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New drug saves man from cancer death sentence

Man had given up on life after being diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer. But trial drug shrinks his cancerous cells

DIFFICULTIES: After taking the new drug Ceritinib, Mr Lim can now climb stairs (above) and does not feel any breathing difficulty.
DIFFICULTIES: Before, Mr Lim used to line his pillow with towels to soak up the phlegm and sputum he spat out when he slept.
EFFECTS: Mr Lim used to spit so much phlegm and sputum that he filled up six to seven 250ml bottles every day. He was diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer in 2011.

June 1, 2011, is a date he will always remember.

That was the day the 62-year-old, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim, lost all hope after he was given the death sentence by a doctor.

Diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer, doctors said he had one year to live if he went for chemotherapy regularly.

Mr Lim was ready to give up.

"It was the most miserable day of my life," the unemployed man said in Mandarin.

But in 2013, a miracle happened. Mr Lim's symptoms disappeared and his condition is now well-controlled, thanks to a drug called Ceritinib.

He was part of a clinical trial for the drug. It targets ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase)-positive non-small cell lung cancer, which Mr Lim has.

In April, the drug was approved by the Health Sciences Authority for those who were previously on another type of drug, said consultant oncologist at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), Dr Daniel Tan, at a press conference yesterday. 

Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Mr Lim, a bachelor who lives alone in a one-room rental flat in Chai Chee, recalled his shock at his diagnosis.

He had gone to consult a doctor for breathing difficulties and a swollen leg.

"I don't smoke or drink. How did I get lung cancer?

"When I knew I had only a year to live at most, I didn't want to live any more.

"I thought that there was no point going for chemotherapy if I was going to live just one more year," said Mr Lim.

He grudgingly went for a second appointment at the NCCS after his younger sister persuaded him.

That was when Dr Tan suggested Crizotinib, the only drug option then. The other option was chemotherapy.

But the drug did nothing to alleviate Mr Lim's condition.

At the peak of his illness, Mr Lim was producing six to seven 250ml bottles of phlegm and sputum (a mixture of saliva and mucus).

"When I was out with my friends, I carried a bottle with me so I could spit into it.

"I just pretended that I was drinking water when I needed to spit as I was afraid others would judge my condition," he revealed.

BREATHING PROBLEMS

Mr Lim was also plagued by severe breathing difficulties. He would be out of breath during conversations, and could stay out for only three hours at most, before rushing home to hook himself up to a ventilator.

A year later, Dr Tan asked Mr Lim to be part of a clinical trial for Ceritinib.

Initially, he thought little of this new treatment option.

"For me, the lung cancer didn't hurt. It was the lower quality of life that disturbed me," he explained.

But six days later, he realised that he stopped spitting phlegm and sputum, and was no longer huffing and puffing.

A year later, he was told that most of his cancer cells had shrunk.

"I was so surprised. The tumours in my lungs shrank so much that one day the doctors said it was difficult to measure how big they were," Mr Lim said with a laugh.

He is still unemployed due to his leg ailment, and is surviving on government handouts of $450 every month.

He has been sharing his story at various events organised by NCCS.

"The doctors saved my life.

"Now, it's my turn to help others," he said.

The doctors saved my life. Now, it's my turn to help others.

- Mr Lim on sharing his story at National Cancer Centre Singapore events

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Girl, 18, who fell to her death was on drugs

Coroner rules death of teenager accidental, likely a 'drug-induced psychotic or delusional episode'

GRIEF: Mr Peter Tan with an unidentified woman burning offerings at the foot of the block where his daughter died last year.

About two weeks before she fell from her seventh-storey flat in Block 431, Bukit Panjang Ring Road, on Aug 19 last year, she told her father that she could see a monster and hear children crying in her room.

Administrative worker Denyse Tan, 18, also appeared groggy, so her father asked her if she was on drugs. When she replied no, he believed her.

A coroner’s inquiry into her death yesterday confirmed that she was on drugs, with State Coroner Marvin Bay saying  that methamphetamine, better known as Ice, was detected in her blood.

Recording a verdict of misadventure, he found that her fall had occurred “in the wake of a likely drug-induced psychotic or delusional episode”. 

Mr Tan, a businessman, later told The New Paper: “I didn’t know Denyse had been abusing drugs. I would have called the CNB (Central Narcotics Bureau) immediately if I had known that she had taken drugs.

“I would have done it out of love.”

Read the full report in our print edition on July 28.

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