No more pain as little fighter dies with a smile

In desperation, a young mother pleaded with the heavens to take her child: "In all my life, I cannot believe that I will actually be begging heavens to take my child and free her of all the pain and suffering...but I am now.

"Heavens, please have mercy on my child. Please. I don't want her to suffer any more... Free her and let her be the happy girl she has always been..."

This heart-wrenching post by Ms Cynthia Lim, 31, on her blog on Thursday was spurred by the discovery of yet another new tumour inside Charmaine's cheek.

This tumour bled so profusely that her daughter'smouth was filled with blood.

Ms Lim's prayers were answered. Hours after the post, just past midnight yesterday, Charmaine finally gave up her two-year-battle with advanced neuroblastoma.

She was six years old.

She had touched many people when local newspapers chronicled her brave fight against her cancer.

The New Paper wrote about how she, her brother, Jase, and their divorcee mother were desperately trying to raise money to go to New York for treatment.

Touched by the little girl's courage, ex-football players, musicians and Facebook groups came together to raise funds. Within three weeks, Singapore residents had raised the $500,000 required.

But there was no happily-ever-after, fairy-tale ending.

Incessant pain

The treatment in New York failed as Charmaine developed resistance to the drug which had promised so much.

It had been an uphill battle ever since. The cancer came back with a vengeance, and spread to many parts of her tiny body.

In her last days, she was frail, lying on the lower tier of the bunk bed she shared with her mother and brother in their Punggol flat.

When The New Paper visited earlier this week, the room had been turned into a mini intensive-care unit, with oxygen tanks and medical supplies scattered about.

Her mother said that they had taken Charmaine home early this month from the KK Women's and Children's Hospital, where she was admitted after a tumour appeared in her lungs, causing her breathing difficulties.

The only source of levity in the bedroom was a big-screen TV tuned to the Nickelodeon channel.

Incessant pain

Charmaine was heavily sedated. It was the only way to help her deal with the incessant pain wracking her tiny body.

Ms Lim spoke about the rapid spread of the cancer - tumours had appeared on her daugher's hand, forehead, foot, and stomach, among other areas.

"I wish I were a surgeon and that I could simply cut away the tumours," Ms Lim told The New Paper with a dry laugh, through the onslaught of tears.

The once chatty Charmaine could hardly talk - speaking more than a phrase or two at a time had become a challenge because of her breathing difficulties.

We watched as her tiny chest heaved with effort when she was not wearing her breathing apparatus.

Her mother hovered over her protectively, wiping away blood from the edges of her mouth.

"You're doing a wonderful job," she cooed tenderly with a smile as her daughter kept her mouth open to be cleaned.

Ms Lim was forced to raise her two children on her own after her former husband asked for a divorce while she was seven months pregnant with Charmaine.

She had to quit her project management job at a water treatment plant when her girl fell ill.

Those blows did not faze her stoic determination to soldier on. But sobs broke though when she talked about Charmaine's fight against what the six-year-old called her"monster".

The bright girl was determined to beat it, her mother said with pride. Never a word of complaint.

"Every time she had to have needles poked into her, she would simply ask for a few moments to prepare herself, gritting her teeth, and then holding her hand completely still.

"You wouldn't catch her moving an inch. After the needle had been inserted, she would say, 'Not pain, I'm not scared.'"

During her stays in hospital, Charmaine would greet doctors cheerily when they went to see her during the morning rounds. At the end of each round, she would inevitably trill good-naturedly: "Bye! Love you!"

Through anecdotes like these, Ms Lim recalled her daughter's caring, cheerful and brave personality.

Jase also had to adjust over the past two years to be strong for his sister and mother.

Once, when it became too much, he simply walked away from Charmaine's hospital bed to have a cry after watching his mother shed her own tears.

Brave front

Brave front

Before long, he returned to their side, puffy-eyed but with a brave front, his mother recalled.

When TNP spoke to Ms Lim on Wednesday, she was still hoping for a miracle, but it was also clear that she knew her little girl was on the verge of death - she had been unable to eat properly and had wasted away in her final days.

Ms Lim knows the battle-worn little girl had fought hard because she wanted to stay with mummy and "kor kor" (big brother Jase).

"I love her so much. And we all know how much she loves us (her brother and me)."

At the wake yesterday, Ms Lim revealed that Charmaine died with a smile on her lips.

"I had told her, 'I am ready. Kor kor is ready. Go fly and be a fairy, you don't deserve any of this.'

"I realise that she had been waiting for me to accept (her going)."

Ms Lim also told us earlier: "In a very twisted sense, the immense pain that cancer has brought has also made me discover the extent I could love another person."

She also said she wants to remember the times where her daughter's caring, cheerful and brave personality shone through.

"I'd like to remember her for her love, for her family, for her brother, for her doctors and nurses and her love for fun."

Like how even in the darkest moments, she would think about fun things like crafts or homework - yes, she actually found homework fun to do.

Ms Lim added she is grateful to the people and well-wishers who contributed to Charmaine's fight in one way or another.

It allowed them to buy precious time together.

If there's one thing she would like readers to take away from Charmaine's story, it is a realisation of how precious life is.

"She taught me not to value and chase the material things in life."

Now, she holds on to the thought that one day, she will see her baby Charmaine again. In heaven.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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