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I was planning to get married, then I got cancer

by Yolanda Lee | 6 October 2017, 4:21 PM

“Yolanda, I’m really sorry but you have cancer.”

I didn’t know how to react. My mind was a blank. The doctor continued explaining my report, but I just stared blankly at her. As I lay down for her to examine me, I noticed that tears were streaming down my face.

“Triple Negative Breast Cancer” was what the doctors called it. A rare form of breast cancer.

Anyone else would have called it their worst nightmare. And now it was mine.

It was August 2016. I was 28 years old, working as a music educator and happily in a relationship for more than a year. Howard and I were already discussing marriage and our future together. Life was really good and I had nothing to complain about.

I had discovered a pimple-sized lump underneath the skin on my right breast. I didn’t think too much of it until a month later, when I realised it had grown to the size of a grape. It might just be a simple cyst, I thought.

Two weeks later, I finally saw a doctor at the hospital to get it checked up and removed. The cyst had grown to be about 5cm in diameter. Cancer didn’t cross my mind. I was still convinced it was benign.

Walking out of the clinic after receiving my diagnosis, I felt as if my entire world was crumbling to pieces.

I’m too young to have cancer. I have a lot of things in life to accomplish. I still want to look pretty, to have fun, to go on holidays and eat delicious food. I still want to get married. With cancer, will I be able to? Will Howard accept me?

I was to undergo a full mastectomy of my right breast. They couldn’t save it because the tumour occupied more than 80% of the breast.

After my surgery, I saw that one side of my chest was heavily bandaged and flat. I braced myself for how it would look like after the bandages were removed. I asked myself every day in the hospital: When I see my body in the mirror, a huge scar across my chest – one breast no longer there – will I break down and cry?

Would this make me less of a female? I worried about how Howard would see me. Honestly, I feared how other people would look at me, more than how I’d see myself.

The next course of my treatment was chemotherapy. The initial side effects were severe nausea and headaches. I couldn’t eat or sleep well for the next few days. It got so bad that even drinking a sip of water would cause me to gag. I was like a living corpse.

One week after my first session, I realised my hair was falling out while I was in the shower. I stood staring at the clumps of fallen hair in shock.

I knew it was coming, but seeing it happen with my own eyes was another thing. Even gently combing my fingers through my hair would cause it to fall out relentlessly. When I woke up in the morning, my whole pillow would be covered with hair.

He revealed to me: This is your new crown. The crown of faith, strength and courage.

The pain of watching my hair fall off was far worse than having to see myself bald. It was like watching bits of yourself waste away to nothing. In the end, I plucked up the courage to visit the hairdresser to shave my head bald.

As I watched her take huge snips out of what little hair I had left, followed by the sound of the electric razor shaving my head, I had to fight extremely hard to hold back my tears.

Lord, lend me your strength. I do not want to cry here in public. Hold me tight and keep me strong.

But that night, during my quiet time with God, He revealed to me: This is your new crown. The crown of faith, strength and courage.

Then, as though my life hadn’t fallen apart quite enough, I was informed that chemotherapy would eventually cause me to lose my ovarian functions. That meant I would become infertile. I would also experience menopause at the age of 28.

How could this be? Just months ago, I had been talking to Howard about how many kids we wanted – and now I couldn’t even have children biologically. But thanks to modern medicine, there was a solution: Freezing my eggs in a storage unit for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in the future.

I had to undergo 14 days of injections to grow and ripen as many eggs as possible before the surgery to have the eggs extracted. I also had to take monthly jabs to protect my ovaries as much as possible in hopes that they might function normally even after my treatment.

“If you tell me this is going to be enough for the future, I’m trusting You and I’ll be contented. But if it is not enough, then give me what You think is best for me.”

But it was through this trial that I got to experience a miracle of God for the first time. On average, it is recommended to have 10 to 15 eggs ripened and frozen for IVF to be potentially successful. On the second last day of my injection cycle, I only had 6 eggs – a far cry away from what was considered to be a safe amount.

I prayed to God and asked Him, “Lord, I only have 6 eggs. If you tell me this is going to be enough for the future, I’m trusting You and I’ll be contented. But if You think it is not enough, then give me what You think is best for me.”

He was silent. But the day after my injection cycle ended, I entered the operating theatre with a heart set on trusting Him and went through the procedure.

