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Beyond Barriers

Published: Thursday February 26, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday February 26, 2015 MYT 4:25:41 PM

A teenager learns to live with leukaemia and overcome his fears

The next time you’re down in the dumps, look up. The next wave could be just round the corner, waiting for you to ride it.

You just have to search for the boy with the beanie and face mask,” said Ben when we first met in June 2013. Back then, Ben was like any other teenager, except that his life was hanging by a thread.

Ben was only 15 when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in April 2012. He had gone to see a doctor for a persistent sore throat and fever, when further tests revealed that he was stricken with leukaemia. Suddenly, the upcoming PMR exam did not seem so important anymore as he grappled with the grim reality of cancer.

What followed next were excruciating months of chemotherapy. Six months after his diagnosis, Ben sat for the PMR exam from his hospital bed. Friends and family members had brought books and notes during visiting hours to help him prepare for the exams.

The worst was yet to come. More pain was in store for Ben when the cancer metastasised the following year.

Ben’s battle with leukaemia brought him face to face with his biggest fear: needles. Besides chemotherapy, he had to undergo medical procedures such as lumbar punctures and bone marrow tests.

Lumbar puncture is a procedure in which a large needle is inserted in the lower part of the spine to draw fluid to detect the presence of cancer cells in the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system. A bone marrow test is conducted by inserting a needle in the bone marrow to check for cancer cells. Ben had to undergo these procedures every two months, in between chemotherapy sessions.

Ben was an active sportsperson before the leukaemia diagnosis. Living with leukaemia meant living with pain and fatigue, and this prohibited him from participating in most sports. It also called for a change of diet. Ben had to stay away from crowded places as much as possible to avoid infection. Sadly, Ben had to slowly give up his favourite activities and change his lifestyle to adapt to his medical condition.

In July 2013, public donations totalling RM128,500 made it possible for Ben to undergo a bone marrow transplant to prevent a relapse. Ben received his younger brother’s matching bone marrow at a medical centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Ben has always feared cancer because of the many needles involved in its treatment and the prospect of death. But life takes us by surprise when we least expect it. Ben rose above his circumstances and learnt to face his fear of pain and concern for outer appearances.

A wise man once said that life is like a cosine wave; it is filled with ups and downs. And the only way to cherish it when you’re down, is to pick yourself up again in order to catch the next wave. And that was exactly what Ben did. You could never tell that he was in pain because his eyes always lit up with life and laughter.

Today, Ben is healthy enough to pick up where he left off before his leukaemia diagnosis. He sat for his SPM exam last November – this time in school with the rest of his friends. There is always the fear of a relapse, but Ben chooses to trust God instead of giving in to fear.

If you ask Ben how he could still smile when he was going through chemotherapy, he’d tell you: “I know God will never leave me. He will help me to go through what I cannot handle.” Ben is absolutely right.

Ben is thankful for the support of family, friends, doctors and spiritual leaders who have stood by him through thick and thin.

It is his fervent hope that his story will encourage those who are walking on rough roads. So the next time you’re down in the dumps, look up. Prepare yourself for greater things which have yet to come, just like what the boy with the beanie and face mask did. For all you know, the next wave could be just around the corner, waiting for you to ride it.

Tags / Keywords: leukemia

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Look up: Down in the dumps? The next wave could be just around the corner, waiting for you to ride it. Photo: AFP

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