He used to hold down two jobs - as a cleaner and a dishwasher - to bring up his three children, with some help from the Government.
Life was hard, but single dad Goh Hoon Tiong, 44, soldiered on.
In May, however, he found himself looking at an abyss. He was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. He had to stop work and he felt at a loss as he worries about the future of his daughter, seven, and his sons, 10 and 13.
The children's mother abandoned them more than five years ago.
Mr Goh's plight was highlighted by Chinese newspaper Shin Min Daily News last month and a translated version of the story was posted on SPH's portal AsiaOne.
Since then, strangers have responded to him and his story.
When we caught up with the family in their one-room rental flat near the Lavender area last week, Mr Goh was home with his children.
Throughout the interview, Mr Goh remained crouched in a tight ball - it is the only position that seems to give him relief from the pain.
The metal stent in his oesophagus - a tube that leads from his mouth through the throat to his stomach - makes it easier for him to eat and swallow, but it is painful when it expands and contracts, he says.
He often had to stop talking during our visit, grimly clutching his arms tightly to cope with the bursts of agony. He drinks water constantly to soothe his parched throat, he says.
Since his diagnosis, Mr Goh has lost 12 kg, jeopardising a crucial operation to cut out his tumour.
But the father is buoyed by the kindness that he has experienced over the last fortnight.
He says quietly in Mandarin: "My phone has been ringing non-stop. Strangers want to know how they can help us."
Mr Goh adds that at least 180 people have offered help, in the form of cash or grocery. Some have donated Prosure, a nutritional drink for cancer-induced weight loss which Mr Goh desperately needs but can't afford.
A kind soul has provided an air purifier to help the family deal with the haze.
A netizen has set up an online crowdsourcing campaign on GIVEasia to raise money for Mr Goh. As of last night, about $18,000 had been raised from 150 donors. Others have given directly to his bank account.
Mr Goh, who feels deeply grateful, says: "They are very kind. Even though I'm a stranger to them, they don't treat me like one."
A couple with children are taking Mr Goh's children out for a rare treat at a fast-food restaurant this weekend.
Mr Goh says: "I'm very touched. They do not shun me because I don't have money and that we live in a one-room rental flat.
"They just want me to rest well."
He has been receiving financial aid since 2012. He has a monthly cash grant until end of the year, when his needs will be reassessed. He also receives help with his rental and utilities.
His children are being helped by the Government, in terms of their school and tuition fees. They also get cash grants.
Mr Goh is sensitive to any suggestion that he might be "selling" their story for money, as voiced out by someone whose name he refused to disclose. As a result, he is wary of interviews and had to be persuaded before he agreed to this interview.
He is also wary of revealing exactly how much money he has received, noting that people may approach him or his children for money.
Ever the protective dad, he does not want to reveal the identities of his children as he is afraid that they will be teased about their living condition or the absence of their mother.
He also ensures that his children get proper meals. When we visited on Thursday evening, his children were eating rice with fried fish, stir-fried vegetables, and fishball and tofu soup.
Mr Goh's elderly mother, who declined to be identified, has been helping him with the cooking.
He says: "I have to ask her for help. Sometimes, I really have no energy."
Despite his condition, Mr Goh still does housework like doing the laundry and cleaning.
He says: "No matter how hard it is, I will fight and make it work. Who says a man cannot be a good single parent?"
During the interview, Mr Goh's younger son was seen passing him a $1 coin, which he reluctantly accepted. When asked whether that was pocket money that the boy had saved up, Mr Goh stressed that his son eats during recess and that his children get daily pocket money.
The children are aware of their situation and their father's illness.
Mr Goh, who has undergone 26 chemotherapy treatments and four radiotherapy sessions, hopes to survive the operation to remove the tumour and the stent.
He confesses: "I'm scared. I just hope to come out of the surgery alive."
This article was first published on October 04, 2015.
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