The surgery was supposed to last at least two hours, but within 40 minutes, the doctor had managed to extract 10 eggs and ended earlier than expected. God had answered my prayer in His own way and showed me that He heard my cries.

In the initial discovery of my cancer, I questioned God so much about why I had to go through this suffering. Why does this have to happen to me when everything was going fine? Why now? Why me? Why, God, why?

I felt like everything had been taken from me. I had lost my hair. Lost my natural ability to have children. I had even begun to experience lingering numbness in my fingers and toes. I’d heard of patients who lost their sense of touch because of chemotherapy and were ultimately unable to even hold a pencil. Being a piano teacher, I couldn’t have this happening to me.

It wasn’t that I was angry with God. I was just really sad.

I came to Him on my knees, crying and questioning Him; it was so difficult to fully surrender myself to Him. Then, one day, I heard Him for the first time, loud and clear, “My child, I need you to do this. You are not alone, for I will be with you.”

I believe what it says in Isaiah 40, that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Jesus is for me.

Finally I could say that I wasn’t afraid to die. I told Him that If I were to not make it through surgery or cancer, I was no longer afraid, because I knew He’d be there on the other side waiting for me.

In May 2017, I finally completed my chemotherapy treatment and was declared cancer-free.

I was more than ready to head back to work – back to a normal life. There were medical bills from the treatment and future reviews that I had to pay and save up for. Becoming a cancer patient meant that I was no longer able to buy insurance. That means I have no fall-back plan should I ever become ill again. And I have no guarantee that I won’t have another relapse of cancer.

One week before I returned to work, I was told that my contract with the company had been terminated because they deemed my health condition to be a liability. They offered me a part-time contract instead, and as I was financially desperate at the time – I took it up.

The confusion resurfaced in my heart. I thought the trials were finally over … How could I lose my full-time job as well, God?

Then, in early September, I went for my quarterly review at the hospital and was told that I now have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when you develop fragile bones, with an increased chance of fracture. It is more commonly seen in older women as a side effect of menopause, but as my ovaries had stopped functioning because of chemotherapy, I am experiencing it too.

Now I have to be extra careful with my physical movements and try to maintain a healthy weight. I currently only weigh 39kg. You can’t tell by looking at my size, but that reveals how hollow my bones are because of the osteoporosis.

Besides this discovery, two really tiny white spots were also found in my remaining breast from a mammogram and ultrasound scan. Not again.

The doctor tells me that I need to go for more scans, and if there is cause for suspicion, she will have to do another biopsy to determine if it is cancerous.

God, please don’t let me go through this again. I don’t think I can do it. I thought it was over already?

I have struggled and wrestled with God. I have yelled and cried in front of Him.

But again and again, I choose to surrender. He knows best. He knows my heart through and through.

The scar across my chest is a beautiful reminder of the time when God was there by my side to fight the battle for me. It is also a reminder of the moment that I chose not to give in – but to keep the faith and fight. It represents who I used to be – someone who treasured her outward appearances – and who I am now. A warrior.

At this time of writing, one of the spots has miraculously disappeared. The doctors have no idea what the remaining spot is and because it is too tiny, they can’t do anything about it right now. The only thing we can do is continue to pray and wait.

Please, remember me in your prayers.

Despite all the uncertainties, I choose to trust in God’s promises and in His providence. I trusted Him once and He didn’t fail me.

I’ll trust Him again no matter what.


The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yolanda now actively speaks to lend her support to fellow cancer fighters around her. If you know anyone who is going through the same situation and needs a companion for encouragement, drop her an email at yolandalee88@gmail.com.

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Don’t follow your heart

by | 19 February 2018, 11:17 AM

Don’t follow your heart.

Sure, most hearts do a fine job of pumping blood to keep us alive. But while it sustains life – it doesn’t lead us well at all. 

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

I’m sure you’ve felt the fickle nature of your own heart before. Right when we think we finally know what our heart wants – we’ve changed our minds by the next moment.

Our minds rationalise and soothe our easy hearts that it’s OK to run away from things we hate or fear. So we escape, and strive to find fulfilment in all manner of things.

Consider what’s frequently right at your fingertips: Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube – porn. These are so easily the well-worn holes which an escapist crawls into willingly.

But some holes are pits.

“I just wanted to disappear. Specifically, I wanted to disappear to an isolated and desolate place that reflected how I felt inside.” said Holly Baxter, who spent five weeks along the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia to escape social media.

