He was like any other Primary 5 pupil, though Mr Goh Chang Teck admits he was a tad overweight. He spent his mornings in school and afternoons with his friends. His first major examination at that time seemed like a distant future.
Then one day, strange sores started to appear all over his 11-year-old body. Mr Goh and his family initially brushed them aside as just another skin condition like eczema.
It was only two years later, when he was 13, that he was given the devastating news. "You have a skin cancer," a doctor said.
The sores developed into fungus-like clusters of dried, reddish and scaly skin over time, attracting stares when he went out in public.
Mr Goh went through phototherapy, a treatment that uses special drugs that are activated by light to kill the cancer cells, and things went back to normal.
Then at 20 years old, just as he was about to enlist for national service (NS), he was told the same cancers had returned, and they had progressed from Stage 1 to Stage 2A.
He was excused from NS, which dashed his dreams of becoming an army officer and signing on with the army.
"I had hoped that by signing on, I could be independent and not burden my father any further," said Mr Goh, now 23 years old. Fresh out of polytechnic, he had not applied to any universities as he was sure he would be in NS. "I felt lost," he said.
The weeks that followed were full of emotional turmoil as he confronted his mortality. Then, he decided that he was not going to give in to cancer. "I believed things had to look up eventually. When there is a fall, there is bound to be a peak," he said.
Indeed, things did improve.
He underwent phototherapy again and took a gap year to learn Japanese. He applied for university and got a spot at SIM University, where he is now majoring in marketing and doing a minor in communications.
His doctors at the National Skin Centre have also told him that the cancer cells are dormant, which means they have stopped dividing. He goes for regular check-ups to monitor any changes.
The avid runner continued to complete in marathons while he battled cancer, even competing in the 100km Sundown Ultra Marathon.
In February, he will be participating in the annual Run for Hope event, organised by Four Seasons Hotel, Regent Singapore and National Cancer Centre Singapore.
He believes running has taught him to be disciplined and determined, and he hopes that his participation in the run will inspire people not to give up because of cancer.
Asked what he would tell someone who is fighting the same battle, Mr Goh said: "No matter how much preparation you make, sometimes things out of the ordinary happen and you must adapt.
"Be strong even when you feel everything is against you and when you are at your lowest."
This article was first published on Nov 02, 2016.
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