Dr. Richard Teo, who was a 40-year-old millionaire and cosmetic surgeon with a stage-4 lung cancer

Dr Richard Teo Keng Siang
Recorded at the Dental Christian Fellowship , on 24 Nov 2011, 8 months after his diagnosis.

Richard would have liked to share this with you. We are doing this to continue his work.

Please have a read and leave it behind for someone else to benefit from his sharing.

If you would like a copy, please let any of his family or close friends know and we will be able to provide both the audio recording as well as the transcript.

Thank you, and may God bless you richly.

Below is the transcript of the talk of Dr. Richard Teo, who was a 40-year-old millionaire and cosmetic surgeon with a stage-4 lung cancer, sharing at a Dental Christian Fellowship Meeting. He would have liked to share this with you too.

HIS BACKGROUND

Hi good morning to all of you. My voice is a bit hoarse from the chemotherapy, so please bear with me. I thought I’ll just introduce myself. My name is Richard, I’m a friend of Danny’s, who invited me here.

I’d just begin to say that I’m a typical product of today’s society. Before this, I was talking about how the media influences us etc. So I’m a typical product of what the media portrays. From young, I’ve always been under the influence and impression that to be happy, is to be successful. And to be successful, is to be wealthy. So I led my life according to this motto.

Coming from a poor average family, back in those days, I was highly competitive, whether in sports, studies, leadership. I wanted it all. I’ve been there, done that. But at the end of the day, it’s still about money.

So in my recent last years, I was a trainee in ophthalmology, but I was getting impatient, cos I had friends of mine who were going out into private practise, making tonnes of money. And there I was, stuck in a traineeship. So I said, ‘Enough, it’s getting too long.’ At that time, there was a surge in protégés of aesthetic medicine. I’m sure you’re aware, aesthetic medicine had peaked over the last few years, and I saw good money in there. So much so that I said, ‘Forget about ophthalmology, I’m gonna do aesthetic medicine.’ So that’s what I did.

The truth is, nobody makes heroes out of the average GP in the neighbourhood. They don’t. They make heroes out of rich celebrities, politicians, rich and famous people. So I wanted to be one of these. I dived straight into aesthetic medicine. People were not willing to pay when I was doing locum back in those days. Anything more than $30, they would complain that “Wah, this lo kun (doctor) jing qwee (very expensive)”. They made noise and they were not happy. But the same people were willing to pay $10 000 for a liposuction. So I said, ‘Well, let’s stop healing the sick, I’m gonna become a beautician; a medically-trained beautician.’

And that was what I did – liposuction, breast augmentation, eyelid surgeries, you name it, we do it. It was very good money. My clinic, when we started off, waiting time was 1 week; 1 month; became 2 months; became 3 months. There was so much demand that people were literally queuing up to have aesthetic work done on them. Vain women – easy life!

So the clinic grew. I was so overwhelmed, from 1 doctor, I employed 2, then 3, then 4 doctors, and carried on. Nothing is ever enough. I wanted more and more and more. So much so that we set up shop in Indonesia to lure all the Indonesian tai tai’s. We set up shop, set up a team of people there, to get more Indonesian patients to come in.

So, things were doing well. I’m there, my time has arrived.

Around some time in February last year, I said, ‘OK, I have so much spare cash, it’s time to get my first Ferrari. So there I was, getting ready for the deposit. ‘OK! There comes my first Ferrari!’ I was looking for land, to share with some of my friends. I have a banker friend who makes $5 million a year. So I thought, ‘Come, let’s come together. Let’s buy some land and build our houses.’

I was at my prime, getting ready to enjoy. At the same time, my friend Danny had a revival. They were going back to church, some of my close friends. They told me, ‘Richard, come, join us, come back to church.’

I have been a Christian for 20 years; I was baptised 20 years ago, but it was because it was fashionable to be a Christian then. All my friends were becoming Christians then. It was fashionable! I wanted to be baptised, so that when I filled in a form, I could put there “Christian” – feels good. In truth, I had never had a bible; I don’t know what the bible is all about.

