He spent a decade caring for his unwell mum, now home chef Melvyn Oliveiro has taken ill himself and needs a helping hand.
The 53-year-old Singaporean was recently diagnosed with stage 4 liver and gallbladder cancer and received a grim prognosis.
He has less than a year to live.
Oliveiro asked "Why me? Why wasn't there a warning sign?" when he learnt about his condition this August.
He had experienced no symptoms of the disease until he was recently admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital's emergency department for chest pain, he told AsiaOne in an interview.
An electrocardiogram taken that day ruled out heart problems but a scan revealed a tumour in his gallbladder. They also found out that the cancer had already spread to his liver.
Oliveiro sought a second opinion at Singapore General Hospital which confirmed the diagnosis.
Further checks including MRI and CT scans, gastroscope, and biopsies revealed that the disease had damaged the organs so undergoing surgery to remove the cancer cells is not an option, doctors told him.
He has yet to start cancer treatment and is currently taking pain relief medicine.
Several week-long stays in the hospital have also exhausted his savings, he said.
Instead of dwelling on why he had cancer, Oliveiro is focusing getting better with the support from his friends.
Race against the clock in battle against cancer
Selling home-cooked food is the man's only source of income these days.
With his savings and Medisave depleted, Oliveiro is worried about not being able to afford the course of cancer treatment that his doctor has prescribed for him.
He is due to start chemotherapy next month which will include a minimum of eight sessions that cost between $5,000 and $6,000 each.
Oliveiro does not have private insurance and said that MediShield Life is not likely to help cover the full cost of the treatment.
Another setback for him is that there is no guarantee that chemotherapy would extend his lifespan.
As Oliveiro lives alone in a flat in Toa Payoh Lor 1, he will also require some assistance while coping with potential side effects of the treatment such as fatigue, nausea, and pain.
He has spoken with social workers from the hospital but said that they have yet to initiate any financial aid.
Dutiful son who left life behind in the US to care for ailing parents
In 2000, Oliveiro left for the United States to work as a quality manager for America West Airlines. He also got married there.
But when he received news that his father was in ill health in 2005, he flew back to Singapore.
Shortly after his father's death, Oliveiro's mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and pneumonia.
As the eldest son in the family, he left his life and possessions behind in the US to take care of his parents. He also parted ways with his wife who was reluctant to relocate to Singapore.
"Losing monetary possessions is nothing compared to caring for your parents," he said.
With assistance from a domestic helper, Oliveiro became his mother's sole caregiver until her passing in 2015.
During this time, he managed restaurants such as North Indian restaurant Tandoor at Holiday Inn Parkview, drawing salaries between $2,500 and $2,800.
But most of his income and savings were spent on his mother's medical treatment and daily living expenses.
Becoming a home chef
After his mother's death, Oliveiro said that it was difficult to find a job at his age.
"People may suggest becoming a Grab or Uber driver, or setting up a hawker stall if you have the funds," he said.
Although he can cook well, Oliveiro did not have the capital to start his own business after many years of caregiving.
A friend suggested that he cook and sell food from his home, so Oliveiro decided to become a home chef and started operating on various online platforms such as Dine Inn.
Whipping up delicious Peranakan dishes at home
"Fortunately, my mum taught me the art of cooking when I was young," Oliveiro quipped.
Brought up in a Peranakan household, he picked up his culinary skills and family recipes from his mother.
He learnt how to toast belachan (shrimp paste), choose the best chili, and haggle for better deals with market stallholders, he said.
Oliveiro described himself as a purist and said: "if it's not authentic Peranakan food, I'm not going to send it out."
And like a professional chef, he takes no shortcuts when he prepares his dishes and sources for the freshest ingredients when he receives orders.
The home chef also tells his customers what to expect when they receive their orders, noting that those tasting authentic dishes for the first time may not be familiar with the unique flavours of heritage cuisine.
Some of Oliveiro's most popular dishes include Ayam Buah Keluak, a chicken stew with pangium edule nuts, and Papaya Titek, a peppery seafood soup.
On social media, many diners raved about his Peranakan dishes such as Gado Gado Magetan, Peranakan Ayam Pongteh and Sambal Nanas.
His home-cooked dishes have also earned praises from big names in local dining scene such as Benny Se Teo, owner of Eighteen Chefs, Catherine Ling from popular food and travel blog Camemberu, KF Seetoh, founder of Makansutra, as well as Pam Oei from local musical cabaret group Dim Sum Dollies.
KF Seetoh was so impressed by the Papaya Titek he had tasted at Oliveiro's home, he asked if there were leftovers that he could bring home.
It is reviews like these that "encourage me to do better (in my cooking) every time," the home chef said.
And his cooking prowess has not gone unnoticed, for he was recently featured preparing Ayam Pongteh in one of Dine Inn's video tutorials.
When asked if there's a person he would like to cook for, Oliveiro lit up and said: "I would like to cook for everyone, especially Anthony Bourdain, an American chef whom I met in Singapore years ago."
Oliveiro said that the culinary guru is currently working with KF Seetoh to bring Singapore street food to New York and he wants to be there when it happens.
Getting help from supportive friends
"I would love to cook and sell my food but I'm getting weaker by the day," Oliveiro said as he paused to catch his breath.
He is currently not well enough to continue being a home chef. The most recent meal he hosted was for a St Joseph's Institution schoolmate and his office associates about two or three weeks ago.
Since then, Oliveiro has been going in and out of the hospital.
When he gets better, he is keen to share his culinary skills and knowledge with others like his new-found friend - 10-year-old Phoebe Lim.
Lim had learnt about Oliveiro's condition on Facebook and started a charity sale to raise funds for his medical fees.
Roping in others in her plan, she prepared and sold 100 bottles of sambal chili and raised about $1,500 in total for Oliveiro.
Luke Lee, founder of meal-sharing platform Dine Inn, also helped to set up a fundraising campaign called #SupportMelvyn with the support from fellow hosts.
Although they had only met in person on a few occasions on roadshows or saw Oliveiro's work online, the hosts had asked Lee what they could do to help him after hearing that he had fallen ill.
"We don't want him to worry too much. We want him to get some rest and leave the cooking to us," Lee told AsiaOne.
More than 20 Dine Inn hosts from all walks of life came together to take part in the campaign that ran from Aug 28 to Sept 30.
Together, they sold more than 500 dishes and raised more than $5,000 for Oliveiro's medical treatment.
On Tuesday (Oct 17), several Dine Inn hosts, staff, and a sponsor handed the money they had raised from the campaign to Oliveiro in his home.
While passing him her contribution, fellow host Nisa Azman teared up as she offered him words of encouragement.
Celebrity chef Eric Teo has also put up a sold-out listing on the platform and will be serving a four-course meal for eight guests on Saturday (Oct 21).
Besides these, Dine Inn has opened separate listings for direct donations where all proceeds will go to Oliveiro.
"Just focus on getting better, Phoebe still has to learn cooking from you, bro. We look forward to your stall opening in New York," Lee said, eliciting chuckles from Oliveiro.
"When I was diagnosed with cancer, all I asked for was spiritual assistance like prayers," Oliveiro said.
He feels humbled and appreciates each and every one who has reached out to him even without him asking for help, he added.
Now, with the show of support from his friends, he is even more determined to fight the disease.
To contribute to Oliveiro's medical treatment fees, visit https://sg.dineinn.com/search?query=supportmelvyn or https://give.asia/story/fight_liver_cancer_with_melvyn.