Photos: Teo Sijia, Joanna Goh
Mark Lee is the energizer bunny we all aspire to be (or still be) when we turn 50.
The funnyman, who will be turning half-a-century-old in a couple of days' time (Oct 14) seems to run on a limitless energy reservoir: he starts his weekday mornings bright and early with a radio show on Love 97.2, then attends to business meetings for his production company and soon-to-go-regional F&B business, 13 Stages. Sometimes he has acting or hosting commitments that go on well into the night for days or weeks on end, and at the end of the day, he returns home to assume daddy duties.
On top of that, he and his wife, Catherine Ng, have to shuttle between the hospital and home, three days a month, for their youngest daughter’s medical treatment.
A little over a month ago, Mark and his wife were delivered a crushing piece of news when they found out that their 3-year-old daughter, Calynn, was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition that was attacking her kidney. They are doing everything they can for her now and have reaped small results from their efforts to treat her condition.
During his 15-minute break when he was filming the second season of The Love 972 Breakfast Show with co-hosts Dennis Chew, Marcus Chin and Chen Biyu, Mark gave Toggle an update about his daughter’s current condition, after undergoing three rounds of treatment.
“After the checkup and after the report was out, there are still some protein found in her pee, but other factors are mostly under control,” he shared. “It was a big percentage in the beginning and now it’s down to a little above zero percent and that’s a good effect. Now we’re just undergoing the treatment because it needs to completely go down to zero to reach the optimum levels.”
The most pressing matter at hand, according to Mark, is to “keep things under control” and for Calynn’s immune system to improve.
Mark added that doctors are unsure if his daughter will recover completely and revealed that there are two possible outcomes from this depending on whether it is a malignant or benign kidney disease.
If it’s the former, Calynn may lose her kidney completely in three to six months’ time and although she has the option of removing one kidney, the bacteria may attack her sole remaining good kidney. If it’s the latter, which is the case for Calynn, they are able to use steroids to treat it and she may (or may not) grow out of it after she turns 16 or 17 years old, said Mark.
“I told my wife that no matter what, she’s our child and we need to do this. When my wife heard about Calynn’s sickness in the beginning, she would cry, but to me crying is pointless. Of course I understand that she carried the child to full term in her womb and feels the pain, but crying does not help. What’s important is we need to treat her illness together. Even if we cannot treat it completely, we need to do our best to prevent it from deteriorating further,” he said.
Mark and Catherine have a long road ahead of them but the entertainer and entrepreneur shared that his wife and their three kids are coping well with the changes in their household, especially little Calynn who’s proving to be a real trooper with her hospital visits and treatments.
Mark tells us about his chicken rice and coffee business going abroad, how his ‘little lover’ (aka Calynn) has matured overnight after she was diagnosed with this illness, and their family’s short brush with a scammer who attempted to raise funds by misusing Calynn’s photos. Read on for more.
The Love 97.2 Breakfast Quartet TV show airs Thursdays, 8pm on Channel 8. Watch past episodes on Toggle.
Tune in to The Love 97.2 Breakfast Quartet on weekdays from 6am to 10am.
(Continued on next page: Mark talks about 13 Stages' expansion into Malaysia)
TOGGLE: It’s been a year since you set up 13 Stages, how’s the business doing now?
Right now, we have a few overseas investors keen on franchising 13 Stages overseas. We’re at a good place too – we’re not losing money but it’s not like we’re raking in a lot of profits too… there are people who are keen to bring it to Malaysia now, and we’re still in talks of opening shop in China and Indonesia.
So your first overseas branch will be opened in…? And how far along are you in setting up your first overseas outlet?
The first outlet will be Malaysia. As this is the first overseas outlet, we need to sort out the franchising details. We are working for it to be a joint-franchise, so we need to sort out various logistics, especially the HR side of getting the shop staff on track… we learned that different markets have different food cultures so we can’t expect them to follow how things are run in Singapore. You still need to adjust and accommodate to the overseas culture.
Previously, you shared that your wife helps look after 13 Stages while you focus on your showbiz career. How has this changed?
My wife is less hands on with the business – my work partner handles most of it. Our team is more mature now and stronger too, so my wife is currently focused on caring for our youngest daughter.
Does Calynn’s siblings know what has happened to her?
Her brother and sister know she’s sick, but Marksonn is only in Primary 1 and he doesn’t want to give in to [her], but his elder sister Calista would encourage Marksonn. She’s in Primary 4 and better-behaved, while her younger brother is more mischievous and his mentality is like that of a 6-year-old.
Has Calynn returned to school?
No, we need to get the green light from doctors first. What’s most important is the doctors are worried that when she’s doing this treatment, she needs to and try very hard to avoid contracting any other bad bacteria or else the whole treatment will go to waste… We need to make sure she always cleans her hands and maintains her hygiene levels… she has no more antibodies and her immune system is weak.
How are the kids coping with the changes at home? Be it dietary or lifestyle habits?
The other two kids are OK with it, on the other hand I feel like my youngest daughter has matured overnight. Like when I was in Penang filming a movie recently, my wife visited me on set and brought her along too. When my wife was at the drug store buying necessities, she’d (Calynn) would walk on her own – she used to want us to carry her previously. She’d also tell her mum she wants to drink her milk and brush her teeth on her own accord after she’s done with it. She’s more sensible now. I didn’t realise it until my wife told me and I noticed the change in her too. She now keeps her things properly and puts them back where she took it from. It’s a sudden change, and I’m not too sure what brought about this.
Recently, we saw you and your wife posting about a person misusing Calynn’s photos under the guise of fund-raising. What happened exactly? And did you guys eventually make a police report?
The entire matter was brought to our attention by my wife’s friend. She was informed that this internet user was using my daughter’s photos to raise S$20,000 and sent a screenshot of it to us. My wife asked for the person’s Facebook account ‘cos she wanted to investigate it, but the person had removed the post by then.
If we had the account and the post, we’d make a police report. But it’s hard for the police to take any action based on screenshots… it’s tricky since the post was removed. Maybe the person realised that he used the wrong photo, maybe the person didn’t know that she’s my daughter. When he put up the post, many people commented and the person was probably frightened and removed it quickly.
How do you keep yourself together and juggle everything on your plate in spite of everything that’s happening?
I’m doing what I enjoy doing… I’m doing everything I love on a daily basis – radio, TV and movies. Because I’m doing what I love, I’m able to complete all my jobs. But if I’m on break tomorrow, I’d go back to sleep after I’m done with my morning radio show. It’s Ok lah. I’m turning 50 and maybe I’ve already expended my battery and am in fact a 50-year-old living in the body of a 70-year-old, I don’t know… but for now, I’m still enjoying every moment on stage and being in front of the cameras.
How do you make sure you go home with the right state of mind? And not bring negativity home?
Never, I’m doing what I love, if I don’t love it I might take things too personally – like the director’s or the viewers’ critiques. What I’m doing, to be honest, every project and every segment, I give it 101 percent…. I’m always there for my career. You need to keep running, things cannot stop just because something happened at home. I’m really doing what I love and I’m very lucky to have met a group of people who can accept what I do in my various jobs.
Mark Lee’s youngest daughter diagnosed with kidney problem
How chicken rice and coffee saved Mark Lee’s business
Jeanette Aw moved to tears by Mark Lee’s acting in ‘Ramen Teh’
Inside the ‘Love 97.2 Breakfast Quartet’ crossover to TV