I present myself before you as an 18- year- old Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) fighter. I was just another normal 15- year- old teenager trying to find her identity in this big, messy world when my journey with cancer started. Today, I am a proud cancer survivor.
3rd July 2007: I will never forget the moment when everyone surrounded my bed, held onto me and my parents told me that I had cancer. My father asked me, "Do you know what cancer means?" I said, "You have cancer when your bone marrow starts producing premature cells. You either have chemotherapy or radiotherapy or both. The side- effects are hair loss, weight loss/gain, nausea…" That was when a question popped into my head. "What if I die soon?" I could no longer speak from that moment on as tears started to rob me of my speech. With a shaky voice, I said, "I'm scared."
4th July 2007: My first birthday while battling cancer. That same afternoon, I was transferred to Ward 46 in NUH. I was sitting on my bed and feeling miserable and grumpy. After all, it was my birthday. Why should I be in this strange place? Being a person who preferred to keep her worries to herself, I started writing in my diary. I wrote till I was exhausted, till my fear and worries grew to deep hatred for cancer. Till that very moment, I had never hated something so much in my life before.
During the treatment period, each one of us faced different types of difficulties. For me, I had to face three ghastly months struggling with my Port-A-Cath. Due to infection, the stitches opened and I had to go for cleaning of my PAC every day. It was painful. Thinking about it now still makes me shudder uncontrollably. But despite all the screaming and tantrums I threw during the process of cleaning, the nurses who were there with me called me a brave girl, a princess, and a sweetheart. The phrase: "We cannot do great things; only small things with great love" by Mother Theresa, describes these angels beautifully who did the smallest yet most meaningful thing by holding my hand with great love.
The first time I was wheeled into ICU, it was for pancreas inflammation. Liquid was drained from my tummy and I was not given food for a period of four to five days. It was during that period when I really counted my blessings and realised how lucky I was to have bread on my plate every single day. By the time I came out of ICU, my healthy weight of 50kg had dropped to an awful 36kg – all within a week. Sure, looking thin is every girl's dream, but not sickly thin. So many people take so many things for granted. It was during this period that I realised I was like that before too. I expected things to be the way they were supposed to be. I didn't realise that many out there didn't have it that way but they never complained about it. For me, however, I had been taking my hands, legs, eyes, my family, and everything else for granted.
"Why me?" is an extremely popular question asked by people all around the world when they experience difficulties.. I was no exception. While my parents were busy taking care of me and managing the finances, there was a group of people who put themselves in charge of my emotional well being. They came barginginto my door and refused to back down from their assumed responsibility even when I tried to give them the cold shoulder. They texted me every single day without fail and someone would come visit me with encouraging pep-talks. They made small paper stars with me and filled me with hope. They cooked for me during my therapy and saved me from hospital food. They knew my protocol by heart and probably better than me. I don't know how I would have survived if they did not come to me during that period.
Throughout this journey, I met many brave souls. They are not scholarly graduates or PhD holders. I doubt they know the difference between Saturn and Mars. Instead, they were more knowledgeable about Tom and Jerry. They are none other than the kids I met in the ward. Five is not the age to know about Lumber Puncture, Port-A-Cath or Neutrophils. Yet they did. They could tell in detail how a Lumber Puncture or a Bone Marrow Analysis was done. Not only were they brave, they were mature beyond their age. Those kids taught me how to live with energy and passion in the face of obstacles. They reminded me that NOW is everything. I salute these true heroes!
Six months later, I started attending school again. Going to school has always been a wonderful experience for me. I loved being there. However, things started to change the year I entered again. I wasn't with my friends, who were already promoted to the next level. I missed them. I had great difficulties making new friends. To make matters worse, I was seen as the girl who skipped too much school. Most of the days, I couldn't go to school as I had to go for treatment. It took time and a lot of help from my teachers to help break the barriers that I created myself.
To me, my teachers are the greatest teachers in history. Credit goes to them for managing to convince me to go back to school during that period, for they made it worthwhile to do so. They were patient with me when I couldn't turn in my work on time. They coached me privately when I needed help. These past two years in school turned out to be the most important years in my academic life. Not only did I manage to develop academically, I too discovered my ability to be resilient and to tolerate solitude. Eventually, I did make some great friends. Of course, I didn't begin that journey by choice. But this was the journey that taught me that solitude allows us to learn so much more about who we are.
I received my O level results on the 11th of January this year – also the day when I had my last drop of chemotherapy. It was certainly a nerve wrecking day. I was in the ward the whole morning and was preparing myself mentally to receive my results at 2pm at my secondary school. On one hand, my heart was bursting with joy due to the fact that my treatment had finally ended. On the other hand, my mind was insisting that I had screwed up my major papers and that my results were definitely going to be a failure. Imagine battling such contrasting emotions simultaneously! However, to my surprise, I had done very well. Looking back, I can still feel the delight that flooded through me when I saw my score of 8 points. Wasn't I the girl who missed school for more than half a year? Wasn't I the one who fell sick during my History paper?
If there was one thing that I learnt that day, it is the fact that the adage "Nothing is Impossible" is true.
Writing this has not been pleasant for me. I had to relive all my memories and feel my pain and anguish again to allow myself to write an honest story. This might not have been something that I would do, but I am certain of it now. If I don't pen this experience, I will not have anything to look back on and be proud of. So, thank you to all those kind souls who encouraged me to write this.