His wife's tumour was size of small pomelo

PHOTO: His wife's tumour was size of small pomelo

It was the happiest day of his life when his wife gave birth to healthy twin girls.

But when Madam Lily Tan, then 23, did not lose the weight she had put on during her pregnancy, Mr Toh Ah Kheng's friends began asking him about it.

The 43-year-old said in Mandarin: "I told them she had already given birth, but why she still had a belly, no one knew.

"It was only when she went for a scan that we found out that a tumour had been growing with our baby girls inside her."

That was in 2002.

Madam Tan was later diagnosed with advanced liposarcoma, an extremely rare type of cancer.

Two months later, a 10kg tumour with a circumference of 48cm - about the size of a small pomelo - was removed from her abdomen. But it was just the beginning of the couple's nightmares.

She continued developing tumours on her abdomen and back over the next nine years before finally succumbing to the disease on Boxing Day last week.

She was 31.

Not just tummy fat

Mr Toh said he and his wife met in 2000. She and some friends had visited the leisure fishing farm he was working at and the two hit it off immediately.

Speaking to The New Paper last Friday at his flat in Tampines Mr Toh recalled: "I loved her because she was very sweet and kind-hearted, and was always smiling. She was very pretty. "After dating for about one year, we decided to get married and we had our first daughter soon after."

Two years into their marriage, the couple decided to try for another child and were blessed with the twins.

But the couple had no idea that the weight that stayed on Madam Tan, a housewife, after giving birth was not just postnatal tummy fat.

Mr Toh's sister, 29-year-old housewife Eva Pan, said that Madam Tan looked like she was six months pregnant even after giving birth.

Mr Toh said his wife, who was about 1.5m tall and weighed 30kg before the pregnancy, put on almost 20kg over nine months.

And even after the birth of their twin daughters - each weighing about 2.8kg - Madam Tan's weight stayed at over 40kg.

"Our daughters were born on June 25 and we felt something was wrong about a month later when my wife, who had always been very skinny, still looked pregnant," said Mr Toh.

Said Mrs Pan in Mandarin: "She (Madam Tan) was so upset when she realised that she could fit only into maternity clothes."

Emptied out their savings

Madam Tan went for her first operation in August,where doctors removed the 10kg tumour from herabdomen. "Since then, the operations didn't stop," said Mr Toh.

Over the next nine years, Madam Tan went for yearly operations as tumours continued to develop and grow rapidly despite regular chemotherapy sessions.

Mr Toh said their family's savings were depleted and his CPF was soon emptied out as new tumours appeared each time the old ones were removed.

Mrs Pan said that the couple's three daughters have never complained about not having the outings and toys that other children had.

She added: "Lily was worried that she would scare her children when she lost hair due to chemotherapy.

"When the girls heard about this from a social worker at the hospital, they told their mummy that they would love her no matter how she looked.

"It moved her to tears, but the girls gave her strength to fight on."

Last year, their lives took a turn for the worse.

In April, Mr Toh slipped and fell while working at a fishing farm in Pasir Ris.

He said: "I scraped my right calf on a rock but didn't think much of it. When I returned home, I applied some antiseptic to the wound and went to sleep."

But the next day, he had a high fever and his right leg turned bright red and had swelled to twice its normal size.

Mr Toh said he immediately went to Changi General Hospital to seek treatment and was rushed to the operating theatre.

Operation upon operation

"The doctor told me that if I had just been a little later, they would have had to amputate my leg from mid-thigh," he said.

What he believed was just a simple scrape had been infected by a flesh-eating bacteria.

At the interview , Mr Toh showed us scars on his left thigh where skin was grafted to save his right calf.

He was hospitalised for three months.

After he was discharged in July, it was Madam Tan's turn to go for an operation.

Said Mr Toh: "She was supposed to have one big tumour removed from the left side of her abdomen.

But when the doctors operated on her, they found many small ones."

He added that 20 tumours the size of chicken eggs were removed from his wife's abdomen during that operation alone.

"Just before the operation, she could still walk around. The tumours never hurt her, made her lose her appetite or made her feel tired. They didn't affect her life," he said.

"But after the operation, she could only lie in bed all day and she stayed that way until she died."

He added that the doctors decided not to remove all the tumours in Madam Tan as they were worried that she would bleed excessively.

Between July and September, Madam Tan had to go to the hospital every two to three days as her condition deteriorated and she grew weaker.

Mr Toh said that when his wife was readmitted to the hospital in September, he resigned from his job to care for her. He visited her every day in hospital.

He and their three daughters were by Madam Tan's side when she died on Dec 26.

Remained optimistic

Said Mr Toh: "She (Madam Tan) remained optimistic even after she found out she was very ill, and I'd never seen her cry.

"She was a very strong woman and I miss hearing her telling our daughters to study hard. Our home has become a very quiet place."

Since his wife's death last Monday, Mr Toh said their daughters have become moodier.

When The New Paper asked to speak with them, Mr Toh said he did not want to remind them of what had happened as he wanted them to move on.

"They haven't been talking much and keep to themselves," he said.

"But our relatives have been taking them out to try and lift their spirits. When school reopens, I hope they can do their best and work hard."

The eldest daughter, now 11, will be in Primary 6 today while their twin daughters will be in Primary 4.

Mrs Pan said Madam Tan's sister has been taking the girls shopping, to the movies and game arcade to help them relax while she has been helping to clear up Madam Tan's belongings at home.

She added that social workers from the girls' school have helped ensure that they have the books and materials they need for the new school term.

She said: "If not for the help from the social workers, putting together all the things they need for school would have been a big headache.

"I've told the girls to call me if they need anything, but they are like their parents and won't ask for help even if they are in pain."

With tears in his eyes and his gaze fixed on a wall nearby, Mr Toh said: "I miss my wife very much, but I have to be strong for my family.

"I can only take things one day at a time. It doesn't matter what I work as, as long as I am able to bring up my daughters properly."

This article was first published in The New Paper.