Siu Tzyy Wei is no ordinary teenager – at an age where daily struggles are those of school work and the ravages of puberty, she has had another struggle added to her plate: cancer. Despite that, she has remained overwhelmingly positive in the face of such adversity, coming out triumphant.
Tzyy Wei was first diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Her mother noticed that the normally active girl was out of breath climbing up the stairs one day when they were out on an excursion about town and decided to send her for a medical check-up. That medical check-up turned into a reference to another docter in RIPAS, and from there they identified the cause of her lack of energy, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She was told to stop dancing, missing an upcoming performance to begin treatment.
The following year she had to stop school as the special education teachers teaching at the hospital only taught students up to Year 6, and Tzyy Wei was then in Year 7. Missing School for treatment and the unavailability of teachers for students of her level forced her to be held back by a year. It was difficult to watch her peers advance without her.
‘When I first got cancer, I thought, why me? I wondered whether God was punishing me,’ she said. ‘But soon realised it was just another hurdle, a challenge for me to get through.’
“Life is not about learning how to pass… it is about learning how to dance in the rain.”
Treatment was indeed a challenge. Aside from being in pain and being unable to eat whatever she wanted, a side effect from the chemotherapy left her unable to purse her passion for dance. A steroid, Dexa resulted in a stay in paediatrics intensive care unit as her blood glucose concentration levels were far above normal. Her hair also started to fall out, forcing her to wear a cap in public. Her immune system was very weak, thus confining her to her home. When she did venture out, she was forced to wear a face mask to avoid infections, drawing stares from the public.
Today, the girl who sits before me is poised and confident. Following her recovery she has penned a book of her experiences of the arduous two-year chemotherapy treatment which has been published. She says her motive for writing this book is to educate the general public about childhood cancer and to change their viewpoint on the subject, not to think that childhood cancer is hereditary, nor is it contagious; not to see dying child but one who is a brave fighter.
It is clear that Tzyy Wei has an optimistic attitude towards life. She counts her blessings in that Bruneians have access to free medical treatment and medication, a luxury that children in other countries cannot afford.
She maintains a close doctor-patient relationship with her doctor, Dr. Hajah Norehan Johari, Who is the president of Yayasan Kanser Kanak-kanak (YASKA). This support from YASKA has led to a variety of opportunities. In April of this year she attended the seventh International Confederation of Childhood Cancer Parent Organisations (ICCCPO) Asia Meeting in Seoul, presenting her story as the youngest patient in attendance.
She is no longer afraid of standing out, the fact that she has survived cancer, she tells me, ‘makes her unique.’ Cancer has been a life-changing experience for Tzyy Wei. Before her treatment she had wanted to be a dancer or choreographer and to make it big in Hollywood.
As a Year 9 student, she has now discovered a passion for debate and become an even more avid reader. Speaking to such large crowd at the conference has perhaps honed her public-speaking skills and allowed her to become a proficient advocate for greater awareness of childhood cancer. She now wants to do her part in helping others facing cancer by becoming a therapist in the future. One of her favourite quotes states, ‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass…it is about learning how to dance in the rain.’ (Vivian Greene). This Quote is testament to her great courage and fighting spirit – she is truly a survivor.