Chew Chor Meng On Battling Kennedy's Disease And Suicidal Thoughts
"I thought, 'Forget it. Why live so miserably?'"
He once had it all — fame, money, success — but when it all came crashing down, including his health, Chew Chor Meng once thought of ending his life.
In the latest episode of the meWATCH talkshow Hear U Out, the 51-year-old actor told local host Quan Yi Fong that it was a dark time for him after he received his diagnosis in 2008.
Back then, the actor was told that he has Kennedy’s disease — a rare inherited neuromuscular disorder that causes progressive weakening and wasting of the muscles, particularly the arms and legs.
Symptoms of Kennedy’s Disease
- Tremor of the outstretched hands
- Muscle cramps with exertion
- Fasciculations (fleeting muscle twitches visible under the skin)
- Limb weakness which usually begins in the pelvic or shoulder regions
- Weakness of the facial and tongue muscles may occur later in the course of the disease and often leads to dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)
- Dysarthria (slurring of speech)
- Recurrent aspiration pneumonia
Some individuals develop gynecomastia or the excessive enlargement of male breasts, and low sperm count or infertility.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) said the disease is an x-linked recessive disease, which means the patient’s mother carries the defective gene on one of her X chromosomes. Daughters of Kennedy’s disease patients are also carriers and have a 1 in 2 chance of having a son affected with the disease.
He said: “I was struggling and couldn’t come to terms with it, and I thought, ‘Forget it. Why live so miserably?’ Other ups and downs in life are easier to deal with and I wondered why my life was such a prank.
“I didn’t have a good environment growing up, then life got a bit better and I had fame, money and whatnot; but then my fame declined and when that happened, there were issues with my health.
“I didn’t know what lay ahead. I didn’t know how to face people and deal with the weird looks they gave me. I also didn’t know how long more I could live. There were times when I felt vulnerable. So when I felt vulnerable and couldn’t let myself off, negative thoughts started flooding my mind.”
Chor Meng was only given 18 months to live at that time, terrible news for a man who has two daughters who were still very young then.
However, it’s been 12 years since he was diagnosed and he’s become a more positive person. He told Yi Fong that the reason he was able to pull through was because of his faith, and the support and concern from his family and friends.
“For example, when I was shooting (the Chinese drama) 118, [Pan] Lingling and I supported each other. I said, ‘Lingling, you’re a cancer survivor right? I’m now walking a similar path so let’s keep fighting this together. This journey really isn’t easy,” he said.
Emotionally, it also took a toll on him as he tearily admitted that he had no choice but to move forward, not knowing what will happen in life. He also said he’s “not a strong person” but he’s “more persistent” compared to the average person.
In the past, when Chor Meng faced difficulties pertaining to his illness, such as mobility problems, he would not dare to ask for help. But now, he’s learnt to look past his ego and seek help from people.
He recounted an incident when he was at Tanglin Halt and he needed to ask a female passer-by for help to climb a flight of stairs.
Chor Meng said: “I said I was ill and can’t go up the stairs and asked if she could help me. She said okay. I was proud of myself because I was able to let go of my ego and ask for help. I wouldn’t have dared to do so in the past.”
He added: “You sometimes find that there’s a story behind every smile. Each of them has their own unbearable side. We need to learn how to deal with it. I told myself, ‘It’s okay. There are others who are worse off and having a tougher time. I must overcome this obstacle.’ I’ll occasionally feel lousy but I’ll try to recover quickly.”
|Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444|
|Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019|
|Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800|
|Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222|
|Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928|
|Shan You Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 6741-0078|
|Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: www.eC2.sg|
|Tinkle Friend (for primary school children): 1800-2744-788|
This article was first published in AsiaOne and was edited and republished on theAsianparent with permission.