Dr. Richard Teo was a very successful cosmetic surgeon and a 40 year old millionaire living the life of the rich and famous. His life came to a screeching halt when he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He spent the rest of his limited time pondering about his life and concluded to a different definition of the meaning of happiness, morals and regrets.
Many times, the last few words of a person are the most inspiring and life changing ones. I believe it is because they are forced to think, ponder and reflect about the real priorities of life since they do not have the luxury of time as other normal people. I hope that we don’t have to wait til we come to the end of our lives that we stop living our lives ignorantly and foolishly. But learn our lessons from these brave people who had to experience unfortunate events that cut their lives short, but wise enough to change their ways in the end.
Below is an excerpt of his last speech to a class full of future dental surgeons on 19th January 2011, about 10 months after his diagnosis. He died on 18th October 2012.
Since young, I am a typical product of today’s society. Relatively successful product that society requires.. From young, I came from a below average family. I was told by the media… and people around me that happiness is about success. And that success is about being wealthy. With this mind-set, I’ve always be extremely competitive, since I was young. I went on to medical school, graduated as a doctor.
If you’re aware, in the last few years, there is this rise in aesthetic medicine. Tons of money to be made there. So I decided, well, enough of staying in institution, it’s time to leave. So I quit my training halfway and I went on to set up my aesthetic clinic… in town, together with a day surgery centre.
So, business was good, very good. It started off with waiting of one week, then became 3 weeks, then one month, then 2 months, then 3 months. I was overwhelmed; there were just too many patients. Vanities are fantastic business. I employed one doctor, the second doctor, the 3rd doctor, the 4th doctor. And within the 1st year, we’re already raking in millions. Just the 1st year. But never is enough because I was so obsessed with it. I started to expand into Indonesia to get all the rich Indonesian tai-tais who wouldn’t blink an eye to have a procedure done. So life was really good.
So what do I do with the spare cash. How do I spend my weekends? Typically, I’ll have car club gatherings. I take out my track car, with spare cash I got myself a track car. We have car club gatherings. We’ll go up to Sepang in Malaysia. We’ll go for car racing. And it was my life. With other spare cash, what do i do? I get myself a Ferrari. At that time, the 458 wasn’t out, it’s just a spider convertible, 430. This is a friend of mine, a schoolmate who is a forex trader, a banker. So he got a red one, he was wanting all along a red one, I was getting the silver one.
So what do I do after getting a car? It’s time to buy a house, to build our own bungalows. So we go around looking for a land to build our own bungalows, we went around hunting. So how do i live my life? Well, we all think we have to mix around with the rich and famous. This is one of the Miss Universe. So we hang around with the beautiful, rich and famous. This by the way is an internet founder. So this is how we spend our lives, with dining and all the restaurants and Michelin Chefs you know.
So I reach a point in life that I got everything for my life. I was at the pinnacle of my career and all. That’s me one year ago in the gym and I thought I was like, having everything under control and reaching the pinnacle.
Well, I was wrong. I didn’t have everything under control. About last year March, I started to develop backache in the middle of nowhere. I thought maybe it was all the heavy squats I was doing. So I went to SGH, saw my classmate to do an MRI, to make sure it’s not a slipped disc or anything. And that evening, he called me up and said that we found bone marrow replacement in your spine. I said, sorry what does that mean? I mean I know what it means, but I couldn’t accept that. I was like “Are you serious?” I was still running around going to the gym you know. But we had more scans the next day, PET scans – positrons emission scans, they found that actually I have stage 4 terminal lung cancer. I was like “Whoa where did that come from?” It has already spread to the brain, the spine, the liver and the adrenals. And you know one moment I was there, totally thinking that I have everything under control, thinking that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my life. But the next moment, I have just lost it.
This is a CT scan of the lungs itself. If you look at it, every single dot there is a tumour. We call this miliaries tumour. And in fact, I have tens of thousands of them in the lungs. So, I was told that even with chemotherapy, that I’ll have about 3-4months at most. Did my life come crushing on, of course it did, who wouldn’t? I went into depression, of course, severe depression and I thought I had everything.
See the irony is that all these things that I have, the success, the trophies, my cars, my house and all. I thought that brought me happiness. But i was feeling really down, having severe depression. Having all these thoughts of my possessions, they brought me no joy. The thought of… You know, I can hug my Ferrari to sleep, no… No, it is not going to happen. It brought not a single comfort during my last ten months. And I thought they were, but they were not true happiness. But it wasn’t. What really brought me joy in the last ten months was interaction with people, my loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care about me, they laugh and cry with me, and they are able to identify the pain and suffering I was going through. That brought joy to me, happiness. None of the things I have, all the possessions, and I thought those were supposed to bring me happiness. But it didn’t, because if it did, I would have felt happy think about it, when I was feeling most down..
WATCH THE YOU TUBE VIDEO OF THE COMPLETE SPEECH BELOW
I’ll just end of with this quote here, it’s from this book called Tuesdays with Morris, and some of you may have read it. Everyone knows that they are going to die; every one of us knows that. The truth is, none of us believe it because if we did, we will do things differently. When I faced death, when I had to, I stripped myself off all stuff totally and I focused only on what is essential. The irony is that a lot of times, only when we learn how to die then we learn how to live. I know it sounds very morbid for this morning but it’s the truth, this is what I’m going through.
Don’t let society tell you how to live. Don’t let the media tell you what you’re supposed to do. Those things happened to me. And I led this life thinking that these are going to bring me happiness. I hope that you will think about it and decide for yourself how you want to live your own life. Not according to what other people tell you to do, and you have to decide whether you want to serve yourself, whether you are going to make a difference in somebody else’s life. Because true happiness doesn’t come from serving yourself. I thought it was but it didn’t turn out that way.
Also most importantly, I think true joy comes from knowing God. Not knowing about God – I mean, you can read the Bible and know about God – but knowing God personally; getting a relationship with God. I think that’s the most important. That’s what I’ve learnt.
So if I were to sum it up, I’d say that the earlier we sort out the priorities in our lives, the better it is. Don’t be like me – I had no other way. I had to learn it through the hard way.
I hope we all learn this life changing lesson before it’s too late. Because we don’t know how much time we have left in this world…
- Dr Richard Teo: Last Words from a 40 Year Old Millionaire Surgeon- Written by Ben Irawan Read the whole speech: http://www.richardteo.com/his-story-in-words/ Images from http://www.facebook.com/drrichardteo & http://www.richardteo.com