Girl, 12, dies after battling cancer for 6 years
Marjorie Soh loses 6-year battle with cancer. She never got to see dolphins in Australia but she fought a brave fight.
By Ho Lian-Yi
IN THE battle to save Marjorie Soh's life, her parents spared no expense.
The girl, whose pet name is Dear Dear, was just six when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a malignant bone cancer.
Over the next six years, Mr Max Alan Soh, 43, and his wife, Madam Pat Lee, 40, racked up an estimated $400,000 in medical bills - and took hefty bank loans to pay it.
But Mr Soh said the weight of his debts is nothing compared to her bravery.
Despite six major operations, countless minor ones and chemotherapy, Marjorie soldiered on with little complaint.
He said: 'The doctors said she was a fighter. After so long, she was still fighting. She was a brave girl.'
He took months of no-pay leave and gave up his job as a car salesman last month. His wife, also gave up her job as a sales executive to look after their child.
But they could not avert the inevitable. Little Marjorie died, aged 12, at home at 5.30am on Saturday , after being in a coma for three days.
Said Mr Soh in Mandarin: 'Even if I owe banks money, even if debt collectors called us every day to chase for money, it was worth it - it was definitely worth it.'
To get by, he borrowed from his friends - $5,000 here, $8,000 there, even $10,000.
His mum, in her 70s, sold her four-room flat in Yishun and moved in with her younger brother, to lend him $150,000 of the $200,000 proceeds.
'I told her, after I settle my daughter's situation, I'll buy a house back for you,' he said.
Some friends criticised him for going too far, though others commended his sacrifice.
'The heavens will take care of me - I'll find a better job and pay off my debt,' he said.
It all began in October 2003, when Marjorie's right leg swelled painfully. Prescribed creams didn't stop the swelling.
An X-ray at the National University Hospital showed she had a tumour in her right thigh. They also found cancer cells in her lungs.
Marjorie writhed in pain from the first day of chemotherapy and accidentally hit her leg on the bed. The thigh bone, weakened by cancer, snapped.
She was too weak for anaesthesia, so they had to splint her broken bone without it - unthinkably painful for a child.
Repeated sessions of chemotherapy followed. In May 2004, the tumour shrank. Surgery to fix the broken bone and remove the tumour and cancer cells was a success. More chemotherapy followed, until the end of 2004.
The next year, Marjorie finally started Primary One in Fuhua Primary School.
'She had no hair, but this girl was cheerful and upbeat. She didn't care how people saw her. When we went out to shop or eat and if I asked her whether she wanted to wear a hat, she would say no,' said Mr Soh.
She was a well-known face at NUH, and had very specific likes and dislikes among the doctors and nurses.
She wouldn't let medical staff who had 'hurt' her draw her blood for tests - she would hand-pick a doctor, who was always glad to be chosen.
Happy times and relapse
The next 2 1/2 years were happy ones. She didn't have chemotherapy, just regular tests. In 2005, the Make-A-Wish Foundation sponsored her on a trip to Japan.
But in 2007, she had a relapse, the first of four. The painful cycle of chemotherapy had returned - but she never complained.
'Only once in 2004, during chemotherapy, she asked me 'why no one else is like that, why only me?' I didn't know how to answer her,' said Mr Goh.
She told her mother that when she got better and her hair grew back, she wanted to go to Australia to see dolphins.
But in February this year, chemotherapy stopped working.
In April, she was hospitalised for a month, with her parents ever present by her side.
In May, she said she wanted to sleep in her own bed, so doctors made arrangements with Assisi Hospice for home care.
By now she needed an oxygen tank to breathe. But she loved Japanese food, so her parents would take her out - one pushing a wheelchair, the other lugging an oxygen tank.
'People looked at us like we were weirdos,' said Mr Soh.
Her last birthday
But she made an astonishing recovery as her birthday on 10 Jun approached. She stopped needing an oxygen mask, and her severe water retention subsided.
Said Mr Soh: 'We asked her what she wanted. She said, 'I'm not a little girl now, I don't want toys.'
Some 50 friends joined them for a party and the Sohs put all their hongbao together and bought Marjorie a laptop and a study table.
But she got to use the laptop only three times before her condition worsened for a final time.
She lay swollen on her bed, hardly able to move, but she fought to the end.
When a family friend with a pool visited, she even said she wanted to go over for a swim.
The Sohs' other child, their 10-year-old son Glenn, has also been remarkably stoic through the whole affair, never complaining about his sister getting all his parents' attention.
His parents held a birthday party for his sister every year. He has never had one.
When Mr Soh, perhaps feeling a twinge of guilt, asked Glenn if he would like a celebration, the boy said: 'I don't want because you have no money.'
He said Glenn cried when he realised he had lost his sister. But he seems to have got back his usual good spirits.
'Maybe children are by nature cheerful,' he said.
The funeral, held at Block 213 Jurong East Street 21, was sponsored by undertaker Roland Tay.
He told Lianhe Wanbao: 'I feel sad that such a young child had to suffer so much. Her parents also went through a lot of hardship. I sympathised with their plight, so I helped with the funeral.'
Nirvana Memorial Park also gave a free spot for Marjorie's remains. A Nirvana spokesman said it was worth $3,800.
Early this year, when Marjorie's condition worsened, the family sent out a plea through friends for platelet donors - and almost 200 people responded.
'I want to say thank you, though I don't know who they are specifically,' Mr Soh said.
This article was first published in The New Paper.
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