CEO of Oriental Remedies Group shares her journey with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in Singapore
Cancer treatment in Singapore include chemotherapy and radiation therapy – and these forms of cancer therapy are known to have side effects like pain, bleeding and bruising, nausea and vomiting, hair loss and fatigue – just to name a few. It is also known to be a very debilitating sickness for the patient, and can take a toll on the family and caregiver’s physical and emotional health.
To cope with these side effects of cancer, it is not uncommon today for cancer patients to turn to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medications and electro-lymphatic therapy as complementary forms of treatment and support.
Studies have shown that TCM is able to reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in cancer treatments by producing blood and qi, nourishing the liver and kidney and strengthening the stomach and spleen, resulting in the prolonged survival of the cancer patient. 
We spoke to Beatrice Liu, CEO of Oriental Remedies Group, who shared her personal story on this topic that is close to her heart: how TCM helped her own mother with her cancer journey and how it began her own path into the world of TCM.
1. What’s your story?
I was a typical corporate employee until my mum was diagnosed suddenly with Stage 4 cancer in 2014. My mum’s cancer journey was very unique in that she chose not to do any conventional treatments, but she outlived her initial prognosis from a few months to a few years. In the process, she implemented many lifestyle improvements and complementary treatments including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to maintain great quality of life. Even towards her last days, she was still relatively mobile and did not rely on painkillers, so I am very thankful for all the different things we tried that made her comfortable.
In the process of being a caregiver, my company was very kind to give me one year no-pay leave initially. But as my mum still needed care after one year, I ventured into distributing wellness products and supplements which she found helpful, to have the flexibility to care for her while working from home. Through that business, I met Physician Leong, who is now my business partner at Oriental Remedies Group. Physician Leong was then running a one-woman-operation clinic, and I saw her potential to really help more people with her TCM knowledge and skills, so I volunteered to help her with some sales and marketing. Over 3 months, her patient count tripled with many patients feeling better and referring more people, and that got us thinking of forming Oriental Remedies Group formally.
2. Why did you start Oriental Remedies Group?
Because of the caregiver journey I went through, I know first-hand how much emotional turmoil a patient and his/her family can go through on top of the physical discomforts. I know that sense of hopelessness when a family member has been somewhat given a death sentence, but yet, you have to be strong and smile in front of him/her because you need to help them stay positive. I know the uncertainty the night before every medical check, fearing the perhaps the scan will show that the tumour has grown or the disease is progressing.
And this is the reason why I decided to work with Physician Leong to form Oriental Remedies Group – to prevent people from having to go through this same painful journey. For sure, all of us will age and leave one day, but we can all be so much more if we live not just long lives but have high quality of lives – being active, mobile and engaged – till our last days. This is the reason why our bold vision is to is to help all mankind #BeTheBestYouCanBe by leading a healthy and fulfilling life.
For people who have acute or sub-health conditions, we aim to help them improve their body constitution to an optimal level so that they are stay healthy. For patients who have existing conditions, especially chronic ones, we offer effective treatments grounded in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and enhanced with medical technology to help our patients feel better faster.
3. How did you start the business?
Oriental Remedies Inc was started by my business partner, Physician Leong in 2013 as a one-woman operation clinic in Jurong East. In the 2 years that I volunteered on the business from 2017-2019, we saved up most of the profits for reinvestment.
Finally, we re-branded and started Oriental Remedies Group formally in 2019 when we opened our second location at East Coast, as well as expanded into other business pillars such as distributing medical devices and wellness products.
In all, I would say we invested SGD$500,000 from our savings, with help from our parents as well. The biggest investments went into hiring our wonderful team and also our enhanced medical devices.
4. What is one challenge no one knows about when you first launched your business?
Wow, there are so many! 🙂 I would say the toughest was to manage my time and energy while trying to find the right talent in the very initial phases.
For us to launch and scale Oriental Remedies Group, I felt there were two big things we needed to improve upon – one was capital, and one was my skillsets. As such, while I was still volunteering at the clinic from 2017-2019, I took on a full-time position as senior strategy consultant in a renowned global consulting firm. The projects there exposed me across many different industries and across the value chain – from supply chain to digitalization to market expansion. These experiences are very exciting and invaluable as we now try to scale not just in Singapore but overseas. Of course, it also allowed us to save up as we did not want to get external investors who might not share the same ethos as us.
However, having a full-time job with already very intense and long hours (I once stayed client’s office till almost 2am), and then working in my free time on launching Oriental Remedies Group meant that I was very stretched all the time. And as we were really very ‘start-up’ with no strong branding then, it was so hard to attract our first few full time staff so Physician Leong and I had to do everything ourselves. We cleaned the clinic after closing, I sat at the counter on weekends to help serve patients, I did all the social media, copywriting and job postings, Physician Leong has to work on admin and finance duties after a long day of seeing patients… those were really tiring times.
So I am really thankful for the talents who trusted in us; we have grown from 2 of us to a team of almost 20 in under 2 years. I am so glad all of our work fam who joined us full time have stayed with us till now. (PS: We really appreciate having you with us! I would not have survived if I continued doing everything on my own!)
5. What is one of the greatest myths of Traditional Chinese Medicine?
You are so good at asking great questions! Before I became more familiar with TCM, I had this perception that TCM and especially herbs are very slow acting. And as I interact with more patients, I realized that this is a prevalent mindset – that allopathic medication tends to be fast acting and good for acute conditions, while TCM herbs and treatments are for longer term 调理 “Tiao Li”, which implies it takes time to balance and fine tune your body to its optimum.