Has your heart ever felt like escaping? You may even have thought of doing something like Baxter. I suppose that’s one way of being in touch with ourselves – by being somewhere which encompasses our inner turmoil.

 

Here’s the point: What really needs to be changed is what’s happening on the inside.

If we’re restless and constantly on the run, it more than likely reflects an absence of peace within. And sure, life can be difficult – but life is difficult.

The real question is: What do you have in this difficult life that’s unshakeable (Psalm 62:6)? My gentle words are that you find it, because a day will come when what your whole life stands upon is tested.

There is just one thing in this world worth pursuing. It is Jesus Christ – only Jesus satisfies!

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)

We were made to walk with God, we who are so prone to walk away. I want to tell you with all my being – shout it from the rooftops – that He is enough. We have all we’ll ever need in God.

We cannot go wrong by desiring Him, so let us choose and love Him.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

by | 15 February 2018, 3:37 PM

As she recalled her mother’s final days in her 6-year-long battle with cancer, Belinda Lee took a moment to compose herself before she continued.

The former Mediacorp actress and host spoke of moments when her mom would get up in the middle of the night, when she was in great pain, to cry out to God.

“At that time, she was already on morphine and was very weak. I don’t know where she got the energy from, but she would shout with all her strength for God to take her home.”

“She would cry out with all her might like this: ‘Jehovah, I beg you to bring me home.’

“It was then that my family knew that she was ready to go home. It was painful for us to let her go but we knew that she was ready,” Belinda said.

It was the beginning of the end of a journey which saw her mother go from being anti-Christian to embracing the love of Jesus.

Said Belinda: “My mom, who told the whole world that she would never become a Christian, received Christ when I was in Bible college, and she actually got water baptised on her own without telling the family.

“To me, that shows how true her conviction was, because she willingly did it on her own without pressure from anyone – she did it on her own accord because she truly wants to know who this amazing God is, and she welcomed Him into her life.”

(Belinda Lee’s sharing on her mother’s faith begins at 40:44 in this video)

Belinda shared that her mother, who was illiterate, would pray for God to teach her how to read the Bible.

And He did.

“A miracle happened one day. She came to me beaming with joy, sharing that God answered her prayer and she could finally read the Bible! Not every work, but she was able to at least understand the gist of what she was reading.”

Belinda found it hard to believe, but was encouraged by a neighbour, who said the same prayer had come true for her own elderly parents. “She told me that I have too little faith in God!”

And the way her mother spent her last days stood out to Belinda.

“A week before she finally took her last breath, she instructed one of my aunties to cook a scrumptious breakfast to serve her friends, the members, and the pastors of the Chinese Church she was attending – because that was what she used to do when she was still mobile.”

Belinda recalls her mom saying this to her in Hokkien: “Belinda, I wasn’t educated and I’m not good at studying, but I know how to cook. With my gift, I hope that I can serve God and His children.

“My mom was a dying women, but while on her deathbed, she wasn’t thinking about her own needs or blaming God. All she was thinking about was how she could continue serving God and His people to the very end of her life.

“Mom did not fear death because she believed with all her heart that our Abba Father was going to welcome her with open arms and personally lead her through the white gates of heaven when she meets Him one day.”

“I was told I was doomed to fail”: Belinda Lee’s journey from insecurity to purpose

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Porn and the things I’d rather love

by JH Kwek | 12 February 2018, 9:16 PM

It has been said that there are two types of men: Those who watch porn, and liars.

The truth is I belong to both categories.

My struggle with pornography began when I was 11. I was surfing the web when I stumbled onto some highly sexualised anime clips. Ever since then, this thorn, this drug, this corruption has been with me.

I’ve tried my whole life to break free, only for each attempt to end in failure. I got really good at lying about it though. Even when I confessed this sin to my cell members, I managed to phrase it in a way that made me look like the victim – like I was really trying my best and somehow that was enough.

It was like there was no real consequence to remaining in my addiction, as long as I cried and looked like I didn’t like it.

But I did.

I loved it: Every lustful moment in the toilet, every fantasy fired up by sensual Instagram posts, every filthy thought – I revelled in all of it. I knew the sinfulness of my addiction, but I didn’t really believe it. I was deluded, a man who thought nothing of eternity and only of the momentary high that came each night I gave in to my lust.

The struggle against pornography is often portrayed as a noble war, as if we’re righteous creatures born into a broken world, battling the forces of lust that seek to ruin us.

