Emma bounces back on stage
Actress Emma Yong is stronger after battling stomach cancer and will be in a musical next month
Published on Jun 16, 2011
Positive thinking helped newly-wed actress Emma Yong recover from her illness and she is well enough to star as Cinderella in the musical Into The Woods from July 29
Actress Emma Yong, one-third of cabaret trio Dim Sum Dollies, hit headlines earlier for pulling out of two productions citing 'medical reasons' but has now revealed the true extent of her illness, and her remarkable recovery.
She was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer in January this year.
In an exclusive interview with Life! at a cafe in the Botanic Gardens, the 34-year-old musical actress says she went for a body check-up after suffering stomach cramps during the run of Blackbird in September last year, a play in which she played a victim of paedophilia confronting her aggressor.
She was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer, the most advanced of all cancer states, and was 'riddled with tumours', including in every single vertebra, her pelvis, kidneys and womb.
After undergoing 10 cycles of chemotherapy, she says that all her tumours are undetectable now.
Looking radiant in a grey cotton dress, she says: 'My oncologist told me recently that when he first saw me in January, he thought I would be dead in three to five months. Now I count every day as a miracle.
'I just got married, I'm enjoying the life of being newly-wed. We moved into our new place in Tiong Bahru late last year and we are enjoying setting up our new house.'
Her husband, whom she declined to name, is an interior designer and they had been dating for six years.
Yong is well enough to play Cinderella in Into The Woods, a Steven Sondheim musical put on by Dream Academy and directed by Glen Goei. It plays at the Esplanade Theatre from July 29.
However, there have been dark days.
She said the diagnosis was 'totally out of the blue'.
Her two older sisters, who are doctors, started crying when they saw the scans. 'They thought it was really bad.'
She decided to keep mum about her situation except to close friends and family, 'to conserve energy for healing'.
She pulled out of acting in Closer, a sexy play about tangled relationships, in February, and 881, the getai musical, in April.
She had earlier planned to get married in January and decided to go ahead with the wedding, a simple affair to which close family and friends were invited.
She started her chemotherapy the day after. On the occasions when her husband was not free, her good friends, directors Selena Tan and Goei, took turns sitting with her during the treatment sessions.
She says she is lucky that she did not suffer many side effects. She did not lose her hair or feel nauseous.
Her husband had been a big source of support and did not treat her 'like I was a cancer patient'.
She says: 'He doesn't give me extra privileges. When I try to say, 'I have cancer, can you wash the dishes?', it doesn't work on him.'
She maintained a positive outlook throughout. 'I didn't spend much time being despondent. I didn't feel ill.'
Meanwhile, 'the RGS (Raffles Girls School) girl in me' resurfaced and she ordered many books on cancer to educate herself on the illness.
There is no history of cancer in her family and she thinks her high-stress lifestyle and unhealthy diet probably contributed to her illness.
She confesses that she was a workaholic and tended to be emotional. 'I stressed myself out and probably gave myself an ulcer that developed into something else.'
She was also 'addicted to carbonated drinks' and was a 'junk food junkie'.
Now, she drinks only water and fresh fruit juice, and eats more vegetables. Her mother, a retired teacher, cooks for her every day.
Yong has no other engagements for this year apart from Into The Woods as she does not want to stress herself out.
'My attitude has changed towards performing. Now I'm grateful for every chance to sing and act, and to reach out to people. I feel very lucky.'
Professor Soo Khee Chee, director of the National Cancer Centre, says it is 'a rare occurrence' that tumours in stage 4 stomach cancer respond so well to chemotherapy.
He says the five-year survival rate for stage 4 stomach cancer is about 15 per cent. 'The fact that she responds to chemotherapy is a good sign. But it's better to be cautiously optimistic,' he adds.
In Singapore, more than 600 people are diagnosed with stomach cancer every year and about 400 die from it. Stomach cancer is the No. 5 cancer among men and the No. 7 among women here.
Yong says: 'I live well, I believe in the power of positive thinking. I'm grateful for every day. This definitely heightened my appreciation for life.'