Ex-S'pore Idol contestant Daphne Khoo bounces back from ovarian cancer

21 June 2013 / 3 years 4 months ago

Many have wondered where the pint-sized powerhouse Daphne Khoo of Singapore Idol (2004) fame, has been up to. After releasing her debut 12-track album Desperate in 2007, she had been rather silent in the Singapore scene. Besides being busy with studying songwriting in Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts since 2010, the trooper has been pretty occupied battling a rough bout of ovarian cancer during which, she had to deal with a harrowing break-up as well.She now is back, stronger than ever, with two new singles to boot, and is happy with a new boyfriend. But, before we post the review of her brand new song Rooftops, the 26-year-old talked to The Straits Times about her tough journey so far.1. Where have you been and are now based? I'm currently in Boston, moving to New York very soon but I've been busy getting my music degree. So, so happy I'm finally at the tail end of it. And I'm definitely grateful to my parents and my family for believing in me with the career I've chosen.2. When was your last album? How long ago was that?Wow, it was awhile ago. It was released in 2007. So pretty long ago. I've put out two new singles this year though!3. Why did it take so long for you to get a new single out?I think I moved around a bit. I was in Melbourne getting my first, degree and I was still writing a lot, trying to find my style. And to be honest, I'm still working on it but it's coming together. I've met a bunch of extremely talented and amazing writers here that I've been blessed to work with and I really believe in the new things I'm putting together.4. Tell us about your whole experience with cancer. When did you find out? It was ovarian cancer, more specifically dysgerminoma. I did a run before work late March and after getting home, I felt my body start to swell up with hives and it was covering my whole body.I tried to take a shower as I thought it was my body heating up that induced the hives. However, after getting out of the shower, the hives continued to persist and my eyes started swelling. I ran and knocked on my roommate's door (Serena Ahn, saved my life that day) and she rushed me to the ER where I was pumped with Benadryl and saline for a few hours and then I took a cab home.I tried to see an allergist to see what had caused the reaction but he couldn't find the cause of such a severe reaction. So I took my ex-roomate's advice and went for a pap smear and a full body check-up. She's a nurse and had told me that most women over the age of 20 in the United States (US) started getting annual pap smears (GO GET A PAP SMEAR if, you're above 20 and have never had one).My nurse noticed that my lower abdomen was quite swollen. It had been that way for awhile as far as I was concerned but it wasn't obvious or caused me enough discomfort for me to do anything about it. She sent me to get a ultrasound, just to be safe. She said it could be nothing. But it definitely wasn't.They found a large growth next to my left ovary and wouldn't tell me what was wrong, just that I needed to get the growth taken out. All I was told was that my doctor would call me and give me more information.So I went back to school and as I was waiting to see a teacher about a score that same day, the nurse that had performed my full body check-up and pap smear called, letting me know that the growth they had found was about 10.5cm in diameter and needed to be taken out as soon as possible. Then she told me that there was a chance the growth was cancerous.I walked into the stairwell with the nurse still on the line and sat down. My mind was a little numb after hearing that word. Before she had mentioned cancer, I was still thinking of how to schedule the surgery between classes (I got the news the week before finals week), and now I didn't know if I'd ever see graduation. The first thing I ended up asking my nurse was: "Can you write a, letter for my teachers so they know why I'm not in class or doing finals week?" She said she would write a letter and I could pick it up the next day.The first person I called was my little sister and we cried over Skype, but she gave me the strength to tell the rest of my family. My dad was in Atlanta and my mum and sister were in Japan, but in different places. I called my dad next and I could tell he was shaken by the news and said he would get to Boston as soon as possible.I had a really hard time calling my mum because for one, I knew she was on holiday with her parents and more importantly, she was a cancer survivor and I knew the news would shake her the most. I ended up calling her anyway and she took it pretty well. I think it's because her parents were around and she wanted to be strong for them too.Fast forward a few dramatic days, my parents were in Boston and I was going for my surgery. It was May 17, 2012, when I had my tumour taken out. They test the growth for cancerous cells while you're still in surgery to see if they need to take out lymph nodes to check for spread and stage. The surgery went smoothly and aside from a painful bowel obstruction, about a week later, the pathology report came in and I was told I had dysgerminoma, Stage 1C. In my case, the cancer, had not spread but they had found it in the washings around the tumour. This unfortunately led to a high recommendation for chemotherapy. I could have said no to the chemo and let the doctors keep a close watch on me, but in the US, they strongly recommend going through with the chemo. So that was settled. Another few dramatic weeks (I could make a whole drama out of the few months when this whole thing went down) later, I had just finished with my fertility treatment at NYU, and was about to start chemo. The actual nine weeks of chemo were not so bad. I'm so grateful and blessed that my parents were with me and that my sisters took time off to visit me. When we're all together, we have a ball of a time. After it, I took only one class to try and take it easy and it was Kara Dioguardi's class which was amazing. I also had a good time making music in that class and I think that it healed me internally in a lot of ways. 5. How did it make you feel? And did it affect you as an artiste?I think it made me that much more grateful for all the things I have. To embrace every day, to never be afraid to voice how I feel, to listen to my body. To relax. I think I'm still oiling the gears in terms of my musicianship, I feel very lazy for not pushing myself to write during this time, but, I'm definitely getting out of the funk of being afraid to write. With all the extreme emotions I was going through, it really was testing for me to search within myself for music and lyrics. 6. What is your biggest fear then?I'm not sure to be honest. Because I wasn't dying. I think it was that I never spent days doing nothing, that I was never completely satisfied with where I was with my music. That I hadn't recorded a good song for my parents or my family that told them how much I love them. For all the people I loved who I hadn't told I loved. And I'm still working on that. I love more freely (not sure if that was phrased correctly) but somehow more cautiously. I tell the people around me how much I appreciate them. I try to smile more. Give as much as I can. 7. What was the worst/most painful part of it all?I think one of them was the new fear of needles that I have. My veins are very small and because of the chemo, my veins were very hard and by the end of chemo, it was almost impossible to find a vein for me to take the chemicals.  8. So...you still sang while you were having treatment? Did you...do a Britney (Spears), or was it because you had to?Yes, I sang and wrote, not a lot, but I did. I cut my hair short before chemo started. And I shaved half my hair off as my, hair started falling off (you can see it in my cover of Titanium on YouTube). Actually, my hair didn't totally fall off but after the chemo, I shaved the few strands that were left so that it would grow back even. 9. So tell us about Rooftops. When did you write it? Was it inspired by the experience?OK, I must give props to my amazing writing team who I wrote Rooftops with. April Bender, Katie Tucker and Charlie Snyder. My producer, Chris Leon, made the track and honestly Rooftops would not be what it is if not for all these people. Watch out for the acoustic version featuring drumming sensation J.P. Bouvet and YouTube sensation Charlie Puth! I'm so excited for it to take off. The song is very close to all of our hearts. When April, Katie, Charlie and I were at the tail end of the writing process, all the girls had a tear fest, with how much it resonated with different experiences we were having at the time. It's very real and I always rely on these cats to be real and honest with the way they write. 10. What's next for Daphne Khoo?Actually, (top secret, but not really top secret) I'm starting work on an EP. These is really, really fresh news. Right now, I'm in Los Angeles with one of my co-writers, John Silos, who I wrote the topline for Believe With (It was a song we, collaborated with a team of over 180 Swedish producers who call themselves Together and it was for Avicii's charity: House For Hunger). So, tons of writing in store and I'm very very excited. Really appreciate your support and the support everyone has given in terms of my health and my music. :) You all give me the strength to keep going. 

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