Meet Kim Thye today and you’ll be forgiven for not recognising her. Ask, and she will tell you that her secret is in prayer and meditation. And when she sings, oh how she sings! Loudly, joyfully, vivaciously.
Kim Thye loves travelling and has been to quite a few countries. Even when she was diagnosed with the big C, she managed to squeeze in a trip to China. No matter where she goes, she loves meeting new people. And keeping in touch with old friends. She chats with her former classmates (and teacher) regularly on social media.
It all started in 2006, when Kim Thye discovered she had breast cancer. The disease spread to other parts of her body, causing her to eventually become bedridden, and paralysed on one side. “My own body was a prison, and I was trapped inside,” recalls Kim Thye. “Death was constantly hovering above me like a black cloud.”
Upon the advice of her doctor, Kim Thye’s husband called Hospis Malaysia. Nurse Emily made an appointment to visit the family. Kim Thye’s weak legs and lower back were identified as the main concerns. Raymond, her physiotherapist, remembers the first time they met: “She wasn’t really game for anything. However, by just listening and reassuring her everything would be alright, we managed to persuade Kim Thye to give physical therapy a try.”
In about two weeks, Kim Thye could walk with the help of a walker. Within seven months, she climbed down from the second floor (the flat where she lives) to the ground floor. It only took her 30 minutes. “There and then, she found her independence,” says Raymond.
Many people are quite surprised at how much Madam Kim Thye has changed; physically, emotionally and mentally. “When we met and then worked on her rehabilitation process over the months, I really didn’t expect her to improve so much,” says Raymond. “I thought I was only providing mobility exercises to help her move around at home. It took a lot of effort and determination on her part to be where she is today.” Her nurse Emily agrees. After her initial visit, she taught Kim Thye’s family how to properly care for her. “We had to rearrange the furniture in her flat so she can move around easily, and be more independent. The doctors also taught her to how assess her level of pain, how to manage pain and keep it under control,” says Emily. “And sometimes the best medicine is a listening ear.”
Hospis loaned the family several equipment, including a hospital bed, ripple mattress, walker and wheelchair. All these helped remove potential stress and allowed the family to spend quality time together.
“When Terrence (her first son) got married, it was one of the happiest days of my life,” enthuses Kim Thye. “I never thought I would see it happen.” Her daughter-in-law is now 3 months pregnant. Kim Thye has already picked the names for a boy, and for a girl – she doesn’t know its gender yet. And like any proud grandmother, she can’t wait to meet and hold her first grandchild.
Kim Thye takes out her favourite picture. It’s a picture of her kissing Ah Heng. “He’s 4 years older than me,” says Kim Thye. “A typical kampong boy. My father was so afraid that I would end up as a rubber tapper’s wife – he didn’t want me to have a hard life. So he stopped us from going out, and made it quite clear he didn’t like ‘that man’. It was during this time that our love grew and became even stronger. Adversity has a way of strengthening relationships. After a few years, my father eventually relented. We got married in 1984 and remain happily married till this day!”
What keeps her going? Kim Thye points to her spiritual strength, faith in things unseen and yet to come. And what is your advice for the next generation? Kim Thye thinks aloud. “There will always be problems. Stay strong. Never give up. Always remember love conquers all things.”
And the best thing about it all? Maybe it’s an Asian thing but we don’t hug or say “I love you” as much as we should. “My children always tell me, “I want to say ‘I love you, mummy’ but I only dare say it in my heart.” Now they say it all the time. And my daughter hugs me whenever she sees me. She’s not shy at all,” Kim Thye laughs. “My sons too, although I think Terrence is still getting used to the idea.”
She is thankful for the many volunteers at Hospis. ‘They never fail to make me feel at home.” Kim Thye takes out her photo albums and flips through each one. There are a lot more empty pages to fill. And loads of memory on her smartphone for more pictures. “Stay happy, stay positive,” she advises. “Everything will turn out well.”
And what about her personal journey? “Once, long ago, I thought my life was over – I was bedridden, a sorry case and constantly thinking about death. Today, the reality is far from it.” Kim Thye laughs. “Coming to Hospis changed everything.”
Kim Thye passed away peacefully in December 2013.
Patient Story from Palliative Care – An initiative by Hospis Malaysia