Genesis of Beginnings by Suan Ong

I had good health as a child and adult. I rarely fell ill in school and at work. My health screening results were excellent.

Who could have imagined that I would be struck with cancer?

In August 2011, I was diagnosed with stage 4 thyroid cancer; and recurrence within a year. When the doctor broke the news, shock rippled through my entire being. Thoughts and images flashed across my head about my mortality. To me, then, cancer was synonymous with death.

“I want to live,” I said, instinctively.

Following three surgeries, two radioactive iodine treatments, and hours of reading and learning, I now know that cancer need not be terminal. It is an illness that can be treated if the patient chooses to believe in the knowledge of science, the efficacy of medicine, and the positive collaboration with doctors and nurses.

For me, my most life-changing resolution was to accept the love and support from the people who cared most for me; and to unleash my willpower to overcome the disease, to get well, so that I can continue to live a life that is full, if not fuller.

The three surgeries stripped 174 lymph nodes from my neck and chest. While I laid in the hospital bed recovering, the idea came to me to use the bean-shaped lymph nodes as a form for pottery. That genesis of a concept amplified to become 174 pieces I created for Beginnings. Each piece is symbolic of my loss, as well as my blessings.

I embarked on this artistic journey with a firm idea of my final creations. However, I soon realised that clay did not “respond” when I “dictated” or “imposed”. When fixated on an idea, I realised that I myself was not in my best form.

So, I began to let go.

At that point, I discovered kintsugi, the Japanese philosophy of valuing broken objects. Rather than destroy or hide the flaws, repairing an object where it is broken endows it with a new lease of life that is more valuable, more beautiful than the original form. I embraced kintsugi wholeheartedly. Previously, ever the perfectionist, I thought nothing of destroying works that cracked. I got distressed as each unsuccessful work delayed my goal to prepare 174 ceramic works for the exhibition.

Discovering, then accepting kintsugi, led me to complete the collection of works for Beginnings. It is a fitting metaphor for a way to confront and accept cancer that could potentially be terminal; and to find strength and beauty in the process of healing.

Beginnings began as a deeply personal project. Along the way, my friends stepped forward and offered to help me in many ways so that the initiative grew to become “our” project. How appropriate! For in my journey to prevail over cancer, I had not been alone. My friends had always been by my side.

This year, in 2017, I celebrate my fifth anniversary as a cancer survivor. Beginnings expresses my deep appreciation for my family and friends for being with me. I am grateful to my doctors and nurses who made me feel as if I had been touched by angels while lying in hospital beds. Most of all, it is my way of extending my support for cancer patients who are fighting to survive.

I want them to know: You are not alone.