I went to church for a while, after some time, I got tired. I said it’s time to go to NUS, stop going to church. I had a lot more things to pursue in NUS – girls, studies, sports etc. After all, I had achieved all these things without God today, so who needs God? I myself can achieve anything I want.

In my arrogance, I told them, “You know what? You go tell your pastor to change your sermon to 2pm. I will consider coming to church.” Such arrogance! And I said 1 statement in addition to that – till date, I don’t know I’ve regretted saying that – I told Danny and my friends, “If God really wanted me to come back to church, He will give me a sign.”. Lo and behold, 3 weeks later, I was back at church.

THE DIAGNOSIS

In March 2011, out of the blues – I was still running around, ‘cause I’m a gym freak and I always go to the gym training, running, swimming 6 days a week. I had some backache, and that’s all I had, but it was persistent. And so I went for an MRI to exclude prolapsed disc. And the day before I had my scan, I was still in the gym, lifting heavy weights, doing my squats. And the next day, they found that half my spine had bone marrow replacement. I said, “Woah, sorry, what’s that?”

We had a PET scan the next day, and they diagnosed that I had terminal lung cancer, stage 4B. It had spread to the brain, half the spine, whole of my lungs were filled with tumour, liver, adrenals…

I said, “Can’t be, I was just at the gym last night, what’s going on?” I’m sure you know how it feels – though I’m not sure if you know how it feels. One moment I was there at the peak, the next day, this news came and I was totally devastated. My whole world just turned upside down.

I couldn’t accept it. I have a hundred relatives on both sides, my mom and my dad. 100 of them. And not a single one has cancer. To me, in my mind, I have good genes, I’m not supposed to be having this! Some of my relatives are heavy chain smokers. Why am I having lung cancer? I was in denial.

HIS ENCOUNTER WITH GOD

So the next day, I was still in a state of denial, still unable to accept what was going on. There I was lying in an operating theatre in a hospital, for a needle biopsy (for histology). There I was, just completed the biopsy, and lying in the operating theatre. The nurses and doctors had left; told me I had to wait for 15 minutes to do a check X-ray to make sure there’s no pneumothorax (a complication).

And there I was, lying on the operating table, staring blankly at the ceiling in a cold, quiet operating theatre. Suddenly I just heard an inner voice; it was not like coming from outside. It was inside. This small inner voice that I had never felt before. And it said very specifically, it said, “This has to happen to you, at your prime, because it’s the only way you can understand.”

I said, “Woah, why did that come from?” You know, when you speak to yourself, you’d say, “OK, what time should I leave this place? Where shall I have dinner after this?” You’d speak from a first person point of view. You don’t say, “Where should YOU go after this?” Whereas the voice that came spoke as a third party. It said, “This has to happen to YOU, at YOUR prime, because this is the only way YOU can understand.” At that time, my emotions just overflowed and I broke down and cried, alone there. And I knew then, subsequently, what it means to understand that why this is the only way.

Because I had been so proud of myself, my whole life, I needed nobody else. I was gifted with things that I could do, why do I need anybody else? I was just so full of myself that there was no other way I could have turned back to God.

In fact, if I were diagnosed with stage 1 or 2, I would have been looking around busily for the best cardiothoracic surgeon, remove a section of the lobe (do a lobectomy), do preventive chemotherapy…The chances of it being cured is extremely high. Who needs God? But I had stage 4B. No man can help, only God can.

A series of events happened after that. I wasn’t sold after that, because of the inner voice, I became believing, prayers, all that. No I wasn’t. To me, it was just ‘maybe there was a voice; or maybe that was just me talking to myself.’ I didn’t buy the story.

What happened next was that I was being prepared for chemotherapy. I started off with a whole brain radiation therapy first; takes about 2 -3 weeks. In the meantime they prepared me for chemotherapy, supplements etc. One of the things they used for chemo was a thing called Zometa. Zometa – they use it to strengthen the bones; once the bone marrow (replacement) is cured of cancer cells, it becomes hollow, so we need Zometa to strengthen the bone to prevent compression fractures.

