RP student loses 6 year battle with leukaemia

PHOTO: RP student loses 6 year battle with leukaemia

She had battled leukaemia for six long years. Four bone marrow transplants later, she finally lost the battle.

On Tuesday, Miss Lim Jia Li, 23, breathed her last in hospital, her family by her bedside.

"She waited for all of us to come to her bedside before she left," Miss Lim's sister, Kelly, 26, told The New Paper.

"She could not talk, but we knew that she knew we were all around, as she shed a drop of tear before leaving."

The New Paper had reported about Miss Lim's condition two years ago. The former business computing student at Republic Polytechnic, was diagnosed with leukaemia in November 2006.

Eldest sister Kelly, a private tutor, had donated her bone marrow to her in mid-2007.

Their blood type is O+.

Then in September 2008, her younger sister, Cynthia, now 19, an ITE student, donated her marrow.

Her other sister, Evelyn, now 25, and just graduated from university, was not a match. Her last transplant was in November last year, also by Cynthia.

"She had to stop going to school halfway. She always wanted to go back, but never had the chance," said Kelly, who added that after the first two transplants, Jia Li was well enough to attend school.

She went back to complete the first semester of her third year. But a few weeks to the end of that semester, and after one exam paper, she suffered yet another relapse and had to stop going to school.

"She had only one semester left before graduation," said Kelly. "She always wanted to start her own business, and earn a lot of money for the family."


Condition deteriorated

Condition deteriorated

Jia Li used to tell her, "My body spoilt already," and felt bad that she could not contribute to the family, she said.

"She said she wanted to earn a lot of money for mummy, but felt bad that she didn't have the chance," said Kelly at the wake near the family's home at Ang Mo Kio, Avenue 10.

Jia Li's mother, Madam Chai Chiew Lan, 51, a housewife, said: "We are sad. We did expect her to go, but not so fast."

Kelly said that two weeks ago, Jia Li was still fine. Then she ate laksa, and had diarrhoea for a whole week.

That was when everything spiralled downwards.

"We rushed her to National University Hospital (NUH), where she was warded. Slowly, her condition deteriorated until she couldn't move," said Kelly.

Jia Li was discharged on Saturday, after doctors said there was no way to treat her. Then on Sunday at midnight, she had fits.

"She kept screaming and biting her tongue. I was very scared," said Kelly.

They rushed her to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where she was warded.

On Monday, she was able to talk and complained that she was in pain.

By Tuesday, her condition took a dip. Despite being administered a huge dose of morphine, she was still in tremendous pain.

"Me, mummy and Cynthia were by her bedside. The doctor told us she had very little time left. I called my other family members to the hospital."

Kelly spoke of her sister as being a very strong person. Her doctor had said he found it incredible that Jia Li managed to undergo four bone marrow transplants, she said.


Worried about being a burden

Worried about being a burden

Jia Li's final days were spent in a lot of pain.

"There were tumours all over her body," said Kelly. "And she also had kidney failure."

Due to her kidney failure, Jia Li couldn't relieve herself for more than a week, and was very weak due to the toxins in her body.

"The doctors told us that at that point of time, even dialysis would have been of no use," said Kelly.

She recalled her sister as someone who always thought about others before herself.

"Initially, she told her friends about her being warded. On subsequent occasions, she did not tell them as she didn't want them to worry," said Kelly.

She also shared that towards the end, Jia Li could feel her cancer cells spreading, but did not tell anyone, as she did not want to add to the financial burden.

"Until one day, I touched her hand and found that it had hardened. Her neck was also full of lumps from the tumours that had been growing," Kelly said

When she was not in the hospital, she was cooped up at home.

"We can't take her out, as it was painful for her whenever she moved a bit," said Kelly.

'I'll remember her as a cheerful person'

'I'll remember her as a cheerful person'

"Also, she had black patches on her legs, and she had no hair due to the chemotherapy. People would stare and she was very uncomfortable with that."

Madam Chai said they easily owed the hospitals more than $100,000.

Madam Chai was diagnosed with cervical cancer around Chinese New Year last year. She had to undergo radiotherapy for four months at NUH, before she recovered.

"There were times when we all went to visit mummy in one ward, then went to visit Jia Li in another ward," said Kelly.

Currently, the sole breadwinner is their father, Mr Lim Boon Kui, 53, an odd-job labourer.

"It's very hard to have a full-time job when we need to take care of Jia Li. I quit my job when she was diagnosed," said Madam Chai, who used to work as a stall assistant at a duck rice stall.

They live in a three-room flat in Ang Mo Kio. The four sisters shared a room.

Madam Chai said that Jia Li's final wish was to have white roses decorate her photo at her funeral. Kelly said she would remember her sister as a cheerful person.

The wake is until 1pm today, when the procession will set off for Bright Hill Crematorium & Columbarium, where Jia Li's body will be cremated.

Said Kelly: "We thought of taking her to Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong for a short holiday, as she's never been overseas before. Now we can never do it."

This article was first published in The New Paper.