She’s Not Sick, Just A Bit Unwell

Up until a few years ago I was working as a private tutor in my spare time, giving tuition lessons to high school and University kids on maths and science subjects.

Back then, I always noticed there are usually two types of students.
The first one would hire me to teach them. I had to go through every single tiny detail with them, right down to the basics that everyone should’ve known. They are the ones who hardly pay attention in class, probably skipped a few of them. But when exams come around the corner, they panicked like their arse cheeks are glued together.
Out of desperation, they reached down into their parents’ deep pockets and threw money at me, asking me to stay back till 3 in the morning so they could catch up with their studies. I wouldn’t have agreed if it weren’t for the money. Sometimes they even expected me to skip my own classes to accomodate for their gross incompetence.
And when they finally got their exam results, they happily said to me, “thank you Kenny, you made me PASS my papers.”
I do not feel any sense of accomplishment with such students. I just feel tulan.

The second type of students would hire my services to learn. I hardly see them around, but prior to their exams, they called me up for a one-hour session. Normally I’d stay longer because they’re such a joy to teach. These ones did all the hard work themselves. They only called me up when they tried everything they could in their capacity but still couldn’t solve some of the harder questions. The difference is, they attempted to stand on their own two feet before calling for help.
Guess who had better results in the end?

Yvonne Foong reminds me of the second type of students I used to teach. The 20-year-old KL girl is being diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis.
You don’t have to know how to pronounce it. You just need to know it is a rare genetic disorder which causes patient to grow tumours on nerves, on the brain and along the spinal cord. The patient will experience symptoms of nausea, balance problems, partial facial paralysis, and most importantly the loss of hearing. There is no cure for this disorder.

When I met up with Yvonne late last year, she has already lost her sense of hearing. Part of her face was obviously affected as well. We communicated writing on a piece of paper and passing to and fro, like primary school kids.
Can you imagine living a life in complete silence?
It is difficult to comprehend what Yvonne is going through. I would think that anybody undergoing such a predicament would obviously be depressed and find it difficult to go on with life.

But Yvonne is not anybody. Her disorder is rare, which means very few doctors in Malaysia specialising in this field. The cost of treatment is outside of what she could afford. But that girl is not taking this shit lying down.
Through intensive research and information gathering, Yvonne managed to track down a Dr Friedman in California, one of the few doctors in the world who could help regain her hearing without damaging her nerves causing facial disfiguration. Best of all,he agreed to perform the complicated surgery on her, free of charge.
All she needed to do is raise enough funds to cover travel and hospital expenses – a hefty RM216,000 thus far.

Instead of sitting there waiting for help to come to her, Yvonne started a series of projects to raise funds for her surgery. She designed and sold T-shirts, organised a rock concert, and even wrote a book on her experiences dealing with NF2.
If you can, pick up a copy of her book at your nearest bookstore. Otherwise, you may generously donate to Yvonne’s medical fund. Her book is titled “I’m Not Sick, Just A Bit Unwell”. For a book written by a first-timer, it was doing pretty good.
So good it was sold out and restocked in some MPH bookstores.

As of writing, Yvonne Foong is in California, having just completed the all-important surgery by Dr Friedman. There has been no updates from her since the day of the surgery. If all goes well, hopefully she could be listening to music, watching movies without subtitles and hearing people talk once again.

Someone actually went through all the trouble locating the final year thesis I wrote when I was in Curtin and pasted the link up on my chatterbox.
Wtf, I don’t even understand half the crap I was blabbering about then. So much for 5 years worth of Uni.

121 Replies to “She’s Not Sick, Just A Bit Unwell”

  1. ya, I learned of her life when she won the dream malaysia from Asian youth Ambasador last year…. Actually the other nominees were lame, she deserves it so much better.

  2. she’s definitely one girl worth bein looked up to…she has got the strength a perfectly well person does not have…she deserves bein awarded as the most outstandin youth of the year 2005…i got a tee for myself too!it’s simple nice…n not too expensivela..only 25 bucks!=)

  3. Heart-wrenching.Yvonne’s courage is most admirable.Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was like that, rather than complaining all the time.Waiting to be spoon fed by somebody,anybody…

  4. Actually i have heard about her. she’s a very strong will and an independent person which everyone should respect and learn from her. i wish she’s in full recovery~ cheers~

  5. Thanks for posting Yvonne’s story and bringing more public awareness to her plight. As healthy people, I think we too often take for granted the senses we are born with and retain for most of our lives. I can only imagine what she is going through. And what she is doing is so admirable!
    I sincerely hope things get better for her from now on.

