When the going gets tough, the tough gets going

How would you react if you were diagnosed with an incurable disease? While most would break down and lament about the injustice of life, veteran actor Chew Chor Meng was determined not to let his illness bring him down.

The well-loved actor, best known for his roles in Mr Kiasu and Don’t Worry, Be Happy was put under the spotlight over his condition.


The start of the ordeal

Since 1997, Chew has been distressed by back pain after an on-set injury. He consulted doctors and Chinese physicians, but none was able to pinpoint the root of the problem. He even thought he was suffering a stroke.

In 2008, Chew found the cause of his back pain. Chew disclosed that he has Kennedy’s disease, an irremediable illness that leads to spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy. Two doctors told Chew and his wife, Madam Deon Tan, that Chew only had 18 more months to live. Even then, they refused to accept what the doctor said, eventually finding hope in the form of a specialist who said that Chew could even live up to 60 more years, depending on his lifestyle and the rate of his muscles degeneration.

Seeking refuge in faith

Chew has relied on religion as a motivation during this arduous period, converting to Christianity in 2008. This move delighted Chew’s wife, who has been a Christian since their marriage in 2000.

Chew’s baptism, along with his two daughters, were witnessed by his close friends including Mediacorp artistes Zoe Tay, Dennis Chew, Ivy Lee, Li Nanxing, Rayson Tan, Kym Ng and Chen Liping.

Since his conversion, Chew said he was calmer and gave up swearing and that he does not begrudge anyone for his fate.

I’ll try my best and let God do the rest.

Positivity transcends illness

Shortly after the diagnosis in 2008, Chew found climbing stairs and carrying his then-four-year-old daughter a herculean feat. Six years into the grueling battle, Chew is still fighting and even celebrated his 46th birthday last month (November 2014).

Not letting his sickness deter him from doing what he loves, Chew is acting in a 190-episode long heartland dramedy (drama comedy) 118, playing a coffeeshop owner, and the on-screen husband of actress Pan Ling Ling. Pan, having recently battled cancer successfully, bonded with Chew over their illnesses, which is reflected in their on-screen chemistry.


Exemplary of a local foodie

To add to his condition, Chew developed diabetes last year.

However, he revealed:

I still eat everything.

This may come as a shock to many, given that he is battling diabetes alongside Kennedy’s disease. Nonetheless, Chew firmly believes in the importance of eating in moderation.

I love hawker fare like char kway teow, fried chicken and oyster omelette. Till today, I eat them from time to time.

Life is short. If I totally cut such delicious food out, I’d feel very miserable.

Indeed, Chew’s on-screen wife can attest to that. Pan revealed the Chew buys breakfast for the crew every morning – noodles, nasi lemak, curry buns, bee hoon – the list is exhaustive as Chew brings something different every morning.

Catch ongoing episodes of 118 on Channel 8 every Monday to Friday at 7.30pm.

Featured image via Xincatalogue
With reference to The New Paper, Asia One, Today, Asia One