The PS Lady; Chan See Ting
I first noticed Seets at a creative conference because she was outstanding in the crowd. She carried this cheerful, approachable confidence and at that point, I thought, "Wow, I love her look! She's so brave to go bald. This girl is really pulling the look off really well." I had no idea this style was not one that she chose to make. She later dropped by PSL's pop-up booth to pick an iced latte. We chatted and hit it off. I'm now more than proud to call this amazing woman my friend.
Photographed and interviewed by Audris Adabella
Hi Seets! Congratulations on beating cancer, we are so so happy for you! Thank you for sharing your story with us.
What were you doing (profession) before being diagnosed with cancer?
S: I was a General Paper Tutor and a Management Associate with a social enterprise called The Thought Collective. Absolutely loved my time there, had the best colleagues who genuinely are so wholehearted in the work they do. In fact, right before cancer hit, I was preparing my JC2 kids for their upcoming Prelims and A levels.
When were you diagnosed, and how did you feel?
S: I felt a lump in mid-June 2019, and was officially diagnosed in end July. At that time I was devastated and was reeling from the shock too. It was really unexpected because my family has no cancer history at all, and I didn't display any other symptoms that other breast cancer patients usually experience. Not to mention, the average age for breast cancer patients is about 60 years old, and I was merely 26. The diagnosis also came at a really bad timing because just 3 months prior I had suddenly lost my dad to pneumonia, and I was still coping with the grief. It honestly felt like a double whammy.
What did you find to be the most important thing in life when faced with this diagnosis?
S: It really felt like my world was crumbling, and the only thing that could keep me afloat was my faith in God, so I turned to Him a lot. On the day of my biopsy to ascertain whether the lumps are cancerous, I went home and bawled on my knees in prayer because I was so scared. And in the midst of my fears and confusion, I heard His still small voice: "You will hurt, but no harm will come to you." And that moment I really just felt my fears fading away. Because I know that come what may, my God holds me, and will give me the grace and strength to face what's ahead.
What was the most difficult part of the cancer journey?
S: There are some days when side effects from the treatment ravage the body, and the physical discomfort really takes a massive toll on my mental and emotional state. I had the most supportive community journeying with me, but even then there are times I felt alone, and battled feelings of resentment. It was also difficult seeing the pains my mum had to go through. It must be so hard for someone to lose her husband suddenly and within a few months watch her only child go through such pains.
How did you overcome and who was instrumental in this process of healing?
S: My boyfriend Ian has been such a 10/10 support. We were about to enter into a relationship when I received the diagnosis, and we had a difficult conversation over whether we should pursue a relationship still. He made it very clear that he's all in and absolutely committed, and throughout this entire journey he really made good on his word. Unlike most relationships where they enjoyed a honeymoon phase, we were faced with a daunting challenge, which was actually a blessing in disguise because it strengthened our bond and commitment to each other. We also had amazing friends who helped us breeze through this journey. Literally on the day when my diagnosis was out, my friends organised themselves and set up a google calendar to track my appointments, and made sure I never went for a single one alone. They bought me all the things I would need as I go through treatment, and would come by my house often to liven up the atmosphere and bring cheer to my mum and I. I have been so blessed by their friendship.
What went through your mind when you laid on the operating table, knowing you were going to go under a knife?
S: Prior to the surgery I was extremely anxious. The surgery requires me to be under anesthesia, and that means I have to trust in my surgeons fully that they will make decisions in my best interest. I was also afraid that I was going to wake up feeling trapped in a body that I do not want and cannot love, and there would be nothing I can do to resolve that. Another thing was that I worried if Ian would find me unattractive after the surgery, and how that may affect our sex life after marriage. I had to face up to a lot of insecurities, which didn't have any quick solutions.
(For every bouquet Seet's boyfriend gives, she keeps a petal in this jar)
Has the loss of your hair changed the way you see beauty?
S: For sure. I think a huge part of that conversation happened when I was diagnosed with alopecia. I was 20 then, kinda like the prime age of youthfulness and all, and suddenly I was struck with this disease that doesn't have a cure. I struggled a lot with that, and for some time I couldn't bring myself to see the reflection in the mirror. I also stopped dressing up because I felt really lousy about myself. Even when I wore wigs, I constantly felt self-conscious and wondered if people would notice. But those years really did challenge me to dig deeper into my identity and build it on something that is lasting. I had to shift away from what I have or what I do to who I am. When cancer happened and my oncologist told me that chemotherapy was going to cause hair loss, I actually laughed and told him that's the least of my concerns because ya gurl here has had many years of training! It was a sign that while I still had certain insecurities, my main identity has shifted to something of a surer foundation, and I was more ready and able to let go of the temporal things.
I know we often say that beauty is fleeting, but I think it depends on how you define it. If it's about looks, then yes it definitely fades in the blink of an eye, but if you are talking about the beauty of one's character, it can only age like fine wine. I used to look at women who embody great features and figures and think, wow I wanna look like that, but these days I would very much rather be the woman who knows her worth, speaks up for the things that matter and creates the change she wants to see in the world. That is the kind of beauty I want to see more of.
How do you like your current look!
S: I LOVE IT. It's the most hair I've had in 7 years! I am so excited I wish I could adequately express it through my words here but it's hard. I am so stoked about my hair growing out that I've been updating my Memoji to reflect the length of my hair (Yes I am that extra). I know it sounds trite to some, but I haven't been to a hair salon since 2013 and I cannot wait to go for my first trim. And I can't wait for it to grow to a length where I can tie it up and do a proper hair flick like the diva I am.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
S: I'm a paradigm shifter so I'm gonna break the rules and go for 4 words. Loves God, loves people.
What do you think is the difference between "happiness" and "joy"?
S: The biggest difference for me is that happiness is dependent on circumstances, whereas joy is in spite of. And that's why I find it dangerous when people say all they want in this life is to be happy, because they're going to be pretty miserable for the days to come. If we look at the state of the world right now, whether it's the COVID-19 pandemic or social issues like racism and police brutality, it isn't really an environment that produces happiness. But the 'even so' quality of joy is such that we can experience some kind of gratitude and contentment even in the midst of our suffering and pain, and that is only possible if one has his/her eyes set on a hope that is beyond what this world can offer.
As an overcomer, what is one thing you will say to people going through a tough time?
S: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." This was something that really encouraged me when I was struggling to see hope, that truly there is no darkness that light cannot penetrate. In fact, the darkness is what forces one's gaze to the light. So be patient, and pay attention; there is a beauty to the season that you may miss out on when you are too fixated on what's missing. You are right where you need to be, and one day it will all make sense to you. Take heart and have faith, my friend.
Finally, what would you say to the Seets who first heard that diagnosis?
S: Always listen to that still small voice and trust it with your life. You won't regret it.
Thank you for sharing your story and being strong for yourself and the people around you. Your strength looks like something, and it looks like an overcomer. Goodbye cancer!