One of the side effects of Zometa is that it can cause osteonecrosis (bone death) of the jaw, and I had to have my wisdom teeth removed. Years ago, I had my upper wisdom teeth removed, cos it was giving me trouble. The lower ones didn’t give me trouble so I said, “Forget it, just leave it.” So of cause, Danny volunteered to remove it for me.

So there I was, lying there in a dental chair, asking myself, suffering all the side effects of radiotherapy, and now I have to go through wisdom tooth surgery. As if I’ve not had enough to suffer! So I asked Danny, “Eh, bro, is there any other way? Can I not go though this?” He said, “Yes, you can pray.”

I said, “What’s there to lose? Ok lah, pray lah!” And so we prayed. And we did an X-ray after that. Everything was all there, all the appliances and everything. And lo and behold, the Xray showed that there was no wisdom teeth in the lower jaw. I know most people have 4 wisdom teeth, maybe some have none, but to be missing one or 2, as I understand – I’m not too sure, as I understand – is not that common.

Still I was, “Nah, I don’t care about that.” To me, as long as I didn’t have to take out the tooth, I was happy. At that point, I still wasn’t sold on prayers. Maybe it was just a coincidence – for whatever it’s worth.

I continued meeting my oncologist, asking him, “How long do I have?” I asked him. He said, not more than 6 months. I said, “Even with chemotherapy?” About 3 – 4 months, he said.

I couldn’t grasp that. It was difficult to come to terms. And even as I went through radiotherapy, I was struggling everyday, especially when I wake up, hoping that it’s just a nightmare; when I wake up, it’s all over.

As I was struggling, day after day, I went into depression, which is the typical denial, depression blah blah blah that you go through. But for 1 reason, I don’t know why, there was this specific day that I was supposed to meet my oncologist. At about 2pm, I felt this sudden surge of peace, comfort, and in fact, a little happiness. It was just overflowing. For no rhyme or reason, it just came about 2pm, as I was getting ready, dressing up to meet my oncologist. So much so that I whats-apped all my friends that, “Bros, I just feel so good suddenly! I don’t know why, it just came!”

And it was only days, or was it weeks after, that Danny revealed to me that he had fasted for 2 days for me, and he was bargaining with God, and fasted for 2 dyas, and he ended his fast at that exact same point, about 2pm thereabouts, that this surge of sensation came to me for no rhyme or reason. And I didn’t know that he was fasting for me. And when he ended the fast, I felt that sensation!

Whoa, things were getting a bit too coincidental. I was starting to buy a bit of the story, but still I wasn’t sold. As days passed by, I completed my radiotherapy, about 2 weeks plus. Getting ready for chemo, so they let me rest for a few days.

See, the mortality rate of lung cancer : Lung cancer has the highest mortality rate. If you add up breast, colorectal (colon) cancer, and prostate cancer (the top few cancers in Singapore for men and women), if you add up the mortality rate of these 3, it still doesn’t add up to lung cancer. Simply because, you understand, you can remove the prostate, the colon, the breast, but you cannot remove your lungs.

But there’s about 10% of lung cancer patients who do pretty well for some reasons, because they have this specific mutation; we call it the EGFR mutation. And it happens, only 90% of the time, in Asian ladies who never smoked in their lives. Me, first of all, I’m male. 2ndly, I’m a social smoker. I take one a day after dinner; weekends, when my friends offer me, I take it as well. I’m a light smoker, not a social smoker. But still, my oncologist was still not hopeful for me to have this mutation.

The chances of it happening for me was maybe 3-4% for me to get it. That’s why I was being primed to go for chemo. But through all the intense prayers, friends like Danny, people that I don’t even know, it turned out that, during my waiting for chemo, the results came back that I was EGFR positive. I was like, “Woah, good news!” Cos now I don’t have to undergo chemo at that time, because there’s this oral tablet that you can use to control this disease.

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