  6. Thanks for this touching post, Kenny.
    I actually bought 5 copies of “This Valentine’s Day, I Promise You All My Love” – a contemporary collection of romantic love poems from Blue Mountain Arts – from Yvonne last year.
    Someone had kindly donated 1000 copies to her so that she could sell them to raise funds for her operation.
    I kept a copy for myself & gave the rest away as presents.

  7. Peasants paying these jokers more than $100,000 a month to spew crap like this? seriously!?!
    “Retrenchment is good for singapore. If there is no retrenchments, then I worry.” – SM Goh
    “I don’t think that there should be a cap on the number of directorship that a person can hold.” – PAP MP John Chen who holds 8 directorships.
    “It’s not for the money because some of the companies pay me as little as $10,000 a year.” – PAP MP Wang Kai Yuen who holds 11 directorships.
    “If you want to dance on a bar top, some of us will fall off the bar Top. Some people will die as a result of liberalising bar top dancing… a young girl with a short skirt dancing on it may attract some insults from some other men, the boyfriend will start fighting and some people will die.” – Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports
    “I would want to form an alternative policies group in Parliament, comprising 20 PAP MPs. These 20 PAP MPs will be free to vote in accordance with what they think of a particular policy. In other words, the whip for them will be lifted. This is not playing politics, this is something which I think is worthwhile doing.” – SM Goh
    “If you sing Jailhouse Rock with your electric guitar when others are playing Beethoven, you are out of order. The whip must be used on you.” – SM Goh again, on a dramatic u-turn, rethink or backtrack, whatever you call it.
    “Save on one hairdo and use the money for breast screening.” – another gem from Lim Hng Kiang
    “We started off with (the name) and after looking at everything, the name that really tugged at the heartstrings was in front of us. The name itself is not new, but what has been used informally so far has endeared itself to all parties.” – Mah Bow Tan on the $400,000 exercise to rename Marina Bay as Marina Bay.
    “Having enjoyed football as a national sport for decades, we in Singapore have set ourselves the target of reaching the final rounds of World Cup in 2010.” – Ho Peng Kee
    “Only 5% are unemployed. We still have 95% who are employed.” – Yeo Cheow Tong
    “Singaporean workers have become more expensive than those in the USA and Australia.” – Tony Tan
    “People support CPF cuts because there are no protest outside parliament.” – PM Lee
    “No, it was not a U-turn, and neither was it a reversal of government policy. But you can call it a rethink.” – Yeo Cheow Tong
    “…I regret making the decision because, in the end, the baby continued to be in intensive care, and KKH now runs up a total bill of more than $300,000…” – Lim Hng Kiang, regretting the decision to save a baby’s life because KKH ran up a $300,000 bill
    “Without the elected president and if there is a freak result, within two or three years, the army would have to come in and stop it.” – MM Lee Kuan Yew
    “Please do not assume that you can change governments. Young people don’t understand this” – Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, post-2006 General Elections

  8. Hey Kenny,
    I recognised the girl from the picture you posted. She was my junior in high school. She probably doesn’t remember me, but if you do by any chance have contact with her, tell her a fellow choir mate said hie and wishes her all the best.
    Her strength, initiative and positive attitude is truly admirable and should be followed by all.
    Thanks. 🙂

  9. can anyone explain to me what ‘tulan’ means?
    nice close up pic of the shirt, but it shows ur booby breast *peace*

  10. was feeling so pissed off just now while studying on my final….dropped an eye on this post….whew, less discouraged now, gotta work hard!!
    Hope she is in the best of luck!

  11. hmm..kenny..can i give her moral support if i cant give her ‘money’ support ?
    maybe i can buy the book ? but im having the SPM -Sijil Paling Murah so..i’ll get the book and give it to others to read before i have the time to read ? haha
    yeah..say ‘jia you’ to her and God bless her =)

  12. Seeing the courage in yvonne and the way she handles her sickness, make you feel so guilty about complaining all the little things that bug you each day…

  13. Learned about Yvonne in the newspaper when she won the award. Felt sorry for her plight. Glad that you featured her. Good of you.
    Wonder if the tumour growing might cause pain as they compress on nerves….
    On another point, how true, as you put it – there are those who want to be taught, and those who want to learn. You are a most insightful young man.

  14. my college friends sold that ” heart 4 hope ” t-shirt in college few months ago. The purpose was to raise fund for her. I personally bought that t-shirt (black colour) for RM15. Glad to see that you are helping her in raising fund thru ur blog 🙂

  15. I’ll get the book. She reminds the rest of us how lucky we are, and to some, how lame. Hope she gets well.
    Tough lady. Somebody tell her story to the pathetic politicians in our country.