But we are not righteous creatures. We are dead creatures (Ephesians 2:1). We don’t just sin – we love to sin. We delight in it. We take pleasure in it. By ourselves we are so far from righteousness.

When God shook me out of my stupor, I finally saw how great my sin was – but I also had my eyes opened to the vastness of His grace.

The struggle against pornography is not a mere struggle to stop loving porn: It is a struggle to love Christ – and love Him more than anything else. So my problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

How then can a dead man love Christ? He can when he is brought to life.

My problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

And that was exactly what God did for me. In the quiet moment of a ministry retreat’s worship session, I read Ephesians 2 and became utterly convicted of my sin and sinful nature.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved …” (Ephesians 2:1-5)

There and then, I repented, and asked God to bring me back to life.

And He did. He called me back to life.

That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. As the words of Ephesians 2 filled my mind, He began to convict my heart of my very real state of sin, that I was indeed dead in my trespasses and sins, carrying out the desires of my body and my mind, just like the rest of mankind.

But the same Spirit who convicted me of my sin also revealed to me so mercifully and lovingly that God, because of the great love with which He had for me, was calling me out of death in my sin to a redeemed life with Jesus Christ. It is by grace I have been saved.

There are so many of us – men and women – who struggle with an addiction to pornography. I still struggle with it. Porn is undeniably pleasurable. Speaking from experience, it is one of the strongest and most addictive pleasures I’ve ever come across.

But I can also speak from experience, that the cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch. How blind I was! And how blind I still can be!

God gifted us priceless pleasure and fullest joy in His Son – yet we reject Him for worthless things. Father, forgive us!

A dead man can only love Christ when he is brought to life.

The cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch.

You may seek love in pornography, relationships or achievements – after all, we were designed to receive love. But there is a better way.

It is the love that God gives to us. It’s the same love that caused Him to send His only Son into the world, so that we who were doomed to die might live through Him. All this while we did not yet love Him. Our Father loved us, and sent his Son to pay our debts (1 John 4).

I pray that God brings you back to life and opens your eyes, that His Son is no longer just words on a page to you, but the very real and tangible pleasure that surpasses all other pleasures.

A heart full of Christ has neither need nor want of porn. Help us to want and need you God – bring us back to life!

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Tired of facing the usual questions at CNY?

by | 12 February 2018, 2:57 PM

You’ve always loved Chinese New Year (CNY). Meeting family and friends, stuffing your face with calories, receiving hongbao – what’s not to like?

Yet the older you got, the less excited you became for the season. Somewhere along the way you traded the enthusiasm for apprehension.

Well, you’re looking forward to the hongbao and the food … It’s the conversations you’re obliged to have that you dread.

  • How’s your job?
  • Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?
  • When are you getting married?
  • When are you having kids?

It’s the questions, man. Every year they ask the same questions and every year you give the same answers. It’s old.

So maybe that’s one reason you dread CNY, because of the exhausting questions that add or subtract value –assigning identities – to who you are based on your answers about your job, wife or life.

But you know, there really is only one question worth asking at the end of all these other questions.

Who am I?

You are more than your job, more than your relationship status, more than your bank account, more than what you’ve achieved or what you’ve not, more than how you look or how you dress. Dear friend, you are more than your successes and your failures, more than your reputation – more than an “ENFP” or an “ISTJ” or any combination of letters or numbers someone or something assigned to you.

Why? Because of who God says you really are.

Don’t laugh. You are intrinsically valuable – even if you’ve spent your whole life believing you’re not. This is what God says: You are fearfully and wonderfully made by Him (Psalm 139).

You were designed with intricate thoughts that outnumber the sand grains by the sea, woven tirelessly together. You were made a masterpiece in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)!

You were made fit to walk with angels on streets of gold (Revelation 21:21). If you are a child of the Most High God, then you are an heir to the King (Romans 8:16-17).

There is so much more to life than just going through the motions, dying and being buried in the earth. Snap out of the stupor and realise there’s more to it all than just daily putting in eight hours of work and showing up on Sundays.

There’s a more abundant life for you just waiting to be lived.

If you want this better life, God is waiting to give it to you. If you seek Him first, I promise you that He will show you the better way. But it’s a risk. I won’t hoodwink you: You must throw away the life you had before, to gain one worth keeping.

This isn’t a religion thing. This is about new life. It’s not about systems of reading the Bible, going to church, tithing, attending cell groups and praying regularly. Man, it’s about being reborn!

