“What is there to fear?”

These are the words of a cancer survivor who battled it twice – first when he was 61 years old, and two years later.

Known to be a resilient and an overcomer of sorts, Mr Tan Seng Kin, 80, is now an active senior at the LB AAC @ Tampines 434.

Reminiscing about the past, he said when the doctor first told him of the grim news, he remembers asking on the next steps that must be taken.

“I was and still am a practical person. There is no point in panicking or getting your head and heart heavy with all the worries and what ifs. If there is a solution – get it done, if not, you’d meet with your fate,” he said adding that the recurring intestinal cancer was not the only challenge that life threw at him.

He was unyielding throughout the ordeal and endured the countless chemotherapy sessions with the assistance of his grandnieces and grandnephews who would make it a point to visit him as much as they can since Mr Tan lives alone.

Mr Tan with his Nagomi painting, a healing Japanese pastel art with fingers.

Of Childhood and Hawker Centres

“I never got married. To get a wife, one must either be well educated or earning handsomely. I had to stop my studies when I was nine and start working as my father’s business went bankrupt then,” said Tan while reminiscing about his childhood spent at hawker centres and grocery stores cleaning and peeling vegetables to be sold.

He later started doing manual labour at construction sites for better pay. During his free time, Tan goes fishing nearby Changi area and sells the haul to the stalls at the hawker centres.

“When I used to go fishing before, sometimes not all the hauls would be sold off at the end of the day. I used to bring them back and cook them in various styles for myself to eat. I think that’s when my love for cooking developed,” he said adding that he’d always have that specially cooked dinner in solitude while listening to the radio.

After years of toiling in the construction industry, when Tan turned 38, he admitted that he greatly missed the hustle and bustle of the hawker centres and returned to rekindle his love for the hawker culture.

He learnt the ropes quickly and was soon given the task of prepping the food and managing the stall.

Once he had collected enough funds, Tan finally took a leap of faith and rented a stall at a nearby coffee shop to cook and sell Kway Chap!

Mr Tan completed his SCDF First Aid & Fire Safety Training at LB AAC @ Tampines 434

Life Goes on with Twists and Turns

He accepted that his culinary journey was not a bed of roses, but for 13 years, Tan relished his love for cooking at that period until it lasted.

“The rental for the stall was hiked multiple times until I couldn’t afford it. I had to let go of the stall. I didn’t stop there, I hopped on to another stall and joined in as an assistant cook. Of course, I missed being in charge like before, but I took it in my stride. I was happy that I was still cooking,” said Tan who remained undeterred by the circumstances in his life.

When things were going on as per routine, Tan’s life took few unpleasant twists since then.

“I told you about my battle with cancer when I was 61, it recurred when I was 63. Later when I was 68, I suffered a heart attack and had to go for an angioplasty. Finally, I hope, pneumonia hit me when I was 72,” said Tan with a chuckle.

Without a waver in his smile, Tan said the decade that was filled with hospital visits and pain, was also part of his life where he was the strongest and bravest, believing he can overcome it all – with his strong will.

“Recently I was diagnosed COVID-19 positive. Within three days I was back on my feet! Everybody was astounded by the little time I took to recover! I came back to the LB AAC the very next day after I tested negative, to continue playing my routine games,” said Tan.

Mr Tan relaxing after a cycling activity at the East Coast Park

LB AAC as a Second Home

He comes to the centre every morning without fail to join all the activities, especially the games session which includes Rummy-O, video games, board games, and more.

“LB is my second home. They have multiple activities here every day, and I only go home late afternoon after ensuring I have participated in them all! It is very lively here, and I won’t miss coming here for anything. It is sad that the centre is closed on weekends, so I will just go to the kopitiam nearby and play crosswords on my phone to fill my time,” he added.

When asked about his future plans, Tan said he wants to enjoy life as it is, living a stress-free life.

“I have been working all my life, I even continued working at the stall after I recovered from cancer. To tone down and to have a less-rushed environment, I switched career to be a cleaner at a nearby school until I was 68 years old.

“I know I can continue working but I believe it is time I spend time for myself and enjoy every moment in life. That’s why I’m here every day!” gestured Tan at the LB centre, as he went off to join another video game for the day.

We hope that these stories would inspire you to reach out and touch the lives of others.

If you would like to share your thoughts on these stories, please feel free to email us at cp@lb.org.sg

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