IN HER I FIND STRENGTH
As part of our “Be There for Mom” initiative for this Mother’s Day, we spoke to Malisse Tan, exploring her experience of becoming a new mother (while having to fight cancer at the same time), and how her relationship with her own mother has contributed to her journey. Malisse revealed to us her sources of strength for turning fears into hopes.
Your daughter, Aleya, is 15-month-old now. Could you share with us your thoughts and feelings the first time you held Aleya in your arms? It was an indescribable feeling – I will admit I was tearing a lot! And that was together with a combination of pure joy, astonishment that I had this little human in my arms and a new found level of love.
At what point did you realise that you’re going to be a mother? What did you do to prepare for it? I found out I was pregnant after I had quit my successful corporate job to take the risk to start my own tech startup. Some people thought I was nuts to have a baby at such a risky time, but I saw it as a great time to enjoy my pregnancy and prepare for a baby while pursuing personal interests at my own timing.
I am a type-A planner and so I prepared through excel sheets, research and attending baby expos to have the basics of everything we needed, including moving to a new place all by my third trimester!
When your baby daughter was three-month old, you were diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In your open letter published in Prestige Malaysia recently, you wrote, “Even though I’m in recovery, I admit I still carry the fear of relapse. My fear isn’t of death; it’s the fear of not being there for my family.” Could you share a little bit more with us on this? As I write this, I still feel this fear especially with a pending PET scan coming up this early May. Being the eldest growing up in my family, I have the innate instinct of “taking care of everyone” which still lives with me today. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to play that role as a mother, wife, daughter, sister and as an individual to myself to the fullest I can. When I die, I want it to be due to old age and whatever comes with that, not through cancer in my youth especially when I have so much more to give and so much more to do!
How did you turn that fear into strength? And how has Aleya played a role in this? Turning a fear into a strength is about perception. I guess I decided for myself to take the situation pragmatically. I’ve learned I can’t control some things in life and will have to deal with the situation in the best way, if and when something happens. I am blessed that I have Aleya and she has been one of the biggest reasons that has pulled me through everything until today, and will continue to do so for the rest of what life I have. I will admit though, although the timing was tough, dealing with being a new parent and going through treatment, but in effect, it was because I had this new precious thing in my life that gave me more reason to get my butt out of bed and live life as normally as I could.
Let’s talk about your relationship with your own mother. Could you describe what is that like? Mum was of course mum in my younger childhood days, but for the most part growing up and even now, mum has always been a best friend. She didn’t watch me play; she played with me. She didn’t just make me laugh, she laughed with me. She didn’t just hug me when I cried, she has cried with me. And she has been there in every milestone in my life whether we were in the same country or not. My mum is such a funny, big-hearted, compassionate and generous person, that EVERYONE loves being in her presence!
We truly admire your courage and zest for life — before and after being diagnosed with cancer. You are driven, entrepreneurial and a true fighter. How do you think your mother has played a role in empowering you and influencing your achievements? My mother has experienced both working for corporates and being an entrepreneur. Having grown up in New Zealand, there were no such conveniences as domestic helpers or home services. I’ve seen first hand, my mum bringing up 3 children in her 20’s and 30’s, always cooked for us and still made time to make our childhood so fun and memorable.
My mother is one of the most resilient people I know in both a personal and professional capacity. And she has come out stronger, wiser and still compassionate and loving. The way I see it is, if my mother can do it, so can I!
What are some of the things that your mother has done for you that you wish you could provide the same for your daughter? My mother has been a role model in being what a human being should be — compassionate, generous, thinking of others, laugh as much as possible and make the best out of whatever situation life throws at us. No matter our life circumstance, I hope that I can guide Aleya to always be humble and appreciative in all that she has, always giving to others and be the best version of herself she can be.
In conjunction with Mother’s Day, what message would you like to dedicate to your mother?
If you don’t know by now, you are my personal she-ro. Thank you for all that you’ve sacrificed, your unbiased love and your honest wisdom. Thank you for also being a fantastic grandmother to Aleya and looking forward to see her grow with you in our lives.
Happy Mother’s Day! I love you.