  16. it reminds me of the japanese drama ‘one litre of tears’ based on real life story of a girl who suffered some sort of incurable disease.
    Well, if you have time to watch, check this out here at for the full episodes of the drama.

  17. gees…like that i want to make some concert la featuring TULAN… need some cash to pay my fees in med skool… so that i can be neuro surgeon and help yvonne… pro-bono

  18. OK. I will get a copy of the book 🙂
    someone have to add this word into kennys wikopedia :

  19. kenny thanks for sharing!
    it’s really a memorable experience getting to teach her right?
    and hey, u look so man in the pic. gosh i really think u r very attractive =p

  20. im glad u highlighted yvonne in yr article. i’ve just started reading her blog couple weeks ago and im ashamed.
    she did so much more than i possibly could have!
    maybe with the loss of physical hearing, she is able to hear her inner voice better without all that noise.

  21. I read Yvonne Foong’s book 2 weeks ago when i saw her won the award of MPH’s 2006 malaysian writer awards. it’s one of the best books i’ve read so far.

  22. I am currently not in asia right now and I was wondering if the book is sold world wide or only in Malaysia; I am thinking of getting one myself. Is there any other way we can help her?

  23. phewww…sure glad i wasn’t the only one who noticed kenny’s nip pic. /not gay
    it’s really great to see an individual stand up and forget about self pity in these circumstances. fight to live, fight to believe. something i really don’t mind supporting compared to ppl looking for handouts.
    Will keep her in my prayers.

  24. More of these kind of entries please. Using your readership base to highlight individual’s plights and how they can help their causes is semi-noble.
    Less of the usual ego-driven crap trying to show your show your readers your “achievements”. And please, stop sucking your gut in when you take pictures, it’s SO unnatural.

  25. Kenny, very kind of you to share this with us… I will grab her book in bookstore this weekend if I’m back in Malaysia/Spore.

  26. I met her in August twice, guess where?
    She attended by Author Appearance, where I was talking about my book.
    I also met her at the Local Authors Hi-Tea gathering. She was there, garbed in her Heart 4 Hope t-shirt, tagging along her friend who helps her type what people say to Yvonne. I sat right next to her and that’s how I communicated with her the whole time.
    I have bought two of her t-shirts and you can do the same at Memory Lane in 1 Utama if you stay in Selangor.

  27. my neighbour liltle gal had this neurofibromatosis as well.. it’s heart-breaking when we have to see her in great pain.. etc. and she’s losing her sight.
    and in those ulu kampung place named masai in johor, there’s nothing much the parent can do abt it..

  28. Thanks Kenny for being caring enough to tell me about Yvonne. Blur people like me are not aware of many things… thanks to you for the info. I like your blog 🙂

  29. I know what you mean about students who are a pleasure to tutor. I always end up feeling so guilty when they don’t come home with A+++ and shiny stars though, although I do feel that I’ve tried to help them a lot as well.
    I stopped tutoring for money ages ago though. Pfft, $20 or 30 dollars an hour doesn’t really bother me.
    Up til now I have never heard of Yvonne (I’m not malaysian what) but she is an inspiration. All the amazing things she continues to do, instead of complaining about the chances of getting a rare neurological disease…
    She’s not just strong, she’s so well… unselfish too!

  30. kenny, ur breast is erm…*speechless*
    she’s a tough girl, and i wish i can be like her too!
    all the best to u two. god blesss!

  31. HAHAHAHA. The gorilla pic with the word TULAN is farking funny. I don’t know why but everytime i think of it i’ll be laughing like mad.Damn..
    God bless Yvonne =)

  32. It really really reminds me of “1 litre of tears”, a Japanese drama based on a real life story. I cried every episode because I was so touched by it. Really worth a watch.
    I just admire Yvonne’s courage to continue with her life like a normal person.

  33. A fine example of positive-mindedness and courage indeed.
    Is it just me or are the news about young people being diagnosed with shit becoming more and more frequent ?
    It’s been 5 days after her post.
    At her most recent post she mentioned “tomorrow was the operation”.
    That makes it 4 days past, already.
    I wonder if the operation was successful.
    This is probably the most dreadful wait for a post I’ve ever experienced. 🙁

  34. Kenny, that is very wonderful of you to post an article like this. The ‘never give up spirit’ of Yvonne Foong is something worth sharing and very inspiring. I want to give a big hug to her parents too!

