Ju-ann Thong is only 35, but she has been through so much – an adoption bombshell, abuse, depression, two marriages and a husband with cancer.
Yet, Ju-ann’s grit and determination has seen her through her troubles, and she was recognised for it recently when she won the Exemplary Young Mother Award given out by Jamiyah Singapore, a charity, said a report in The Straits Times (ST).
Finding out she was adopted
At the age of nine during a clinic visit, a doctor told her that she had another mother. That’s when she found out she was adopted – her biological parents were poor and her mum had a gambling habit.
“At a young age, your parents are your world. I felt empty, insecure and I feared that I would be abandoned one day,” she tells ST.
Depression after divorce
Ju-ann got married at just 23, but divorced her hairstylist husband after three years as their personalities clashed. Their son, Mathias, is now 12.
Her life spiralled downwards after the divorce. She became involved with a man who turned out to be an abusive gambler. After three years, he he left her with almost $100,000 in debt and his creditors came after Ju-ann after he fled the country.
It got so sad that she quit her property agent job and spent her time sleeping. She lost almost 20kg in about eight months and had to see a doctor for depression.
But what saved her was her little boy.
“Mathias would knock on my door and say, ‘Mummy don’t cry, I will wipe your tears’. He said, ‘Mummy don’t cry, I will hug you’. Without him, I wouldn’t even step out,” Ju-ann tells ST.
“I thought: Do I want to be a leech on his life or do I want to lead him in life?”
Finding love again
Ju-ann met Brian Lim, 48, a divorcee, through a mutual friend three years ago.
She was put off by all his tattoos, but he eventually won her heart.
“He’s very assuring, very attentive, very down to earth and his simplicity and sincerity won me over,” she says in the interview.
“And he did not mind that I’m a ‘one plus one'”, she added, referring to her son from her first marriage.
They married in 2016 and their daughter Meagan, now two, was born shortly after.
Dealing with cancer
Last year, Brian was retrenched from his sales manager job in a furniture firm, where he earned about $100,000 a year. He joined another company, but it shut down as well.
In December last year, he found out he had Stage 2 transitional cells cancer, a type of cancer that affects the urinary system. At that time, their youngest son, Mikel, was three months old.
“I felt my world crashing. I was very afraid he will die, ” Ju-ann recalls tearfully. “Brian gave me a lot of light when I was at my lowest and now that my tattoo man is down, I must give him double or triple the light.”
Their finances were strained after Brian lost his job and they had to survive on Ju-ann’s income of about $40,000 a year as an administrative executive.
The family’s monthly expenses come up some $6,000 and Brian’s cancer diagnosis almost wiped out their savings. His medical bills of $180,000 and counting, are covered by insurance.
So, she decided posted their love story on Facebook in March this year to ask her friends to pray for his recovery. Her post went viral and she received offers of help.
To save money, Ju-ann has cut some of Mathias’s enrichment classes and asked friends to help her buy milk powder and diapers from Johor Bahru. She also made and sold fried crab sticks and watches through online orders after work.
“Getting five hours of sleep a night is a luxury,” she tells ST.
“My kids are a very clear reminder that I should never crash. Their smiles keep me going every day. I know I need to be strong as they need me,” she adds.
Things are finally looking up for the family. Brian found a part-time job in a furniture firm and Ju-ann is now in a better paying job.
She’s also grateful to a group of mums she befriended online, who sold bags and baby carriers to raise $15,000 for her family.
“When life brings you down, don’t be ashamed to ask for help,” she tells ST. “Because when you ask for help, you never know what may come along.”
A version of this story first appeared in The Straits Times.
Photo: The Straits Times