If you’re sick of this life, then chew on this: Maybe you’re not yet living the one you were made for.

This year, when you’re bombarded by all the usual questions – be the answer.

Be a light which reflects Jesus. Let whatever you think, say and do show God’s goodness. Pray and ask God to make it so that when your friends and relatives see you, they see Jesus.

It’s a hard prayer to make. And if you do make it, don’t be surprised at the challenges that soon come your way. They are the opportunities you were waiting for.

It doesn’t matter what others say about you. Tongues may wag … But well, tongues will always wag no matter what you do. Be the change you want to see in your family. Dare to be different from the expectations that society places on you. 

You’re probably sick of questions but I’ll leave you with a final one: How are you going to be different this year?

/ roytay@thir.st

Roy has a peculiar appreciation for subtle wordplay, an inexplorable passion for competitive sports, and an insatiable hunger for delicious food.

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by | 9 February 2018, 6:05 PM

Happy Chinese New Year! … Or is it?

Speaking to a number of people recently, I’ve realised that the festivities can be a difficult time for some. Not all’s well at family reunions, it increasingly appears to be.

Are you one of them? Are the relationships in your family breaking down faster than traditions can keep them together?

Maybe you once held out hope as a child, that things would get better in the family. Maybe you’ve tried, over the years, to get everyone together – but you no longer see a point to it when you’re the only one trying.

Maybe the relationships in your family are breaking down. Maybe you’re not even sure if there’s going to be a reunion dinner this year.

But what I do know is that it’s easy to feel like everyone else is having an amazing time when you’re scrolling through Instagram. It’s important to have perspective: We’re looking at the highlight reel of other people’s lives on social media.

Think about the things not present on Instagram: Strained relationships, family deaths, generational tensions, divorces, bitterness … The list goes on.

But I’m not interested in staying stuck in self-pity – we don’t have time for that. I want to think about how we can respond, if in reality, our family isn’t that perfect, shiny and colour-coordinated dream we see on-screen.

Love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too.

British-Ethiopian poet, Lemn Sissay, was fostered from birth and abandoned at the age of 12. By 18, he had lived in four children’s homes. He illustrates the importance of family using the game of squash:

“Family are like the walls in a game of squash. You hit the ball and it comes back at strange angles and you try to get it again … It develops your muscles in strange places, because you have to stretch sometimes to get the ball back in to continue the game.”

You have to stretch sometimes. The stretch is the place where love is learnt. We begin young with the easier stuff: We shared our favourite biscuit with dad, or gave our favourite toy to our sister.

But love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too!

It’s harder when love requires more from us, like when we’re faced with an aunt whom we just don’t want to tahan any longer. It’s hard when family culture seems impossible to change. It’s hard when money gets involved or when “face” gets in the way.

But when it’s hard that’s precisely when we need to persevere.

It’s not easy to be the first one in the family to say a loving word in response to toxicity or sarcasm. Unity is not easy. It’s not easy to put aside our pride and ask for forgiveness. And it’s not easy to choose to love when others don’t care.

If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need. Sissay also says this:

“And that all that would happen throughout my life is that my muscles would waste away beneath me because I’m not using the muscles that develop in the game of family … Family is defined by how it deals with difficult issues. It is strengthened by how it resolves them and weakened when it tries to ignore them.”

So don’t be discouraged if your family is facing difficult issues. Consider what real love is to your family members. Be the one who would love them.

Why should you do it? 1 John 4:19. “We love because he first loved us.” Jesus Christ loved us to the point that He would die for us – all while we were still sinners. God’s love takes the initiative. Jesus did – so we must do the same.

If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need.

We may not have gotten the love we needed from our family. We may even have even been disappointed by the very people who were supposed to be our best bets – but we always have a Father in Heaven who loves us perfectly.

“And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18)

Being filled with our Father’s perfect love for us enables us to love those around us. If your family is challenging, then let it challenge you. That’s where the growth is at.

I pray you’ll have faith to see that your best days are ahead of you. I pray you’ll have hope in God to do what you cannot on your own, and I pray that you will love someone enough to step out of your comfort zone.


Screenshots were taken from our Chinese New Year initiative, “One More Rice Bowl“.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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I was planning to get married, then I got cancer

Don’t follow your heart

Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

Porn and the things I’d rather love

Tired of facing the usual questions at CNY?

What if my family makes for an unhappy CNY?