Life After Cancer: Singaporean’s Story of Personal Growth and Priorities [W&S 68 Sponsored by AIA]

The Unexpected Cancer Journey of a Vibrant Entrepreneur

In a powerful episode produced by Rice Media and AIA, the Wise and Shine podcast hosts Reggie and Dawn welcomed Charlene Koh, a young, vivacious breast cancer survivor and entrepreneur. Charlene candidly shared her unexpected cancer journey, shedding light on the realities of battling the disease at the peak of her entrepreneurial success.


Charlene Koh is the ‘Paktor Queen,’ the Co-Founder of Paktor, a mobile dating apps in Singapore with presence in 7 other countries; mainly Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand. She is also the Founder of Breathe Essentials Co.

Charlene was at the peak of her career when she received her diagnosis at age 35.

With candor and authentic vulnerability, Charlene recounted the shock, confusion, and self-doubts she experienced in those initial days. “The three words, ‘you have cancer’, completely robbed me of all my independence,” she recalled. Without family history or predisposing factors, Charlene questioned “What did I do wrong? Is this karma?” in the aftermath of her diagnosis.

The Diagnosis That Stopped Her in Her Tracks

“April 8th, 2019, I was diagnosed with cancer,” Charlene revealed. Just a year after exiting the dating app Paktor that she had co-founded, her life took an abrupt turn. Despite living an active, healthy lifestyle with no family history of breast cancer, her oncologist suspected the likely culprit was stress.

With whirlwind speed, Charlene was admitted to the hospital the very next day to await a mastectomy scheduled for April 12th. “I couldn’t process, right? I was just crying the whole time because I couldn’t process. I was very lost,” she recounted, the shocking diagnosis having robbed her of the independence and accolades she had achieved as a female tech entrepreneur. The common question that arises when facing a life-altering diagnosis: “Why me?” Charlene admitted that she struggled with this question for a long time.

The Grueling 18-Month Road to Recovery

Charlene’s recovery was arduous, involving a latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction, chemotherapy, physiotherapy, and emotional therapy. Her life was put on pause for 18 long months as she focused solely on conquering cancer holistically – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

“I was battling emotionally who I was as a woman or what I was, what was actually a female? What defined beauty? No hair. I didn’t have any hair already because chemo, right? And then I left, I lost my left breast to cancer. I’m like, I’m not physically whole as how I was born into this world. What defines me as a woman?” she pondered.

The Role of Critical Illness Insurance

Charlene expressed immense gratitude for having purchased critical illness insurance prior to her diagnosis. The insurance payouts, along with an old policy from her father, allowed her to take the 18-month career hiatus.

As emotions ran high, Charlene’s entrepreneurial drive kicked into problem-solving mode. “I’m very type-A,” she acknowledged. “I knew I was a bit lost, but I needed to set myself up for success.” Within days, Charlene assembled a supportive “army” including a therapist, trainer, and physiotherapist to manage her emotional and physical well-being through surgery and treatment – resources that were instrumental in her holistic recovery.

Redefining Beauty and Embracing Her Journey

Throughout her journey, Charlene grappled with redefining what beauty and womanhood meant to her. From being mistaken for a “Hair for Hope” participant while bald from chemotherapy to receiving unsolicited pity, she confronted societal misconceptions about how cancer “should” look.

Through open dialogue with her therapist, Charlene reframed her definition of beauty and strength as more than superficial attributes. She came to realise “beauty is skin deep” and her worth extended beyond physical traits impacted by cancer. Still, setbacks emerged such as an embarrassing encounter where a stranger mistook Charlene’s baldness for a charitable cause rather than her medical reality.

Ultimately, Charlene found solace in the mantra: “Be light, be love, and be more than you ever thought you could be.” This guided her as she recalibrated her purpose and approach to life post-cancer.

The Road to Recovery:

At this halfway point in treatment, Charlene made the difficult decision to pause her fast-paced career for 18 months of dedicated recovery and self-care. “Life was put on pause,” she stated plainly, crediting critical illness insurance for covering extensive lifestyle adjustments and support system costs up to $4,000 monthly. The unforeseen policy payout crucially funded Charlene’s holistic mental, physical and lifestyle overhaul until she felt fully empowered to resume her journey healthier than before.

Finding Strength in Adversity:

Looking back, Charlene acknowledged cancer jarred her from an invincible mindset in her prime, but ultimately redirected her entrepreneurial passion toward wellness advocacy. “I recalibrated to create positive impact on people in adversity,” she expressed. Where uncertainty once reigned, Charlene emerged resilient, redefining strength on her own terms beyond superficial metrics of success.

She refused to let cancer define her, choosing instead to embrace the opportunity for personal growth. She acknowledged the importance of seeking support, both from professionals and loved ones, in overcoming the emotional and physical hurdles that cancer presented.

Her enduring message: “Stay strong, be positive and good things will come.”

Through raw authenticity and entrepreneurial grit, Charlene exemplifies the empowering potential of life recalibration after cancer’s unexpected interruption. Her story inspires us all to embrace vulnerability, value well-being over empty accolades, and rise stronger from even our darkest challenges.

While the 18-month pause was undoubtedly challenging, it gave Charlene the invaluable opportunity to reflect and realign her priorities. As she resumed her entrepreneurial journey, she vowed to maintain a healthier pace, cherish life’s little moments, and periodically “stop” to reflect before pushing forward anew – a wiser, more purposeful outlook born from her unexpected cancer experience.

You can check their full interview on Wise & Shine, Episode 69 on Spotify, YouTube, Google podcast, Apple podcast for an inspirational journey as a young breast cancer survivor and entrepreneur showcases the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to find hope and purpose amidst adversity. By sharing her experiences, Charlene offers a beacon of light to others facing similar challenges, proving that it is possible to overcome even the most daunting obstacles.

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