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Teacher buys $1,200 scooter for student with cancer

Ng Chee Heng, 17, Jurong West Secondary School

Inspiration: His physical education teacher who did not let cancer get in his way and his mathematics teacher for helping him understand maths concepts.

When he was 12, Ng Chee Heng was diagnosed with ependymoma.

The life-threatening illness is caused by a type of brain tumour that spreads malignant cells throughout the brain and spinal cord.

Chee Heng had to undergo five operations, as well as numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

But his teachers and parents inspired him to keep fighting.

Despite his battle with cancer, the Jurong West Secondary School (JWSS) student did well in his N levels, getting 12 points.

The 17-year-old said: "I was shocked and sad when I was diagnosed. I would also feel discouraged at times, but I accepted my condition and moved on."

WHEELCHAIR

After his third operation in October 2009, Chee Heng could not walk and lost feeling in his legs. He had to rely on crutches or a wheelchair.

His father, container truck driver Ng Kwee Koh, would massage Chee Heng's legs daily.

The 55-year-old said: "I would do it till my hands were sore. I just wanted his legs to get better."

Although Chee Heng was gradually able to walk again after physiotherapy, his mobility was affected and he walked with a limp.

He said: "I would feel out of breath easily if I walked for long distances."

Chee Heng took a break from school in 2010 to recuperate.

When he entered JWSS in 2011, his physical education teacher, Mr Yip Kwan Guan, 59, noticed his plight.

Mr Yip, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 nose cancer in August 2009, could empathise with what Chee Heng was going through.

He bought Chee Heng a disability mobile scooter, which has halved the teen's travelling time from home to school to less than 10 minutes.

"I saw it as an opportunity to help a fellow cancer warrior," said Mr Yip, who paid for the $1,200 scooter out of his own pocket.

"Going through five operations at his age is like going through living hell.

"The scooter would make it easier for him to move around and hopefully, one day, he won't need it any more."

Before he had the scooter, Chee Heng would walk or his mum would cycle him to school.

Chee Heng said: "It makes moving around easier and I can be more independent. I don't have to rely so much on my parents any more."

Expressing his gratitude to Mr Yip, he added: "He has helped me out more than what an ordinary teacher would do.

"I'm also inspired by how he does not let cancer get in the way and still dares to try new experiences."

Chee Heng is also grateful to his mathematics teacher Ms Amanda Lee, whom he credits for his improvement in the subject.

"She helped me understand maths concepts and offered consultations to the class when the exams were near. She even came back to school on Saturdays to help us."

Chee Heng, who still goes for regular check-ups and weekly physiotherapy sessions at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, is recovering well.

He wants to apply for the Polytechnic Foundation Programme and is interested in the engineering and accountancy courses at Singapore Polytechnic. Both courses require at least a B3 in English, but he has a B4.

Chee Heng said: "If I can't get into these courses, I will continue on to Secondary 5 and work harder next year."

 

Exam papers in one hand, IV drop in the other

Courtney Louise Tay, 16, Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Secondary)

Inspiration: Her mother, who “was there at the hospital every day and cleaned up after me”. She walked out of school yesterday with her place in Secondary 5 secured.

But Courtney Louise Tay, 16, would have found her N-Level journey much harder had it not been for her mother's encouragement and care when she was struggling with a kidney disease.

At 14, the Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Secondary) student was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a kidney disorder that causes the body to swell. She had to be hospitalised for a month.

"I was very scared when I was first diagnosed with the illness. I didn't know what to expect," Courtney said.

During her hospitalisation, her swelling was so bad that she felt dizzy whenever she moved, leaving her bedridden.

But her mother, Mrs Dee Tay, 40, was on hand to take care of her every need.

"My mum was there at the hospital every day and cleaned up after me. She was very caring, like a personal nurse."

The administration assistant also encouraged her daughter emotionally.

She said: "Courtney didn't really come to terms with her illness at first, but I told her she had to be strong, as it is a long-term illness.

"I also reminded her that there were others who were worse off than her."

The medicine Courtney was taking lowered her immune system, which meant she had to hospitalised when she fell ill every few months. Despite this, she was close to remission by the time she was in Secondary 4.

But just as things began to look up, Courtney had food poisoning in September this year, just as her N-level exams were around the corner.

BAD TIMING

"She got sick two weeks before her exams. It was bad timing," said Mrs Tay.

But Courtney did not let it get in her way - she sat for her science and mathematics exams at the hospital, with an intravenous drip in her left hand.

"I felt helpless at the start but I didn't want to feel that way," she said.

"I told myself that I shouldn't let this illness stop me from living my life. It's not going away anytime soon, so I might as well go through with it."

Courtney, who scored 16 points for her N levels and got promoted to Secondary 5, added: "Life is unpredictable, so we should appreciate and treasure each other more."

Her form teacher, Ms Noor Intan, 30, said she was inspired by Courtney's determination. "Seeing her strive in her studies is really admirable. If she can keep pushing on despite her illness, then so can we," she said.

Mum, grandma keep her going

Charmaine Chee, 16, Pasir Ris Secondary School

Inspiration: Her mother for never complaining despite working long hours, and her grandmother for her interest in learning despite being in her 70s.

The only child lives with her divorcee mother and grandmother.

Despite being from a single parent home, Charmaine never felt she lacked anything.

She said: "My mother works long hours as a secretary, sometimes returning home close to midnight.

"But she never complains. Instead, she encourages me to do my best. I think encouraging words can be powerful."

The Infocomm Club member added: "My grandmother is an inspiring figure. She is in her 70s but is always interested to learn.

"She owns a Xiaomi mobile phone, but also knows how to operate a Samsung phone and an iPhone."

Charmaine, who declined to reveal her N-level scores, plans to continue to Secondary 5 and enrol in a mass communications course.

He worked part-time, even during exams

Brandon Lee, 16, Bendemeer Secondary School

Inspiration: "My own mind. There were many times that I wanted to give up, but I told myself to just keep going and not look back."

The second oldest in a family of five children, aged 10 to 19, Brandon Lee worked part-time at a Korean restaurant to earn pocket money - even during the N-level exam period.

After finishing his shift at 10pm, he would study at a 24-hour McDonald's outlet till midnight before returning home.

He lives in a three-room flat, which was not always conducive for studying.

"There were many distractions and my younger siblings would disturb me," Brandon said.

"I used to doze off in class because I had so little sleep."

Brandon, who is a member of the school's tchoukball team, trains up to five times a week.

His mother, a cashier, is the family's sole breadwinner. His father, a former crane operator, had to stop working after an accident when Brandon was in Secondary 1.

Brandon hopes to qualify for the Polytechnic Foundation Programme and enrol in a business or medical-related course.

N LEVELS BY THE NUMBERS

NORMAL (ACADEMIC)

11,176

students sat for exams this year

99.7%

obtained a certificate (at least a pass grade in at least one subject)

74.6%

promoted to Secondary 5 next year, where they can sit for the O levels

NORMAL (TECHNICAL)

5,120

students sat for exams this year

97.5%

obtained a certificate (at least a pass grade in at least one subject)

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