[Above: Ms Norlin Sani (middle), posing for a photograph with her mother, Madam Nodiah Ahmad, and her oncologist Dr Raymond Ng.]
By Lediati Tan
SHE refused to let her studies take a back seat even after she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2006.
It was her life-long dream to get a degree, and Miss Norlin Sani, a primary school teacher,had started studying for it earlier that year.
She even refused more intensive treatments so that she could complete her degree.
And she did it. She found out in January this year that she had passed her exams.
Exhilarated at what she had achieved, Miss Norlin went about informing her family members and asking them to keep 8 Oct free as she wanted them to be there for her convocation.
But in August, her illness worsened and her family was told that Miss Norlin, 30, may have only a week to live.
Said her mother, Madam Nodiah Ahmad, 54, a housewife: "I remembered that she really wanted to attend her convocation after the hard work she put in.
"I told the doctor that she had studied so hard for three years."
So the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and her school, SIM University (UniSIM) put together a special ceremony for Miss Norlin to receive her certificate two months ahead of the official convocation in October.
Miss Norlin was hospitalised after she fell and fractured her left arm and injured her hips in June. So the ceremony had to be held in the hospital.
Madam Nodiah said her daughter turned down the arrangement initially.
"She told me, "I don't want to do it now, I want to do it with the rest of the people"," she said.
But after much persuasion, she finally agreed.
The date was set for 6 Aug.
On that day, UniSIM made arrangements for her graduation gown and certificate to be taken to the hospital. It was the first time that UniSIM had arranged such a special ceremony for a student.
Nurses took about 30 minutes to help Miss Norlin change into her graduation gown as her bones were brittle due to her illness.
Hospital staff then wheeled Miss Norlin's bed into a private room in the hospital where about 200 friends and relatives had gathered to celebrate with her.
Ceremony in hospital
Mr Zenon Teh, director of Academic Services at UniSIM, and Dr Genice Ngg, the head of programme at the School of Arts and Social Sciences, were there to present a Bachelor of Arts in English with Psychology degree to a smiling Miss Norlin.
Said Madam Nodiah: "She was very happy on her special convocation. She was laughing and talking cheerfully and posing for photographs with everyone.
"She didn't look like she was sick - she looked happy."
But Miss Norlin was tired out by the event and collapsed and became very sick after that, said her sister, Madam Mariah Sani, 34, a coordinator for TransitLink. "She had a high fever.We were so worried for her."
But Miss Norlin pulled through and left the hospital on 8 Aug. She asked to be discharged because she did not want to spend National Day in hospital.
And she fought the disease for more than two months after that, before succumbing.
Her determination not to let her illness derail her plans had showed in the way she continued to juggle her career and her studies after she fell sick.
She completed her studies in November last year, and stopped working only in January, when her health would no longer allow her to keep up with the rigorous routine.
Madam Mariah said the family had tried to persuade Miss Norlin to give up her studies as they were worried for her health, but she stubbornly refused.
"She said she wanted to complete her degree first and she had already paid her school fees," said Madam Mariah.
She added that her daughter would sleep at 9pm, wake up around 1am or 2am, and study till 5am before showering and getting ready to leave for work.
Not wanting to disrupt her studies, Miss Norlin delayed more intensive treatments, such as chemotherapy, taking only some oral medication and injections.
She even asked her family not to tell her doctor that she was still studying.
Miss Norlin was also worried that the potential costs of the treatment would deplete her savings which she wanted to keep for her further education.
"She wanted to study for a master's and then PhD," said Madam Mariah.
"I miss her a lot and I admire her courage. Since young, if she said she wanted to do something, she would make sure she did it."
She added that Miss Norlin was the most studious of the five siblings in the family, and even encouraged her to continue her studies after she graduated from ITE and started working to support the family. Their father died in 2003.
Miss Norlin had also planned to get married. The wedding was fixed for 20 Dec.
But she didn't make it till then.
She died on 14 Oct, a few days after the official convocation on 8 and 9 Oct, which she was too sick to attend.
"I think she was waiting for her convocation. That's why she was able to last so long even after the doctor said in August that she had only a week left," said her mother.
Now she lives on in the hearts of her loved ones.
Her mother, who visits her grave every week, fondly recalls how she loved going to VivoCity, how she would ask her to cook her favourite beehoon goreng and how she loved singing karaoke with her cousins.
Said her sister: "She left us a lot of sweet memories."
This article was first published in The New Paper.