Daphne Khoo, 29, Radio DJ

3 Inspiring Women Who Beat The Odds With Cancer Daphne Khoo
Season 1 Singapore Idol finalist and radio DJ Daphne Khoo overcame ovarian cancer more than three years ago

Singer and Radio DJ Daphne Khoo was in complete shock the day she learnt she had cancer. “One day, I was hit by a really bad allergy. My eyes were swollen, my arms and legs were covered in hives!” recalls the first Singapore Idol contest finalist.

When the allergist couldn’t find a cause, Daphne was fast-tracked to a full body check-up: “An ultrasound scan of my abdomen area showed a 10 cm-wide tumour sitting next to my left ovary. They said it may or may not be cancerous and then referred me to a specialist to have it removed,” says the 29-year-old, who was studying music and songwriting at the Berklee College of Music in Boston at that time.

After she informed her family members, they quickly flew to Boston to be with Daphne as she underwent a unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy to remove her left ovary and fallopian tube, and an omentectomy which cuts her belly open and the fatty tissues of the organs removed to check for cancer.

The entire procedure took nearly five hours.

To ensure she would someday have her own children, Daphne banked 19 ova before the surgery for future use. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if I can have children in the future, I would do it,” says the sprightly singer.

The post-surgery report confirmed it was Dysgerminoma, a very rare type of ovarian cancer where a malignant tumour grows in the ovary.

“I was lucky I had the surgery early because when they opened me up, the tumour had grown another 3 cm in just two weeks!” shares Daphne. “My mum had suffered from Stage One breast cancer 10 years earlier so I knew cancer was no joke.”

“Instead of sobbing in self-pity, I went into autopilot mode and did what I needed to do to get well again.”

“When the doctors recommended chemotherapy, I applied for a three-month absence from school and left for New York where I would receive the treatment.”

It’s been over three years since her battle with the Big C and Daphne remains cancer-free, save for a daily reminder in the form of an upside down “T” shape scar that stretches from her abdomen down to her pelvic. Now the picture of radiant health, Daphne is busy composing and performing – she penned and sang one of the three official theme songs at this year’s 28th SEA Games “Greatest”– and has plans to release a single at year’s end.

She also started a new career as a deejay with SAFRA Radio Power 98 FM: “Being a deejay is quite a refreshing change for me and I get to listen to songs at work which I love anyways,” she says.

Cristalle Wang, 20, Student

3 Inspiring Women Who Beat The Odds With Cancer
Cristalle battled Stage 2 ovarian cancer when she was just 15 years old – and won

It was right in the middle of playing a girls’ soccer match in KL, Cristalle, then 15 and the goalie on the team, was kneeling on all fours desperately waving for the referee’s attention: “There was a sudden sharp pain in my abdomen,” says the student of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Tourism and Resort Management course, “It hurt so bad that I had doubled over and needed help to walk off the field. I felt nausea and started to vomit.”

“I thought maybe I’d eaten a bad clam.”

But the tummy aches continued to haunt her. “For weeks, the pain would wake me up in the night – It was like someone was stabbing me in the stomach with a knife and I couldn’t move. Around the same time, my belly started to bloat and turn slightly hard – I thought it was just my six packs forming from my daily gym sessions,” laughs the bubbly teenager at her “silliness”.

When Cristalle finally sought a doctor’s opinion months after the first attack, she was briskly admitted into hospital for further tests the same day.

“I remember being asked to leave the room when the doctor disclosed the findings of my tests to my parents. It turned out that I had a 19-cm long tumour resting on my pelvis and there was a chance it was cancerous.”

Her parents were so calm before her that Cristalle didn’t quite realise the gravity of the situation. While her friends at school began their Secondary Four year and prepped for the ‘O’ Levels, Cristalle was confined to bed after an 8-hour operation which left a permanent 22 cm-long scar across her pelvis. A post-surgery analysis confirmed Cristalle had Stage 2 ovarian cancer.

“The doctor told my parents I had maybe five months to live,” Cristalle says. 

While most patients may give up on life then, this bubbly teen didn’t. “I continued to attend school in-between six chemotherapy cycles. I worked doubly hard to make up for my absence. I would borrow my classmates’ notes and sat outside the teachers’ room to complete my assignments so I could easily approach them for help,” she says, “Everyone treated me like a princess even when I was bald and bloated from the chemo.”

Cristalle’s soldiering spirit paid off – the cancer went into remission and she scored 15 points at the GCE ‘O’ Levels and was accepted into the diploma course of her choice.

“I’m quite contented with my results since I was absent half the time,” she says. “I think if it wasn’t for my illness, I might not have learned to appreciate simple day-to-day activities like going to school and being around friends.”

Vivien Khoo, 43, Team Manager

3 Inspiring Women Who Beat The Odds With Cancer Vivien Khoo
Vivien Khoo won’t be beaten down, having overcome cancer twice

When Vivien removed her thyroid gland three years ago after being diagnosed with a common type of thyroid cancer, she thought she had dealt with her share of bad luck. So imagine her dismay when a chance mammogram showed a 2 cm-large lump in her left breast just a year after her thyroidectomy.

The biopsy showed she had Stage 3 breast cancer and that the cancer cells had spread to her left arm and affected several lymph nodes.

“I cried non-stop and asked ‘Why me?'”

“But my doctor told me frankly that he didn’t have a clue,” says the team manager of a corporate travel agency who has two kids – a son, 6, and daughter, 12.

After coming to terms with the illness, Vivien underwent a lumpectomy to remove the lump and infected lymph nodes. She also endured six cycles of chemotherapy and 25 weeks of radiotherapy, and is now on long term medication.

People were her saving grace: “My employer kept my position for me while I went on a 10 months’ sabbatical to receive treatment. My mum quit her job to care for me, and my husband came with me to all hospital visits,” she says.

On the road to recovery, Vivien is more mindful about what she eats and jogs weekly. “I completed the 3.5 km event at last year’s Run For Hope, and aim to finish 10 km at next year’s run. By supporting this cause, I hope cancer can someday be cured like the common cold.”

Text: Sylvia Ong 
Photos: Chia Yoon Nyen