Stories of those who have battled and beaten cancer often inspire many as it teaches us not to take our lives for granted.
Every battle lost is a tragedy; every battle won a victory. And victory is made sweeter when you have a group of cheerleaders and well-wishers supporting you, like with the Reddit community in Singapore.
In a post put up in October, Redditor LGFBOOM (who signed off as Jules) shared his personal battle with cancer while serving his full-time National Service in the Singapore Police Force (SPF).
In October 2019, a few days before he enlisted, Jules developed a severe cough but decided to ignore it as he did not want to look like a “chao keng warrior” during his first week in camp.
Despite the bad cough, he continued to do well in his Police Officers Basic Course, made new friends and even volunteered for positions in camp.
“Physically, I was doing the best I could as I wanted to reach my goal of an IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test) score of 95. My first IPPT I was handed a score of 84 with which I was content but wanted to improve on,” he wrote.
A score of 85 and above gets the highest possible Gold award.
Jules did not see an urgency to visit the Medical Officer (MO) at first and when he finally did, the cough medication he was given helped with the symptoms. He even managed to improve to 91 for his second IPPT.
Little did he know that these scores may have been a measure of his fitness, but not of his health and an illustration of how unexpectedly illness can strike.
Finding a lump in his neck
A month after enlisting, Jules felt something awry during his swimming lessons at Home Team Academy.
“I felt my neck and realised there was a large lump. I didn’t think much of it, and assumed it was my lymph nodes swelling up because of my cough. A few days after that discovery, the antibiotics and cough syrup I received started to wear off and my cough came back in full force. I went to the MO once again, but this time mentioned my inflamed lymph nodes. I was given another round of antibiotics and was told: If the lymph nodes don’t swell down, come back.” he wrote.
Later that year, after returning to Singapore from visiting his family and friends in Kuala Lumpur, his condition hadn’t recovered so Jules visited a clinic.
The doctor suspected tuberculosis and sent him for tests. After his X-ray results came back inconclusive, Jules was sent to Changi General Hospital for an MRI on Dec 31. This was when things took a turn for the worse.
“The doctor came back with the results and mentioned it might be tuberculosis, or it might be a cancer of the lymph nodes. My face went pale, and immediately felt the need to cry. We were not sure of it yet, so I told myself: I’m 18, fit and healthy. There is no way in hell I have cancer,” Jules shared.
He was sent to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) to meet an oncologist. There, they suggested performing a biopsy on the lymph nodes on his neck and a PET (positron emission tomography) scan, commonly prescribed for cancer diagnoses and treatments.
Alone when news of cancer broke
On Jan 10, Jules got his results and it was bad news. As his parents had to attend to something overseas, they could only be with him on the phone during the meeting.
“My doctor asked my parents to fly down and I assumed the worst. She wanted my parents to be here with me while she announced the news but I couldn’t handle the wait and asked her bluntly: Did I have cancer, yes or no. She nodded sympathetically, and my whole life flashed before my eyes. I felt like breaking down. I cannot find words intense enough to describe the absolutely horrid feeling of someone informing you that you are cancer ridden, let alone at the young age of 18,” he wrote.
When his parents finally arrived, they were given the full diagnosis – Stage 4A Nodular Sclerosis Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The cancer had spread to his neck, lungs and all the way down his spine.
“I thought I must’ve had a small beginner cancer at first since I didn’t feel any worse than usual except for incessant itching and night sweats, but nope, I was given the crème de la crème of bad diagnoses.”
Ready to tackle cancer
Before he knew it, Jules found himself in a hospital bed undergoing chemotherapy.
“The most unexpected, emotionally and physically painful experience I’ve endured. There were multiple complications which landed me around 1.5 months in hospital, sleepless nights, losing sight of what feeling normal felt like and just feeling content with not being in excruciating pain. And the stress with Covid as well! Either way, I went through my 12 rounds of chemotherapy as best as I could with the amazing support of my parents taking care of me, solely moving back to Singapore to be with me. I tried to live my life as normal as I could and realised that was foolish and to instead, take things at my new pace of life,” he wrote.
Nine months after his diagnosis and 2.5 months after his last chemotherapy, he is now clear of cancer and confident enough to tell his story.
“You truly don’t appreciate life until it might be taken away from you. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s true. I was given a second chance at life and never took a day for granted. Each day brings its own beautiful wonders and sometimes hardships. Just be thankful we are all alive and love the people around you as they are the ones who come forward in your time of need. Many lessons were learnt during my treatment and although I am not grateful for having had cancer, I appreciate much more who I am now than who I was before cancer,” he shared.
Many lessons were learnt during my treatment and although I am not grateful for having had cancer, I appreciate much more who I am now than who I was before cancer.
Redditors show support and solidarity
The moving post received over 140 comments, many of which were encouraging messages for the young man.
Redditor mystrilreddit wrote: “My heart was pounding as I read your story. I assumed the worst when you mentioned how grateful you were. I’m so glad the cancer is now gone. I never knew Stage 4 cancer can be beaten. Really feeling heartened for you. Your spirit and introspective views gave me a renewed sense of gratitude towards life. All the best!”
Agreeing to the sentiments, Hellowhatup789 wrote: “For countless times (especially recently) I’ve found myself questioning whether life is truly worth living, and reading your post just made me appreciate it a little more. Really respect your positive outlook and I wish you nothing but the best ahead!”
Another Redditor, ArmsHeavySoKneesWeak, added: “Congrats bro. Reading your post made me realise that I’m taking life for granted and trying my best to overthink on little things that don’t matter (when put on a grand scale).”
Some even shared their own experiences.
Redditor gretsall wrote: “Thank you for your uplifting post. I had a friend that had the same circumstance as you. Lump in neck to cancer to chemo to recovery. All this happened in year 2 poly, so he was exempted from NS straightaway.
“I am now struggling to cope with my dad’s recent cancer diagnosis. Don’t know the seriousness (of it) yet but spending as much time as we can as a family now. Enjoy your second chance at life!”
Another, semajm85, wrote: “Thanks for sharing your story. My sis, too, fought cancer and won. I witnessed first-hand the pain and struggles this dreaded disease brings and I’m always in awe of anyone who tackles it head on. You are awesome.”
It was quite telling that even as he was recounting all his fearful experiences in his post, Jules was constantly positive – sharing his appreciation for the doctors and nurses at SGH and about the health system in Singapore. He even gave a shout out to everyone at SPF involved in helping him in his case.
When asked if he faced any challenges in his camp, Jules replied: “Nope, no one doubted my sickness and everyone and everything within NS supported all my needs and allowed me to fully focus on my treatment and then deal with the bureaucracy of financials and PES.
“The Singaporean community really is the most giving and caring although it might not always seem like it,” he wrote.
And his coursemates as well, he added: “All very supportive ❤️brothers 4 life.”