Koo Soo Ming could have thrown in the towel when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she danced her way to recovery.
She may have done this many times before but her heart was beating wildly nonetheless. The other women in her troupe, also waiting, were in a similar state.
It is funny how something so simple could cause so much trepidation for one who battled and overcame a disease as sinister as cancer.
In fact, all of the women about to perform had in one way or another defeated this menace.
Emboldened by their passion for life, the women braced themselves for the cue. Seconds passed and then it came.
The music undulated in the air like streams of water. It was enchanting, alluring and almost haunting. Traditional music has that effect. The sound of the kompang, seruling, gamelan and rebab evoke something spiritual. And it was to the tunes of these instruments that these women danced with such grace and charisma.
Koo Soo Ming’s heart brimmed with inexpressible joy. She was certain the other cancer survivors dancing alongside felt the same way. After all, this was the very reason Koo had mooted the formation of this cultural dance group.
“I wanted to use dance and music as a form of therapy … to inject a feel-good factor among survivors. The amazing thing is that when they dance, they are happy and smiling,” pointed out Koo.
But more than just therapy, Koo wanted the group to be a beacon of hope to others.
“The idea was for people to see us and go: ‘If these cancer survivors can do that, I can do it also. If they can bounce back, so can I.’ I wanted people to realise that a cancer diagnosis is not the end of the world.”
Koo, 55, is a freelance translator who survived her stage 2 breast cancer.
It was by staying positive and optimistic that this mother of two made it through the ordeal of discovering she had cancer and then surviving the treatment.
There’s no denying Koo had her bouts of depression and melancholy when the doctor broke the news to her in 2005. Her husband Robert Ooi, 56, was by her side throughout the ordeal.
“It was a big shock for me and my husband. We had no idea what cancer was all about. It was totally a new thing. I felt like I was thrown into a dark world. Both of us felt lost,” Koo recounted.
Koo married Robert in 1986, and the couple have two grown-up sons, Joshua, 27 and Justin, 23.
The family was flung into trying times soon after the diagnosis. Koo grimly recalled the harrowing hours following her first session of chemotherapy.
“The most difficult and challenging part was the first cycle. It was so unbearable that I thought I was going to die.
“It felt like knives were walking all over my body. I vomited so much that I had to sleep next to the toilet bowl!” she expressed.
It was in the midst of this inexpressible pain that Koo noticed the darkness that had fallen over her home. She sensed the morale and spirit of her husband and children were crushed, though they tried to put on a strong front.
“I realised all the moaning and groaning was the worst thing I could do to my family. The whole house was down.
“So, on the third day after my first session of chemo, I was feeling better and I took a shower and sat in the hall. When my husband returned after work, he was shocked to see me up and well, because he’d gotten used to seeing me lying down and miserable.
“My family was happy then on. I promised that I would not pull them down again. From the second chemo session, I tried to stay positive throughout… it was laughter throughout,” Koo said.
Of course, her husband and two sons complemented her inner strength with their optimism and positivism. They were her pillar of strength. Faith kept her strong too. “I believe every-thing happens for a reason. I believe that every obstacle you go through is part and parcel of life.”
But for Koo, who underwent a mastectomy in 2005, the support group played a crucial role.
“I attended the support group meetings at the National Cancer Society Malaysia and met other breast cancer survivors. Only then did I realise that there were so many other women affected by this,” Koo said.
It was during one of these meetings that Koo had an ‘Aha!’ moment.
“There were many ladies in the meeting and we liked to move whenever we listen to music. I realised that I could do something about this. I’ve always had a passion for dance but because of work and familial responsibilities, I was not able to pursue it.
“Now I was suddenly able to. So, I formed our cultural dance group and I wanted it to be more than just moving your body to the music. I wanted something more organised, articulate and aesthetic,” Koo explained.
Called Pink Citra Tari, the group, formed in 2009, is only a small outfit (there are five members) but it occasionally performs traditional Malay and Bollywood dance at fundraisers and charity events. The group even performs at the National Cancer Society Malaysia’s Relay For Life, a 16-hour yearly event that celebrates cancer survivors and those who had departed.
Staying positive throughout and occupying herself with work and the cultural dance group, Koo has been able to find her inner strength.
“Emotionally, I feel stronger and I think that if I can go through cancer, I can go through anything.
“Actually, any woman can still look good after cancer. You just have to remain positive.
“I’m a much happier person now and life is more meaningful because I can do something I never had the chance to do before,” she added.
Koo has also become much more conscious about her diet and in turn her family’s diet too. She has even started regular exercises to stay fit.
“If you are going to stay in the house, do nothing and just think about the cancer, your life will be depressing and you will find that there is no meaning in life.”
So pack up your troubles, put a smile on your face and do what you can to lift your spirits. For Koo, that means dancing her cares away!
If you are interested in joining the Pink Citra Tari dance outfit or finding out more about it, call Koo Soo Ming at 019-228 8377.