Charlotte Wang has kept mum about her childhood battle with cancer for over a decade now.
But in line with this year’s World Cancer Day, which falls on February 4, she finally decided to open up about being a cancer survivor on her personal Dayre account, a micro-blogging platform.
When she was just 6, she was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma, otherwise known as kidney cancer.
“I barely understood what that meant or the implications of it. In fact, my parents tried to hide it from me for a while. My basic understanding of it was just that “there’s something bad in your tummy, and the doctor has to take it out,” which I suppose wasn’t completely wrong,” she wrote.
“Apparently, I was the first case of it in Singapore, which makes it even scarier.”
By the time her cancer was detected, it was already at stage 3 and the cancer cells had spread through her left kidney.
The doctor said she only had a 10% chance of survival.
Within five days of her diagnosis, she underwent a surgery to remove one of her kidneys.
What followed was 14 months of chemotherapy, and for the first 3 months, she had to undergo treatment almost every other day. Going in and out of hospital for treatment forced her to skip lessons, and she attended primary school for two hours a day at most.
She even missed an entire quarter of her Primary One year, but her mother was very proud of the fact that Charlotte still managed to top her class.
One Thing Led To Another
Fast forward to today, Charlotte said that cancer doesn’t really have any effect on how she lives her life now.
But she admitted to having a weak stamina, and is very careful with what she eats and drink “because now I only have one kidney!”
Being conscious of her diet, she naturally makes an effort to lean towards healthier choices.
A random conversation with her boyfriend about the healthy food scene in Singapore one day sparked the idea to set up her own café.
Back then, there wasn’t as much hype about clean eating, and taking inspiration from the food served in other Western countries such as in New York and Australia, the couple wanted to do something similar in Singapore.
And that’s how Guac & Go came about – a humble joint on Maxwell Road serving all things healthy, centred on avocados.
“The idea behind Guac & Go is healthy and nourishing meals made delicious. Salads get such a bad name for being tasteless or boring, and we want to change the misconception. While researching on the best superfoods, we stumbled across the nutrient powerhouse which is the humble avocado.”
“Avocado itself can be a little bland, but mix it with a some lemon juice, salt, onions, and coriander – and you get yourself some yummy guacamole!”
Moreover, the interest in clean eating is on the rise and Charlotte wanted to tap on this trend.
A $115,000 Business Venture
When the café first opened doors in December 2014, Charlotte was only 21.
Prior to running her own cafe, she studied art business management and then worked in sales and marketing for a floral company.
Despite having zero knowledge or experience in the F&B industry, Charlotte still dived into it anyway.
Although she was a complete rookie, her family and friends were very supportive towards her venture, though there were a few who showed signs of skepticism.
She invested about $115,000 to kickstart the business together with her boyfriend, who is now her business partner. 60% of the capital came from their own savings, while the remaining amount was a loan from their parents.
Starting out, it definitely wasn’t easy, so she gave herself six months to figure out if this was something she really wanted to do.
In the early days, it was just Charlotte, her boyfriend, and her mother managing the shop.
She recounted that there were many days when she had to get up early at 6am and sleep late at night just dealing with the crazy demands of running a food business.
And although Guac & Go is located somewhere central, the café isn’t exactly very easy to find, which posed a bit of challenge.
“Our first couple of days were very quiet. However, we noticed that the customers who came started to return, and even brought their friends along, which was super encouraging for us. Even today, we rely a lot on word of mouth!”
Being A Boss At Age 21
Another challenge was managing employers who were older than her.
She is used to being a member of the staff, so the transition to being a boss at such a young age proved to be very difficult for her.
“When I first started, I had staff who questioned my ability as I was a good decade younger than them.”
“Plus, being a girl in this industry, there is an unspoken prejudice as there are suppliers who will choose to contact my boyfriend over me, although I’m the one who oversees the day-to-day operations in the shop.”
But Charlotte isn’t deterred by this, and is instead motivated to prove the detractors wrong by pushing her capabilities.
Despite holding the Director title at Guac & Go, Charlotte is very hands-on and works closely on the ground with her staff.
“I do a little bit of everything, from cashiering, prepping, cleaning, accounts, marketing, and more! It’s a tough balancing act, but I find it fulfilling.”
She admitted that being a boss is definitely not easy – “it’s a lot more stressful and not as glamourous as most people might think.”
“I think the most uneasy part is not knowing what the future might bring, as anything can happen along the way. But I guess the best way to deal with it is to celebrate the little moments everyday and take things in your stride.”
Learning about her past struggles as a cancer survivor, I can’t help but applaud her optimism in life.
Even when I asked her about her plans on surviving in the cut-throat F&B industry, Charlotte said that it’s normal for the landscape to be temperamental.
“One moment you’re hot, the next you’re not! I think we’re very fortunate to still be in the game for 2.5 years now. We have stuck with our stand-out item guacamole since the start, and will continue to do so for as long as we can.”
She added that she isn’t particularly daunted by any challenges as she believes that it “comes and goes in waves”.
“Problems will come, but it will also go like the waves on the beach. Everything is temporary,” she said optimistically.
“So to other young entrepreneurs out there, be strong and bold; and believe in what you’re doing because people can feel the passion that you radiate.”
Featured Image Credit: Charlotte Wang, @guacngo