Bone cancer hasn't stopped teenager Nooraishah Arshad from living life.
“One of my crutches, it missed a step,” says Nooraishah Arshad, who walks to school every day with the help of crutches. “I lost my balance and before I knew it, I went tumbling into a drain right outside our home (in Kuala Selangor). My father was walking a few feet ahead of me. He heard my yelps and rushed to my aid. Before I knew it, the two of us were huddled in the drain together. Father had his arms around me sobbing uncontrollably. ‘I should never have taken my eyes off you!’ he kept saying. He held me so tight, almost squeezing the air out of me.”
Nooraishah, on the other hand, still finds the accident a funny story and bursts into laughter when remembering it.
“'Ayah, have you noticed that we’re both in a dirty drain?' I told him. It took him a moment to realise what I meant. Then he burst into laughter as well. He helped me up, I brushed myself off, and off we went, heading to school like any other morning.”
This story is one of the many touching moments that the 15-year-old student of SMK Pengkalan Permatang in Kuala Selangor has experienced since losing her right leg to bone cancer. She was diagnosed in 2011 and underwent chemotherapy, but it was too late. Now, even though she has to get around on crutches and sometimes a prosthetic leg, her youthful teenage spunk remains intact.
“I’d rather use the crutches, to be honest. The prosthetic leg can be very uncomfortable and takes very long to put on,” she says.
Nooraishah and her family discovered her cancer after an X-ray was done on her leg after a fall while she was playing with her siblings. “Initially, the local clinic said it was a blood clot, but my leg continued to swell. Father insisted we go to the city for an X-ray. It was then we found out about the cancer,” she says.
Nooraishah refuses to be sad over her plight and says she still feels lucky in so many ways. “My family has been a very strong support system. They have been behind me since day one and they're always there to cheer me on. I feel so lucky to grow up in such a loving environment.”
Nooraishah’s dad has always believed in her, she says, and he readily regales us of his daughter's strength and bravery. “Even with one leg, my feisty girl can climb the trees outside our house. She has no problem jumping out the window of our home and chasing her siblings around as they play,” says Arshad Attan, a 50-year-old fisherman.
One of Nooraishah's biggest passions is singing. She taught herself how to play the guitar and spends most of her time singing to her family. The family living room has seen several spirited sing-along sessions with Nooraishah providing the music.
“I've joined singing competitions in school. And at the local Tesco (competition), I placed 4th. It was truly a shining moment for me. I also enjoy going for karaoke sessions with my friends,” says the teen, a big fan of 1990s pop stars Ziana Zain and Shima.
Arshad says he was reluctant to let her go out with friends before, but he gives her more freedom now. “She's growing up. My wife and I can't always prevent her from socialising with friends. We understand her need to get out of the house and lead a normal life. She’s always been an active girl. Sometimes it pains me to see her stuck in the house all day,” he says.
“I do my best to keep her entertained. Since the cancer, my relationship with my daughter has changed. I never used to sit and joke, let alone have a full conversation with her. But now I am less stern and I tend to manja her more.”
Before losing her leg, Nooraishah was a sports enthusiast, a long jump athlete who represented her sports house in school. Despite her condition now, her athletic passion has stayed strong. She has joined her school’s paralympic archery team instead.
“I have yet to take part in any competitions, but the experience is enough for me. My team members are very supportive and have been very patient in teaching me the sport,” says Nooraishah, who dreams of competing in the national archery paralympic team someday. Arshad notes that he will support her dream as long as he can afford it.
Even though Nooraishah’s leg was amputated, she has to frequent the hospital for check-ups to ensure that the cancer hasn't spread to other parts of her body. However, her family has been struggling to pay her medical bills. “I work as a fisherman and I bring home around RM1,000 each month,” says Arshad, who sometimes postpones his daughter’s medical attention when there’s no money to spare.
Nooraishah is the sixth out of 10 siblings, although two elder sisters have married and have into their own homes. “Every month is a struggle for us, even with one of my sons working and helping with our expenses,” says Arshad.
That said, Arshad's family is looking forward to spending Hari Raya together like they always do. “We're not doing anything fancy. All we want is for the family to be together again,” he says.
As for Nooraishah, her only wish this Aidilfitri is that her family can one day move into a bigger house. “Our wooden kampung house, although lovely, is rather small. My brothers and sisters are growing up and soon we will need more space. I would like us to live in our own house one day,” she says.
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