  35. People just take for granted that life is full of happiness, wonders and everything. Until a tragedy strikes, we’ll just continue taking for granted of ourselves and our loved ones being there all the time. Watching ‘1 litre of tears’ reminds me that life is really very short. Too short to waste it on 7 hours of sleep, 8 hours of study/work. We really should enjoy what we can right now, for we dont know wat will happen the next minute. Yet, some things never change – we’re still the kiasu people who think that exams and results are everything. If only ALL of us stop thinking like this, there wouldnt be any peer pressure to excel and forget about the little bits in life. Ever walked REALLY slowly, looking at the flowers and the beautiful sky? Ever wonder how we’ve grown so big – from just a fertilized ovum? The other day during my Physiology lecture, we had a 15 minute video on how the sperm fertilized the egg, and developed to a fetus. From few millimetres to now, we’re like 160+ cm. Life is full of wonders. For us who are fortunate to be alive and well (for now), dont take life for granted. No one can deny that in roughly 10 people, there would be almost half who would be diagnosed with cancer in future years. Life is unfair, but we’ve to live through it. As for Yvonne, I really hope you’re doing well after surgery. Best wishes.

  36. i read about her once in the newspaper. she’s so brave!! I am a new reader of your blog by the way 😛 ….where can I get the shirt?

  37. Good job!!! Kenny.
    We certainly need more people like Dr Friedman around.
    I will make a contribution to her fund. Can someone help her setup paypal or accepting credit card.
    Yvonne, I hope you get well soon and you look every bit like a fighter and you will be the winner.

  38. Aiyoyo.. Kenny.. tsk tsk tsk! why u don take T-shirt off first then take pic le? hmm… purposely want to show yr boobs.. LOL!

  39. haha
    do you think you can teach me add maths?
    im half of the first kind of student and mmm .. 40% of the second good student. =) i think ..?
    *sorry i posted it at the wrong entry

  40. I think it’s physics. Something to do with haba pendam or mencapai keseimbangan terma or haba pendam pelakuran or wtf. I don’t understand at all.

  41. Hi Kenny,
    You are such a sweet guy to care for people like Yvonne. Tomorrow I will goto MPH to find her book. (This is not my idea of helping Yvonne but to understand her). What can I do to help her?
    ps. I dunno Kenny Sia is a good looking guy.. ka ka ka ka….

  42. i just read ur thesis. hehe. although i dun understand a single thing, it’s still obvious that u put in much effort back then. hehe. thx for the link. love ya lotss.

  43. Kenny, read ur acknowlegement in ut thesis….
    hehe, who is Nicole anyway? =) wanna Gebo
    wish Yvonne is speed recovery…

  44. kenny, your nipples are so disgusting. yucks. they must be very hairy and blackish like dirt. and it is so big again. yucks

  45. Yvonne. A girl that was in the same choir as me during our high school days. Used to sing together and listen to all those beautiful music. Same Uni with me as well. Hopefully she is fine. Get well soon gurl. Take care.

  46. hahhaha, kenny man, u r so funny as saying those word”TULAN”, as you have remind me that i was one of those 1st type student that u mentioned and i prety sure that many of m tutor were like u,”TULAN” me!!,hahaha, not going to be like that anymore,,…

  47. Tutorwhoring,yep that’s what i call it,cause i was too a slave to hard cash at one point in time.these imbecile are pretty thankless sometimes and not only ‘tulan’ but also ‘toh huui’.concurrently at the table my ‘lan’ gets ‘tuu’ by them.what a whore i was!
    Yvonne i emphatise n wish u well

  48. Which part of California? I live in San Francisco and am tapped I know a whole bunch of Malaysians and SIngaporeans who can probably help. Send me an email. THanks.

  49. You can see dL/dT is referring to the change of length under temperature fluctuation; aka thermal expansion. All of you guys experience it everyday mah, don’t you know that?!!

  50. i’m always inspired by these brave individuals. brings tears to my eyes reading her story. thanks for letting ur readers hear her story. hope she’s better now.

  51. let me guess, the first type of students are malays right. they like wasting their parent’s money. you should write an article about malay social problems. please, if you can.

  52. I feel TULAN knowing people using sickness/unwellness selling tickets from public compassion/pittiness to make money. Fine, pay for the surgery to eliminate the “joke from God”, probably using the left over to enjoy life in US, money made from other poor people who have compassionate heart towards a lowlife creature.

  53. After i ‘click through your 115 pages of final thesis,i only understand 2 pages which is table of content and acknowledgment.
    im not sick, just abit unwell

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