Friday, June 28, 2019


I turned 71 today - 28 June, 2019. 

When each birthday comes around, we get well-meaning reminders of how quickly the years have rolled by. It's not just the number of big and small candles that announce our age on the celebratory cake, but also the family members that gather around us for the all-important customary birthday photos. Our adult children and our grandchildren are yet another reminder of our age and of how fast time flies.

My elder daughter celebrated her 50th milestone a month ago. My younger daughter has another two years to reach that same milestone. My grandson will be 19 in August, followed by my three granddaughters at 16, 15 and 13. My youngest grandchild is 5. 

I am reminded of the lyrics from the song 'Sunrise, Sunset' from the movie 'Fiddler on the Roof'. 

Births, weddings and deaths are all part and parcel of life. As we live, so shall we leave - hopefully surrounded by people we love and who love us. 

Let's be proud of our age, whether we are 50 or 80. Never mind if society thinks we are past our prime and over the hill. It's more important what we think of ourselves. If we think we are 'useless', 'unproductive' and a 'burden' to the family and society, then we are. Time for a mindset change. 

I can never understand why women in particular fear this stigma of ageing. Why are they so defensive about disclosing their age? It's funny how those in their 40s and 50s want to keep their age a secret, and those in their 60s want you to guess their age. But once they have reached 70 and beyond, they wear their age with pride like a badge of honour. They will voluntarily tell you their age. And why not? After all, old age is a privilege denied to many. It is a mark of having survived all the ups and downs of life. 

Growing old is natural and inevitable. So why fight it or try to reverse it? That would be like trying to stem the tide. We should look at our wrinkles as life-lines of experience, and our greying hair as threads of wisdom.

Let's not waste precious time wishing we could turn back the clock. Let's not fill our days with regrets, of things we could have done but didn't. Worse, let's not get stuck in that negative mindset with the all-too-familiar refrains of “Old already. Cannot study anymore. Cannot travel anymore. Cannot dance anymore. Cannot chew anymore. Cannot hear well anymore. Cannot wear bright colours anymore. Cannot enjoy romance anymore....” Aiyoh!

And we wonder why young people see us as decrepit old fogies ready to crumble into dust or ashes any minute. That’s how many of us see ourselves too. Is that why we avoid looking at the mirror unless we have our make-up on? A smile works much better than cosmetics - it lifts up our face instantly and pushes back the years.

No need for expensive botox, hair treatment or facelifts. Throw away those anti-ageing, anti-wrinkles cream. Invest in joy, love, forgiveness, gratitude. Eat sensibly. Exercise regularly. Nourish our skin with moisturizers. Smile often. Have a hearty laugh every now and then. Make positive words a part of our daily vocabulary. Think good thoughts. 

Add fun, friends, and fantasy to our lives. Spice it up with a dash of colour and romance. Dance in the rain, sing in the sunshine, enjoy the outdoors, see the world through the eyes of a child eager to discover and learn once more.

We can't stop growing old, but we don't have to BE old. We need to think outside THAT dreaded box or we'll be six feet under sooner than we want.

I can never understand folks who say they don't want to live too long and be a burden to their children. Why not prepare for a happy old age and make it happen? Surely we want to be around to see our grandchildren graduate, get married and start a family? Or simply just be around to see them go through life as we have done before them? And if they need our counsel, we'll be there to provide it. 

As for me, I hope to live to 100 in good health, God willing. Here's a toast to myself - to many more happy birthdays to come. 

(Above photo: The original words were 'My Last Portrait' but I changed it to 'My Best Portrait'. The photo was taken by a photographer who specialises in funeral portraits. He had a charity booth at the Death Festival organised by Xiao En in November 2018.)

Friday, May 24, 2019


I didn't get the results of the biopsy till my third follow-up visit on 4 May as Dr Chan was on leave. Frankly, on all my visits I was more interested in knowing when I could stop wearing the compression tights than in the biopsy results. When I found out that male patients had worse issues with the tights as they had to adjust their 'jewels' all the time, I felt I should be grateful that my situation was not as bad as theirs - I had no jewels to protect!

