Diagnosed with bone cancer at 13, scholar at 22

It was Chinese New Year 2003, but she was in no mood for celebrations. Miss Sabrina Wah, then 13, had just been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

From that point on, battling the odds and overcoming life's obstacles - including the amputation of a leg - became part and parcel of her life.

But she took it all in her stride and, nine years on, her never-say-die spirit has triumphed.

Last month, Miss Wah, now 22, graduated from Singapore Polytechnic's (SP) Singapore Maritime Academy (SMA) with a diploma in maritime transportation management.

She had a grade point average of 3.83 and received an award from the Singapore Maritime Employers' Federation.

She was also awarded the SMA-SMTC - Maritime ONE Scholarship to pursue a degree in Maritime Business and Maritime Law at Plymouth University in the UK in September.

Recalling the dark days nine years ago, Miss Wah's mother, Madam Shirley Ding, 50, a housewife, told The New Paper: "The mood at home was quite down."

The divorcee, who had split from Miss Wah's father in 1994, added: "I was stunned whenI got the news, but for her sake, I had to be strong."

Miss Wah, who is now a part-time administrative assistant, was devastated.

"The news came as a blow to me. I thought I was going to die," she said.

The next five years were challenging for her and her family.

Miss Wah, who lives in Woodlands with her mother, stepfather and two stepbrothers aged 11and 12, had to stop school.

She lost count of the number of times she was in hospital for tests and operations. Along the way, there was a heart complication that required surgery. She also lost her hair as a result of chemotherapy and wore a beanie most of the time.

"I was really afraid of going to the hospital.

I often had hallucinations due to fevers which were a result of the chemotherapy," she said.

But her parents were by her side every step of the way, said Miss Wah.

"I really appreciate their support. I was never alone, my parents took turns to keep me company," she said.

Her stepfather also visited her at the hospital occasionally.

Through the treatment, Miss Wah's heart contracted an infection at the mitral valve.

In June 2003, she had to undergo an operation to install a mechanical valve in her heart.

The next month, she underwent an operation to try to save her left leg, which was the source of the disease.


But her heart stopped again midway through the surgery and the doctors had to abandon the operation.

In September 2003, she was told that her left leg had to be amputated from the middle of her thigh.

She said: "I didn't want it and I told myself that I'd rather die. But the doctors persuaded me and eventually I accepted it."

She was fitted with a prosthetic leg two years later, in 2005.

Madam Ding said: "She was very down after the amputation."

It took Miss Wah about a year to get used to the feel of the prosthetic leg. She was on crutches until 2008.

But she became a more upbeat when she wastold that she could return to school.

"The doctors told me that I could go back to school. But at first, I didn't want to because I was afraid of the stares I would get," she said.

So she stayed home for another year before her mother eventually persuaded her to resume her studies.

Madam Ding said: "She can't stay at home and do nothing. Life has to go on."

Miss Wah, who studied at CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), said: "I didn't want to go back to a mainstream school because I would have to wear a skirt and people would see my prosthetic leg."

So she enrolled in BMC International College in 2007 to take her O levels.

She said: "As I was 'forced' by my mother into studying, I did so grudgingly. I had no ambition, no aspirations, and I just wanted to drift along."

She failed the O levels on her first attempt and left the school, but retook them the next year by studying onher own.

She scored 18 points for her L1R4 (first language and relevant four subjects) and was accepted by SP.

Said Miss Wah: "I worked harder the second time because I didn't want to take it a third time."

She said being accepted by SP gave her hope.

"I was both excited and worried about going back to a classroom again. I was worried about moving around in school. It felt weird," she said.

But she started excelling in her studies in SP and has not looked back since.

Miss Jeanette Quek, 20, who is Miss Wah's best friend and classmate, said: "Sabrina has really been an inspiration to me because she never gave in to self-pity, despite her condition.

"Others might have given up, but she just went on with life."

Miss Wah, who enjoys karaoke, hopes to work in maritime law in the future.

She said: "I'm really excited about furthering my studies overseas, but scared at the same time as I'll be going alone."

This article was first published in The New Paper.