This week we chat to one very special That Mama, Simone Chen-Scott. This gorgeous mother of two, former Communications Director at the Banyan Tree Hotel and Resorts Group and budding jewellery designer shares with us how a battle against breast cancer has changed her life — for the better. Encouraging all women to make themselves a priority, Simone is one inspiring mama who we’ve learnt so much from!
Can you tell us a little bit about your family and the life changing events you are currently going through?
I’m a 43-year-old mama of 2 children – Joshua (8) and Kianna (5) and my husband Charlie is from the UK. I was born and raised in Taiwan and migrated to Sydney, Australia with my family when I was 18 years old. I started my adventure in Singapore back in 2002 when I worked as a Public Relations Manager at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. A few years later I joined Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts as its Group Corporate Communications Director. I became a full-time mama shortly after Joshua was born 8 years ago.
I felt a lump in my left breast in the shower last September. The doctor told me that from the mammogram and ultrasound, the lump looked benign but I should have it taken out anyway because of its size. During the physical examination, the doctor found another smaller lump next to the bigger one so I ended up having both lumps removed at the same time. As the 3 breast surgeons I saw all told me that my lumps looked benign, I couldn’t believe it when the biopsy results confirmed that I had “Mucinous Carcinoma”. Apparently 2 in 100 women get this type of breast cancer, although it’s not as aggressive and less likely to spread to other parts of the body. Keeping my fingers and toes crossed, I went back to the operating room and had a lumpectomy as well as a biopsy on my lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread. I’m very lucky that the cancer didn’t spread so I was advised to have 21 doses of radiotherapy plus hormone treatment for 5 years. I finished radiotherapy in January this year and I’m super happy that the worst is over and I’m recovering well. I’m exercising again and trying to get the flexibility back in my left arm and shoulder.
Looking back, it all feels like a bad dream. But I’m so grateful and blessed that I’m alive and I can be with my family again. I won’t lie — cancer is scary but it’s treatable if detected early. I always recommend other mamas to listen to the speech by Dr. William Li on TedTalks about how to eat to beat cancer.
How do you stay positive in the face of such news and what is your best advice to other women?
Normal processes of grief: denial, anger, depression and acceptance. When I found out that I had breast cancer, I was in denial for one day and cried my eyes out. I then skipped the anger and depression bit and accepted the fact pretty quickly. I thought about my two young children and my only thought was I wanted to see them grow up and to get the cancer out of my body as soon as possible. I had no time to sit and feel sorry for myself. So I focused on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why me’.
I know many mamas out there, like me, tend to put our family’s needs before our own, and believe that everything can wait till later. But with health, there’s no ‘later’. I certainly learned a precious lesson. I exercise regularly and eat lots of greens; I don’t smoke or drink much. I thought I was healthy so I had put off a much needed health check-up for too long. So my humble advice for other women is never take your health for granted and do regular check-ups. Especially if you are close to 40, a mammogram is necessary. The age of breast cancer patients is getting younger and younger as we are living in a much more toxic world these days. Exercise (even just a brisk walk for 30 minutes) 2 to 3 times a week and eat a balanced diet to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
How has your health condition affected your perspective on family and parenting?
To be told that I had cancer was a huge wake up call. All of a sudden, the usual hugs and kisses I got from my kids felt like they could be the last ones. Just simply sitting next to them and smelling their hair makes me so happy that I want to cry. To hear them giggle and dancing about when I play the piano makes me smile from ear to ear too. The sweetest pleasures are the simplest, as my husband Charlie puts it and I couldn’t agree more.
I cherish every moment I have with my family now even more so than before. I’m trying to be more relaxed with my way of parenting too (so that I’m calmer).
How do you balance being a busy mama, with taking the time needed to care for yourself?
My priority is to get my health back in order so I set aside an hour or so in the morning after sending the kids off to school to exercise. I think it’s important for us as mamas (whether working or not) to have some time for ourselves during the day — be it walking or reading a few pages of a good book. Some quiet time can work wonders for our minds.
Favourite activity with your kids in Singapore?
