Only 11, and a brain cancer survivor

Rachel Cheng (front), 11, and her parents, Mr Anthony Cheng and Madam Nancy Woo, both 47, pose with the supercar that Rachel took a joyride in.

Rachel Cheng was just five months old when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour about the size of an adult's index finger.

Because she was still an infant, she displayed no symptoms usually associated with brain tumours, such as vomiting and loss of balance.

But her parents noticed a squint in her right eye and took her to a paediatrician, thinking it was a developmental issue.

Rachel's father, Mr Anthony Cheng, said: "At first, some people said that we were being too cautious, taking her to see the doctor because of the squint, but it was a blessing in disguise.

"If we hadn't taken her to the doctor, we might not have discovered the tumour and she might not have survived her first year."

Before her third birthday in 2007, after seven operations and almost 1½ years of chemotherapy, her cancer went into remission.

Rachel is now 11 and will be taking her Primary School Leaving Examinations next year at a mainstream school.

She still goes to the hospital for regular check-ups and annual magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Mr Cheng, 47, quit his job as a business development director of an insurance company last year to spend more time caring for Rachel.

His wife, Madam Nancy Woo, 47, works part-time as a bank administrator.

They have an older son.

As part of the Brainy Car Rally and in conjunction with Brain Tumour Awareness Day, Rachel got to take a 30-minute ride in a sleek yellow Lamborghini yesterday.

The annual fund-raising event organised by the Brain Tumour Society (Singapore) (BTSS), also gave about 30 other brain-tumour patients and caregivers a chance to ride in supercars sponsored by the Lamborghini Club Singapore.

The flag-off for the rally took place at Suntec City Convention and Exhibition Centre.

BTSS president Melissa Lim, who is in her 40s, said the fast cars symbolise the race against time that brain-tumour patients, caregivers and doctors face in finding a cure for brain cancer.

Ms Lim, who founded BTSS last year, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2003 and had an operation a year later to have the 3.3cm-wide tumour removed.

"We can also work towards improving or maintaining the quality of life of brain-tumour patients so that their condition doesn't deteriorate so fast," she said.

SUPPORT CAREGIVERS

Ms Lim, the main caregiver of her mother, who died of a brain tumour, said that more has to be done to recognise and give support to caregivers of brain-tumour patients.

"I've been on both sides, as caregiver and patient, and both are very isolating experiences," she said.

"You never know what will happen next. It's like a roller-coaster ride, you never know when the next dip will happen."

Mr Cheng said that Rachel's condition has taken a toll on him and his wife because their hands "are always on the panic button".

But they still consider themselves blessed.

Said Mr Cheng: "We've had to make many lifestyle changes, such as arranging our schedules around Rachel's hospital appointments.

"But we came so close to losing her and now we can't help but feel overwhelmed by how blessed and fortunate we are (to still have her)."

Benign brain tumours can still be dangerous

More needs to be done to raise awareness of brain tumours and to provide support and information to patients and their families, said the vice- president of the Brain Tumour Society (Singapore) (BTSS).

Dr David Low, 42, a paediatric neurosurgeon at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said: "Because brain tumours aren't one of the top 10 cancers, people don't know much about them. But there are over 120 types of brain tumours and they affect people in different ways."

Public hospitals see about 500 adult brain tumour patients a year, but these numbers only capture those with cancerous tumours that have been operated on, he said.

"They don't capture benign brain tumours that haven't been operated on. These can be as dangerous as cancerous ones because the area where the tumour grows can cause disabilities and can be life-threatening."


This article was first published on November 9, 2015.
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