Audio Version Available
Three years ago, Melvin Ong fell off a stage.
The bassist, who was 28 at the time, was on tour prepping for a concert when the accident happened. He landed on his back and felt something give.
“I remember the two to three seconds after I landed. Then nothing. I woke up close to 20 hours later in the ICU, with a tube in my mouth, cables all around, lying in bed.”
Even though the stage wasn’t very high (about 1.5m), Melvin had landed badly, fracturing three bones in his neck (C3, C4, and a small part of his C2 on his cervical vertebrae).
He spent close to 100 days in the ICU and while he survived his ordeal, he emerged a quadriplegic.
As someone who regarded himself as highly independent, and who was travelling the world by the time he was 25, Melvin describes his spinal cord injury (SCI) as “a huge slap to my face”.
Prior to the accident, he was already suffering from chronic anxiety and depression – and that only got worse after learning the news.
“I broke down nearly every day in the hospital. I would get panic attacks, and that was the worst because I couldn’t do anything. I would bang my head and start wailing,” Melvin tells The Pride.
With so much anger and hate at the world and his condition, Melvin began to push people away.
“I became a mean person,” he admits, “I was ashamed to be seen by those who knew me before I had the accident.”
But Melvin slowly began to come to terms with his condition.
He converted his negative energy into fuel for his creative passions.
He tried to maintain a positive outlook on life, spreading kindness where he could.
In 2020, a year after the accident, during the peak of the pandemic, Melvin saw what migrant workers were going through and his heart went out to them.
“They were suffering the most. They couldn’t work, and I don’t know whether they were still getting paid,” he says.
Melvin saw an opportunity to do good. At the time, he had just started his own apparel brand, Green Spell. With the help of his designer, they released a special edition “Covid Relief” T-shirt, with 100% of the proceeds donated to foundations supporting migrant workers.
He raised over $1,000 from the T-shirt sales.
He explains: “I think many people overlook the fact that it’s because of them (migrant workers) that we have a lot of safe roads, houses to stay in, or shopping centres.”
After that campaign, Melvin embarked on other passion projects to quench his creative thirst. He wrote music, started a new experimental band, directed videos and even tried mouth painting.
His previous outlook to life — bleak, depressive and angry, even before the accident occurred — morphed into something more positive.
“By doing good for others, good will come back to you,” he says. “I began to love the feeling of helping others. It was a high on life — a sense of satisfaction that money cannot buy.”
Tragedy strikes, again
Then it all came to an abrupt halt.
Earlier this year, Melvin started having trouble breathing.
Due to his condition, his family rushed him for a check up. Then came the cruel news.
Lung cancer — Stage 4.
Just as he was learning to live with his paralysis, Melvin was told that he had three months left to live.
Yet Melvin’s reaction was far from what one would expect.
He still remembers — his brother was with him when the doctor dropped the bomb.
“After the doctor left, my brother turned to me and said ‘well, I guess no one lives forever’ and we both burst into laughter.”
But reality soon sunk in.
Melvin says that it took him a few days to tell his mum and when he did, his brave demeanour shattered.
“I told my mum, ‘things are not okay and I’ve been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer’, and I just broke down. My mum has always been a champion. She told me, ‘don’t worry, we’re all with you’.”
So instead of breaking him, the news gave Melvin more mental clarity.
View this post on Instagram
He says: “How my family approached it helped me in a huge way; it allowed me to be at peace. What’s the point of hating things and being angry? I’m already at this stage, why not just try to make the best out of it?”
“I’m done being angry. I’m done being hateful. What matters now is myself and the people around me. I just want to give love and love myself.”
Good days and bad days
I give a little here, I give a little there and keep a little for myself /
Life is so unfair, but is good to share, and it’s nice to help someone else /
It’s my master’s will… I see the sun shining today /
Don’t know what is going to bring /
You see, I give thanks for what’s coming to me.
Since the diagnosis, gratitude has become the main driver in Melvin’s life.
He begins most days with his favourite song, My Master’s Will, by reggae group Israel Vibration, which he says got him through his darkest times.
He quotes the lyrics: “‘I give a little here, I give a little there, I keep a little for myself’,” adding that “that is my daily reminder to be kind to others and to myself.”
Although Melvin generally tries to maintain a positive outlook on life, he still has bad days.
He says: “When people ask me ‘how are you coping?’ I reply, ‘I’m managing, things are okay’, but to be honest, things have never been okay. I had panic attacks every single day.
“But ever since I got diagnosed with cancer, I can say that I am pretty happy because it felt like the weight of my SCI issues, problems and daily worries just disappeared. They don’t mean anything to me anymore because there is nothing compared to having stage 4 lung cancer.”
“These past three years, things have been rough, but I had so much time to think about things and with the bad things happening, good things did happen as well. So I can’t complain.”
Melvin says that he has also learnt to appreciate the important things.
He adds: “After the SCI, then getting lung cancer, I’ve realised that many people don’t know how to appreciate life. It needs something serious to happen for them to wake up.”
“Unfortunately, I had to take ‘double damage’ for me to see everything in full clarity. The thing that really inspires me to move forward is the fact that now I know I don’t want to die.”
“My philosophy in life now is just to give thanks to even the smallest thing. I’m not trying to preach or anything, but if you can practise appreciation, and be thankful for everything you have and everything that you are able to do, it really helps a lot,” he says.
One for the Road
So, what would a paralysed man with three months left to live want to do before his time runs out?
For Melvin, the answer is simple.
“I want to continue Green Spell as much as I can. I want to spend more quality time with my family – recover the time that I’ve lost. Basically to just live life a little more proper,” he says.
Other stories you might like
Last weekend, Melvin collaborated with local musicians to host his last gig, aptly and bittersweetly named “One for the Road”.
The event brought the hardcore music community back together again for one final sendoff. It saw about 200 people from the different generations of rockers, some even from overseas, joined together for one common reason – Melvin.
Five bands from different subgenres of hardcore punk rock played over five hours at the Annexe Studios at the Esplanade with an energy sorely missed over the past few pandemic years.
Although there are many things that Melvin still wants to continue exploring, he has accepted his life.
“If anything does happen to me in the X number of months the doctor has given me, it sucks but I’ve thought about it, and I can honestly proudly say that in this short span of time, I have lived the life that most people will never get to experience. It’s been a pretty good life,” he said.
“I wake up every morning and I see the sunshine and I’m like ‘Yes! Another day I get to live.”