Our whole family loves swimming and we have the best weather for it so we spend a lot of our free time in the pool at the Swiss Club.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
I would vote for Café Melba at Goodman Art’s Centre. They have a good selection on the menu for the whole family and a big park for kids to run around in – it’s great. We also love going to Coastes at Siloso Beach, so the kids can play on the sand. It helps that the food is lovely there too.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Taiwan for sure! I know Taiwan is not on many people’s radar but there are many beautiful spots in Taiwan which are family-friendly. We’ve taken our kids to a farm in the mountain some 1,750 metres above sea level where the scenery is breath taking. Or our favourite place to go every summer is Silks Place Hotel in Taroko Gorge. We do half-day trekking in different trails, swim in crystal clear creeks then watch a movie under the stars… it’s quite a magical place to visit. We are still exploring Taiwan as there are different places to see.
Activity that I do not love to do but do it anyway because my kids love it…
It has to be going to Fidgets or any indoor playground…
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Going to a nice restaurant or a jazz night is always fun and just spending some one-on-one time together is lovely.
Favourite date-night restaurants?
We don’t have favourite restaurants, as there are so many good eateries in Singapore. We tend to try a different restaurant on each of our date-nights. However, the Burrata Cheese and Parma Ham and Rucola Salad at In Italy on Craig Road is delicious and I personally love the Moules Frites at Brasserie Gravroche — it brings back fond memories of a holiday we had in France before we were married.
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
I worked in Corporate Communications for hotel groups such as the Mandarin Oriental and Banyan Tree before having children. I enjoyed my pre-baby career tremendously, learned a lot and met some extraordinary people along the way. After Joshua was born, my husband and I decided it would be best for me to become a full-time mum and I have never looked back. Over the past few years I have done translation works for hotels, set up a Pandora franchise in Taiwan and completed some PR consulting on a project basis.
I have also always enjoyed doing arts and crafts. I started making jewellery for myself, such as necklaces and braided bracelets. Slowly I began receiving orders from friends, so I thought… why not create a jewellery brand since I enjoy making them so much? I started up Bonami Jewellery and had my first trunk show last September, where I sold 85% of the collection. Ironically I found the lump in my left breast on the morning of my trunk show, so I had to put Bonami on hold while I received treatments. Now that I am feeling a little stronger, I’m slowly working on my second collection and would like to build the brand from where I had left it.
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
“Work” to me after having children means doing something that I love and enjoy (provided that income is not an essential consideration).
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
If you decide to work, it would be best to find something that you absolutely love and enjoy — then you will succeed.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
As an old Chinese saying goes, “Raise your first born by the book, raise your second child as a piglet”. Do whatever works for you and your family. One rule doesn’t fit all…
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Enjoy the first few weeks of your newborn! I have a picture of Joshua sleeping soundly on my chest when he was only 3 days old. He was tiny and the scent of a newborn was delicious! It was such a precious moment and before I knew it, he was 135cm tall! They grow fast. I wish I could bottle that moment…
Join a playgroup and make friends with fellow mamas. It helps a lot when you become a new mum. I was lucky enough to have met some really special mamas from Baby Café at Mother and Child in Tanglin Mall after Joshua was born. We would meet at the café every week and when our babies grew bigger, we started a playgroup and supported each other over the years. It means a lot to have good friends when living abroad; they became our families away from home.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Playing handball and pretending I’m one of the Little Ponies!
My most humbling mama moment was…
Holding Joshua and Kiki in my arms after they were born. Seeing their little faces for the first time was truly magical and humbling.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
Whether Joshua and Kiki have kicked their covers off. I go into their rooms to check and make sure they are covered before going back to bed.
Even when my child has a family of his/her own, I’ll still…
Hug them and kiss them whenever I get the chance and tell them I love them.
My favourite moment of the day is…
First thing in the morning — it’s so nice to lie next to my children, smell their sleepiness and kiss them until they wake up.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Simone! And a huge thanks also goes to the ever fabulous, Gunilla from SugarLight Photography for capturing these beautiful photos of Simone and her children!