that he will one day be able to run again."

This story was first published in the April 2011 issue of Simply Her

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