But I have come to realise this is not necessarily true. We once rushed down to clinic on our off-day because we had an anxious mum whose son was having a persistent high fever and she didn’t want to give him more medication. So, we opened up the clinic so the son could receive cupping treatment (to release the heat) and simple plant-based herbs. The very next day, his fever broke and he felt a lot of better. So that was the first time I realized too that TCM therapies can be fast-acting.
For myself too, I used to be very prone to sore throats. So, there was one day I didn’t want to take more medication and finally decided to try out blood-letting. (It sounds so painful and scary right? :P) so the Physician poked near my index finger and released some dark blood (which apparently meant I was very heaty) and after that, I immediately felt relief from the pain that was on the right side of my throat! It was so weird for me to feel it so fast! Ever since then, I tried blood letting only twice and both times I felt a lot better very quickly. Thankfully, I also have herbs at my disposal now so I fall sick a lot of lesser so I don’t have to get pricked!
We have grown to a team of eight bilingual physicians who, on average, have more than 10 years of TCM experience. Trained in both Biomedical Science and TCM in both NTU Singapore and China, our physicians are well-equipped with scientiﬁc knowledge and wisdom from traditional medicine to help our patients feel better faster!
6. Oftentimes being an entrepreneur requires mental fortitude to forge a new path and face uncertainties. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
For someone relatively young, I have experienced losing quite a few close loved ones. When I was 25, I lost one of my closest friends to stomach cancer. She was only two years my senior. After losing my mum, just last year, one of my closest and fittest friends from JC collapsed from heart failure and left us just like that. Hence, when I get anxious about issues, I often think to myself – “What is this problem I am facing compared to death or being sick? What is the worst case?” These questions help me put things in perspective to deal with fear or worry, and also help me be more patient.
I am not sure if this is called a fear, but if you ask me what is on my mind very often, it is this – “Am I doing the best for the people around me? My family, my team and my friends.” Because I know all our time is limited and because I have lost close ones suddenly, I often wonder if I am loving enough, giving enough and helping enough. I am still learning to manage this – knowing that every day I go to bed having tried my best! I also rely on my husband and close friends to keep me sane when I start questioning myself!
7. What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I love being able to do work that actually impacts people, and I can see that tangible impact in this line because I can physically see patients coming in wheelchairs and leaving our doors being able to walk with support!
Being a leader in our business means I can make decisions that cut swirl and red tape so we can remain very flexible to serve our patients better. It also means we can experiment, learn fast from mistakes, and become better faster. I also enjoy being able to make hiring decisions because it is such a joy to hire the right fit and be able to provide the environment and coaching to see them develop and grow into strong leaders!
8. What is one health hack or wellness tip you personally subscribe to?
I am so glad you asked this because I already decided if I ever get to do a TED-talk one day, it will be on this – get anti-oxidants through your food, air and skin!
Do you know what is the single biggest mechanism that causes us to age? Hint: it is the same reason why apples turn brown!
Yes, it is oxidation. Scientifically, oxidative stress contributes to aging which accelerates our telomere shortening. This is why we try to eat Vitamin C and take TCM herbs like astragalus which are high in ANTI-oxidants, because they fight oxidation.
What is a lot less known which is my family’s health hack is that we invest in products that also generate these anti-oxidants, similar to what you get in nature and waterfalls, but you can absorb in through air via an air ionizer and through your skin, via a special fiber technology made in Japan. My husband used to have so bad sinus that his sneezes wake me up every morning. Ever since we invested in these for ourselves, I even forgot he used to sneeze. It is amazing!
9. What is one advice you would give to budding local women entrepreneurs today?
This is my personal belief I would like to share – always try to value-add.
To your consumers – don’t find consumers for your product/service, but value-add by designing or finding the right proposition for your consumers. When we focus on value-adding and resolving problems for our consumers, they would naturally be looking for your product/service and recommend them to others who have similar needs.
To your team – value-add by first improving yourself. I always tell my team – I can’t lead you well to places I haven’t been. Therefore I invest in my own training, and where I find good relevant training, I then value-add to them by sending them to develop them as well.
To people – if people are asking you for help, value-add by really thinking where they are coming from, and help them. If your friends ask you to ‘like’ their page, go one step further by buying something small for them or helping them share their posts. If your friends ask you for career advice, help them by connecting them to recruiters or pointing them to other career coaches who might be able to help.
It is tough being a business owner, and sometimes tougher being a female because they may be still discrimination is some context. It gets even harder if and when you decide to become a mum, so let’s ensure we support one another 🙂
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Physician Leong Weizhen graduated from NTU with a double degree in both Biomedical Science and TCM and was also awarded the prestigious Chinese Government Scholarship. Over the years, she has amassed a wealth of experience in diagnosis, immediate symptomatic relief treatments as well as long term treatment plans to correct underlying medical issues and deficiencies. She also specialises in Electro-Lymphatic Therapy for cancer patients.
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References Liu, J., Wang, S., Zhang, Y., Fan, H. T., & Lin, H. S. (2015). Traditional Chinese medicine and cancer: History, present situation, and development. Thoracic cancer, 6(5), 561–569. https://doi.org/10.1111/1759-7714.12270