I didn't even ask about the biopsy report. Still, it was a relief to know that the lump was benign. However, Dr Chan advised me to get an MRI done every year for the next five years to make sure everything was okay. Attached to the report were some images of the removed lump and the tissues surrounding it. As they are too graphic for public viewing, I shall not post them here.

The first few days when I was back at my daughter and son-in-law's apartment I had to get used to moving around gingerly with the aid of a walking frame. I have always been a fast walker ever since I gave up driving almost 20 years ago. Lots of practice! I had to remind myself to slow down. I also had to get used to taking prescription drugs. For someone who had stopped taking supplements years ago, I now had to take an array of antibiotics, gastric protectors and pain-killers. 

What was more challenging was having to lug around the bottle of post-surgery drainage fluid 24/7. My granddaughter Hana figured out a way to hook it to the walking frame so I could have both hands free for the frame. At night I slept with the bottle beside me. When I woke up I had to make sure the clamps, green vacuum indicator and the green connector were still securely in place, and to note the level of the drainage. The bottle literally became an extension of my body. Imagine my immense relief when Dr Chan removed it on my second follow-up visit on 30 April. 

Having to wear the panty-hose compression tights day and night remained the biggest hassle. My daughter Moon and Heden, our helper, had to assist in helping put them on for me. I had to wear them for at least a month. With the current hot weather, imagine how warm it was to sleep with the tights on. On top of that, the tights made my feet swell and my right knee too. The latter became bulbous and sensitive to the touch. I later learned that this could be due to seroma - fluid that sometimes builds up in the body after surgery. It had probably collected around my right knee. I had a choice of draining the fluid or letting the body absorb it over time. I decided to just let my body do some repair work on my knee.

For the first few days after I was discharged, I only sponged myself. Showering required a bit of acrobatics and flexibility so as not to wet the dressing too much even though it was supposed to be waterproof. Sorry, no photos to show how I managed to shower and wash my hair. It gave me some ideas on how to improve the design of bathrooms to make them more user-friendly for people with physical limitations. Having grab bars or hand rails may not be sufficient.

Unable to venture out for the first three weeks except to see the doctor, the balcony became my favorite place to hang out. I was there at all hours of the day. From the 12th floor, I watched the birds flying by above the tree-tops. I counted the number of cars speeding by below, and watched with envy people jogging by in the evenings, and wondered when I could start brisk walking again. The sunsets were beautiful, so was the sight of the new moon on the first night of Ramadan. The balcony was also where I did my daily push-ups, heel raise exercises and stretches.  

I had brought along a resistance band from KL. Unfortunately it was a tad too short to do much with it. Resistance bands are color-coded according to the degree of tension. They are great for strengthening the bigger muscles in the legs, chest and back. I highly recommend these bands if you don't have weights at home. They are so affordable and easy to bring along when you travel. My mom had hip surgery after a fall in 2011. The physiotherapist at University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) had demonstrated some resistance band exercises to me so I could help my mom do them at home. Mom recovered enough muscle strength in her legs to be able to walk with a walking frame after several weeks. She was 85 years old at the time.

My last visit to see Dr Chan was on 18 May. By then the stitches had healed well enough for him to declare 'no further follow-up needed'. Music to my ears! I celebrated immediately with a belated Mother's Day shopping spree at Robinson's, courtesy of Moon. 

If not for the surgery on my leg, I would have been in Yantai, Shandong today, speaking at the 2nd World Senior Tourism Congress 23-25 May 2019, in my capacity as VP of the University of  the Third Age (U3A), KL & Selangor. Moon had advised me to decline the invitation as she said I probably wouldn't have recovered sufficiently by then to travel so far alone. She was right, of course.

There are many things I have learned from this episode of my life, but that will be for another blog article! :-)