Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We Shall Miss You

Dr. Tan Tow Shung

November 6th 1978- May 18th 2011

He was a giver. If there is one word I'd use to describe my buddy, that would be it.

Born and raised in Malaysia, he begun his amazing career as a Healer at the International Medical College. From there, he went on to graduate with his M.D. from the prestigious McGill University in Canada, before landing a position at the world-famous Mayo Clinic. There, he would spend the next 7 years of his life training in internal medicine, followed by a fellowship in hematology and oncology.

For 5 of those years, we lived together in a small rental. They say it's hard to find a room mate you can live with for too long- for some reason that didn't seem to apply to us. We did almost everything together, to the point that our friends thought we were gay and were a couple (I was desperately single then, while he was in a long-distance relationship for 5 years and so his then-girlfriend was not often seen). Among our favorites were the hours of Halo (and then Halo 2) on the Xbox and the customary post-call buffet dinners when we would wolf down pounds of food at Golden Corral and complaining about the stupid admissions the ER sent up to us. People called us the Malaysian Triad (there were 3 of us). We regularly hosted BBQs and dinners for visiting Malaysians and Singaporeans. And, as boys usually do, got into our own mischief, making fountains with Mentos+Coke, or little bombs with dry ice and water.
Despite all the fun and mischief, he was an extremely bright person, scoring 99s in his USMLEs and acing the internal medicine boards. As a physician, he was warm, caring and astute and was a master in clinical medicine. I remember that patient we both shared- he was asked to see him for severe anemia of unknown etiology; he quickly and accurately diagnosed hemolytic anemia from his prosthetic valve. I saw the grateful patient post-op, who had nothing but praise for my friend.

As a friend and room mate, he never complained about me getting the better room, and the parking space. He was always giving. His love for his eggs and omelettes were legendary- Kristin even gave him an egg fridge-magnet when we moved away. And no one made a better mojito than he. We had one too many merry parties thanks for his concoction.

Why God chose to allow a 29-year old the cancer doctor to develop esophageal cancer, a wonderful human being, I'll never understand. But in those 4 years that followed, my buddy and his wife taught us much about personal strength, love, faith, sacrifice, and in the final months, grace. I'll never forget how he kept his diagnosis of adenocarcinoma hidden away from everyone for several days, because I was about to take my endocrinology board exams. Knowing, as a cancer specialist, that Stage 4 disease is like a death sentence for most. But yet, he kept it bottled, just because he didn't want it to affect my exam performance.
In those 4 years, he made the most out of life. He reminded us, the 'family' there, of the true meaning of friendship. He brought us all together. We were blessed, that when Kristin and I got married he was willing and able to be my Best Man. And then, a year later, we were honored that they wanted us to be their Best Man and Bridesmaid. And despite the shadow hanging over them, that was the most heartfelt wedding I had ever seen. It was as if they had not a single care in the world, as they uttered their vows. There were numerous teary eyes when Tow Shung and his wife started their first (choreographed, too!) dance as a married couple. Despite the chemo, and the radiation. Despite the odds. Living life to the fullest.
We were fortunate that just last month, we were able to visit him and his wife in Penang, and had a good several days. We talked. We reminisced. We laughed. And for that moment, it almost seemed that things were back to normal. To the days before the illness. We had a good time.

Tow Shung,

You were my friend, my buddy, my room mate, Best Man and my Brother. You fought a good, long battle. Thank you for teaching me about what friendship means. For helping me survive the most harrowing years of my professional career. For seeing me through the thick and thin. For the years of fun and brotherhood.

Though you are no longer physically with us, I know you're still with us, and you're in a better place. I know you are at peace now; know that we will never forget you. And though I don't know when we'll get to meet again, I know the day will someday come. That we'll get to share a few glasses of your wonderful mojitos. Till then, buddy, cheers.

Rest in peace; we will miss you.