Boy dies of cancer before he can collect his PSLE results
Diagnosed with rare cancer at eight months, Raphael Lee had a zest for life and insisted on taking the exam
At just eight months, he was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer that forms in soft tissue.
What followed was a journey of ups and downs for Raphael Lee where the shadow of his cancer never quite left him even after going into remission.
When he was in Primary 2, the cancer came back with a vengeance and, this time, it refused to go away.
As he went into battle against a dreaded enemy that few can defeat, at one point sacrificing part of his left arm, one thing shone through - Raphael was determined to push on with life.
One of his ambitions was to complete his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which he duly did last month.
But, as fate would have it, Raphael lost his battle just 12 days before he could find out that he had scored As in his favourite subjects of mathematics and science and Bs for English and mother tongue for a score of 220, a notable achievement for someone who had to skip school often because of medical issues.
Had he lived, the Alexandra Primary School pupil would have been among the 39,995 pupils collecting their PSLE results yesterday.
His father, Mr William Lee, 47, who collected the results on his behalf, told The New Paper: "We asked him if he wanted to defer his PSLE and let his body recuperate. But he insisted that he wanted to complete his PSLE because he did not want to repeat his Primary 6 in a new class.
"We gave him all sorts of ideas, but he said he should do it and was confident that he would be able to clear the exam."
An only child, Raphael had his first brush of cancer as an infant when doctors found a malignant tumour on his left forearm. Diagnosed with the rhabdomyosarcoma, he underwent treatment, including chemotherapy.
The cancer went into remission a year later. After about seven years, another tumour was found on his left arm that doctors diagnosed as osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
In Primary 3, while Raphael was recovering from the treatment to remove the tumour, a third growth was found near his wrist.
Mr Lee, a course manager at St John Singapore, said: "The surgeon told us it is almost impossible to save the arm. Raphael was reluctant, but he knew that in order to survive, he had to sacrifice (his arm).
"It was a miracle that when he woke up from his surgery, he didn't cry for his arm. He could still wave using his stump, crack jokes with us and wanted to write a book to inspire others."
Mrs Winnie Lee said Raphael would also "do his rounds" to cheer up other children in his cancer ward.
The housewife, 45, recounted how he would watch YouTube videos to pick up skills, help her with household chores and learn to whip up simple meals on his own.
The family's hopes of the amputation keeping the cancer at bay were dashed when doctors found swelling in his right collarbone last year.
Last December, Raphael had a surgery to remove his right collarbone. Earlier this year, he went under the knife again to remove tumours from his lungs.
In August, Mr Lee was diagnosed with colon cancer, and tumours were found in his stomach and behind his liver.
Mr Lee said: "Raphael told his mother, 'Why does papa have to go through cancer?' He wanted to take my place because he had more 'experience' with cancer.
"He said he knew how to deal with all the side effects of chemotherapy. I told him it was my turn and we will go through this together as father and son."
In August, more tumours were found in Raphael's lungs.
"When we told him, he broke into tears. He was scared that he would not be able to make it. We never expected his fears to come true," said Mr Lee.
On Nov 12, the boy underwent another operation to remove the tumours.
But complications arose and he was placed on life support. The cancer was also found to have spread to his blood vessels.
Mr Lee said: "When he came out of the operating theatre, I broke down. There were tubes all over him and he looked so delicate."
Raphael died on Nov 13.
An emotional Mr Lee said: "We knew this day would come, but the events leading up to it came as a shock.
"But we knew we had to let him go. He had put up a tough fight and, this time, we wanted him to make the decision and we will respect it."
When Raphael sat for the PSLE, he was on targeted therapy, which led to severe side effects such as diarrhoea, his parents said. But he soldiered through all the papers.
Mr Lee said: "We were overwhelmed by his results. He did extremely well, way beyond our expectations."
While the family is still reeling from his death, they have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of well-wishes and testimonies on Raphael's positive impact on others.
Mr Lee, who is recuperating from his cancer, said: "Our life has never been smooth, there were many struggles. At times, I felt like giving up, but I had to be strong for my family."
Mrs Lee added: "For the last 12 years, my life has revolved around Raphael's studies and his health.
"After his death, it feels like a huge part of me has been removed. I am praying to fill up the emptiness, but I know my boy is in safe hands now."