SINGAPORE - She diced with danger to see her daughter shine.
Ms Lily Foo has a rare form of cancer that requires chemotherapy. But when her daughter, Naomi, eight, took part in the Little Cinderella Singapore 2014 pageant last weekend at Downtown East, she chose to risk her health to support her.
Ms Foo, who was scheduled for chemotherapy sessions under the Gynaecological Cancer Centre at the KK Women's and Children's Hospital on April 4 and 5, skipped both treatments.
It was a dangerous thing to do as it will make the cancer cells stronger and make her fight harder, said a specialist.
But Ms Foo, 31, a hair salon assistant, believes she did the right thing. She said: "My daughter is more important than my health.
"Even though my doctor was very angry and scolded me and said that skipping even one chemotherapy session is significant, I went ahead anyway.
"It's worth it, even if my condition worsens. I only have one daughter."
She added: "I know that I have to get better in order to be there for Naomi in the long run.
"So I was thinking positive thoughts the whole of the weekend.
"I just clung on to the fact that the heavens wouldn't be so unfair (as to make my condition worse just because I missed treatment to support my daughter).
"Naomi and I are very close. She definitely needed me there to support her."
Naomi, a Tampines North Primary School pupil, won the Little Miss category at the finals.
But it came at a price.
Each cycle of chemotherapy includes eight sessions where one session is done at the same time each day for eight days straight.
Said Ms Foo: "I didn't want to start the fourth cycle on Friday because I knew that I would have to skip a few sessions so that would have meant that I would have to start the whole cycle again later.
"The price for skipping chemotherapy, I think, is that it gets very painful when you finally do it. After I resumed chemotherapy this week, it hurt so much I cried.
"I also suffer from blurred vision, sore throat and I feel exhausted all the time."
Ms Foo's resolve in wanting to cherish all the milestones in her daughter's life stems from the fact that she had two miscarriages in January and April last year.
Her most recent pregnancy in January this year was diagnosed as a complete molar pregnancy. Ms Foo was then told that her molar pregnancy had resulted in a rare form of cancer - choriocarcinoma - which, if left untreated, would spread to the rest of her body.
Ms Foo said Naomi is precious "because she was a gift that I wasn't expecting".
"In 2004, during a party, I got thrown into the pool and started bleeding."
Ms Foo was taken to a hospital where the doctors discovered she was pregnant.
"I didn't know it at that time, but I was already six weeks pregnant with Naomi. The doctors said her heartbeat was very strong. I decided to keep her."
Asked him to marry her
Ms Foo, who had been with her boyfriend for six months when her pregnancy was discovered, then asked him to marry her. She said that her mother had "lectured" her into proposing to her husband.
Naomi was born in May 2005. Ms Foo's father died three months later of intestinal cancer.
Her mother told her that Chinese custom dictates that she must marry within 100 days of her father's death, otherwise she would have to wait three years to do so.
"So I begged my boyfriend to marry me and we got married in November 2005.
"I couldn't imagine Naomi not having a father," she said. "I still hope to give birth in the future because I want Naomi to have a sibling. I will sacrifice a lot for her because I love her very much."
Ms Foo's best friend of 20 years, sales coordinator Yang Shuxian, was at the pageant to support Naomi.
Ms Yang, 31, who is seven months pregnant, said: "Lily is very stubborn. If she thinks that something is right, she'll just do it.
"When I found out she had cancer, I asked her why she was going ahead with Naomi's pageant when she was undergoing chemotherapy.
"I mean, normally people will just focus on their treatment. Who will have the mood to handle things like pageants?
"But Lily said she would make sacrifices for her daughter. She ended up not sleeping for many days just to make Naomi's costume and dress.
"When Naomi won, I told Lily that Naomi couldn't have done it without her."
What is molar pregnancy?
About one out of 1,500 women with early pregnancy symptoms has a molar pregnancy.
A molar pregnancy is a noncancerous (benign) tumour that develops in the uterus.
There are two types of molar pregnancies - complete and partial.
A complete molar pregnancy develops when the fertilised egg cell lacks maternal genes. The resulting pregnancy contains no foetal tissue and resembles grape-like cysts that fill the uterine cavity.
A partial molar pregnancy occurs when more than one sperm fertilises a normal egg, resulting in a pregnancy where both the foetus and placenta are abnormal.
After the uterus is emptied via surgery, the remaining abnormal tissue may continue to grow.
This is called persistent gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD).
In rare cases, a cancerous form of GTD called choriocarcinoma develops.
Choriocarcinoma is highly malignant and spreads rapidly throughout the body and requires vigorous treatment.
It may have begun as a molar pregnancy or from tissue that remains in the uterus following a miscarriage or childbirth.
Choriocarcinoma arises in one out of every 20,000 to 40,000 pregnancies.
Chemo won't work if not adhered to
Skipping scheduled chemotherapy sessions can result in dire consequences.
Dr Ang Peng Tiam, the medical director and senior consultant of Medical Oncology at the Parkway Cancer Centre, said a patient has to stick to a curative chemotherapy programme once it has been planned.
He said: "If the intent is to cure the cancer, then the chemotherapy will work best if the scheduled sessions are adhered to.
"Once you miss one session, this gives the cancer a chance to develop resistant antibodies to the treatment.
"The case of what doesn't kill them (cancer cells) makes them stronger applies here.
"If you compromise on the design of the programme, you will compromise on the cure rate."
Explained Dr Ang: "It's like if you were prescribed antibiotics to take daily for a week and you choose instead to take one every other day. It will not work."
When The New Paper spoke to two cancer survivor mothers, they had different views on Ms Lily Foo's decision to skip her chemotherapy sessions to support her daughter at the pageant.
Miss Universe Singapore 1975 Sally Tan, 59, survived breast cancer after she was diagnosed with it in 1998.
The housewife said: "When I had cancer, my doctor told me that I had to go for radiotherapy sessions every day for six weeks.
"I did everything I had to do. So I gave up a trip to Sydney, Australia, and told my husband and daughter to go on their own.
"I think Ms Foo should have taken her illness more seriously because saving her life will ensure that she's around longer for her daughter."
But Mrs Natalie Seah, 60, said that being with your child is important as well.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and beat it after having a mastectomy.
Mrs Seah, a human resource specialist who has a daughter and a son, said: "Maybe Ms Foo feels that she has to support her daughter at the pageant because these things don't come around that often.
"When you miss out on your child's important moments, you can never make up for it."
This article was published on April 12 in The New Paper. Get The New Paper for more stories.