Tutor shares her experience with cancer-stricken children

Liew (third right, back row) with a patient and his family members, as part of SCCS ‘Wishing Star’ project.

MIRI: Before joining Sarawak Children’s Cancer Society (SCCS), Liew Kai Syn heard a lot about the reputation of the society, its contributions and how it was formed by the parents of cancer-stricken children to help each other.

She also heard how the society is ‘very rich’ with hundreds of thousands raised from its annual campaigns, as well as continuous donations from Good Samaritans.

“To be honest, I knew absolutely nothing about SCCS, apart from some general information I’ve got from their brochure and website, until I joined SCCS about four years ago,” Liew told The Borneo Post when met recently.

Part of Liew’s (right) day-to-day work is to guide the children in the paediatric oncology ward, doing crafts work and arranging activities like simple birthday celebrations every week.

Upon graduating from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) in Serdang, Selangor with a Masters Degree in Guidance and Counselling, she stumbled upon a chance to join the society as a tutor.

“I’ve always had a strong interest in psychology and homecare nursing. Perhaps, it was inspired by my late grandmother who had Parkinson’s disease for years. I gave it a lot of thought before pursuing it and I’m glad I did.”

Returning to Kuching in early 2013, Liew made use of the skills and knowledge she learnt from her course as well as research she had done via seminars and courses she took whenever she was free to take better care of her late grandmother.

Liew (second left, second row) with parents and volunteers during an activity.

Liew had come across a position offered by SCCS as a tutor, and since it was relevant to Liew’s interest and passion, she applied for the job.

“Before I actually joined the society, I always thought that the work scope would be about handling day-to-day routine at the SCCS centre. Instead, I was stationed at the paediatric ward for cancer patients in Sarawak General Hospital. I was worried that I might not able to meet the expectation placed on me.”

Liew (left) pictured with a patient and a family member during a home visit.

What she initially expected about the ward to be dull and gloomy with sick and weak children turned out to be the total opposite.

“The ward is brightly lit and these children have very bright smiles. They don’t look sick at all, they are actually in high spirits, socialising with each other.”

Her work as tutor involves interacting with the children, planning activities for fun learning and doing crafts.

“Nothing too heavy that is too burdening for the children. The environment is relaxing and it really keeps many in great spirits.”

The first thing she learnt, said Liew, is that these cancer-stricken children showed her that there is more to life than meeting our own expectations.

“Their condition, their struggle with chemo treatment does not stop them from looking on the bright side.”

Liew pictured with one of her patients. Children who call her ‘Cikgu Kai Syn’ anticipate her visits every day.

As a full-time staff and tutor, Liew’s work scope involves handling palliative cases, parents’ emotions, paperwork, coordinating the communication between parents and doctors, and counselling bereaved parents, etc.

“It is not a nine-to-five job. Neither did I expect it would take a lot of mental and physical strength before I took up the job, the stress level is beyond describable. However, none of them are from the children, to be honest. They actually help me relieve the stress a lot, they are beautiful, adorable young souls.”

Liew revealed that the stress could sometimes push her to the limit, making her think of giving up the job, but the thought of these children happily waiting for ‘Cikgu Kai Syn’ made her stay.

Recalling one of the many cases she has encountered, Liew remembers vividly one particular patient – a 15-year-old Iban girl who suffered from chronic cancer.

“I made a lot of scrap books for the children, especially palliative patients before they passed away. This girl’s condition deprived her of the chance of getting her last wish. Instead, she only wanted to be home, surrounded by her family. I did a scrap book for her too. She managed to take one last look at her childhood memories, these fond memories that I put together for her and family, before she drifted away not long after. It was heart-breaking but looking on the bright side, she passed away with happy memories.”

‘These children have very bright smiles. They don’t look sick at all, they are actually in high spirits, socialising with each other,’ Liew says of these cancer-stricken children.

To Liew, it is not difficult dealing with the passing of these children.

“The most emotionally taxing moments are being with the palliative children who are ‘waiting for their time’. It could be days or months of waiting; no one will know that. Considering the bond we established over the period, it is difficult to accept the fact that they are no longer here.

“In dealing with deaths and funerals, the staff as well as the volunteers need to properly prepare ourselves, maintaining our professionalism. Surrendering to our emotion is common when the heart is overloaded, but we choose to keep it undercover, because taking care of the family and other details related to it are more important.”

Under SCCS’s Wishing Star project which was launched in 2014, once a patient is declared palliative by their doctor, arrangement will be made according to the child’s final wish.

So far, Liew had the chance to accompany two palliative patients to Legoland, capturing the moments of their time there which she made into scrapbooks.

“Of course, it would not be possible without the help and generosity from the airline company, generous donors and cooperation from doctors and the medical officers as well as family members.”

Palliative care service by SCCS also offers moral support to the patients and families, says Liew.

“Our main focus is on the patients, making sure that they are comfortable, physically and mentally, and it is also imperative to keep the family together.

“During our visit to a patient’s home, we try to keep the ambience more relaxing. Thankfully, most of these patients’ family more than welcome us to their home; they make us feel like we are already part of their family. It is very heart-warming,” she said.

One of the fond memories during a Golden Child Camp two years ago.

Despite the stress, Liew stated that there isn’t a legitimate reason for her to leave.

“I think I will continue to be with SCCS for as long as I can. Honestly, I do not have the heart to leave these children, both who survived and passed away. They may be passersby in my life; however, the memories with them will linger on forever.”

As for the public’s misperception towards SCCS’ role and work, Liew opines that it is best for them to experience time in these wards.

“Government subsidy is usually up to a certain extent; SCCS needs to step up in terms of buying uncommon drugs needed by the patients.

“For your information, some of the machines in the hospital were bought and donated by SCCS to cater for the cancer patients. Not to mention the assistance for the poor families, transportation and accommodation. Those who are from poor families, they may even have problems arranging for funeral services. SCCS would be the one they turn to for help.

“Enough said for other details, we only seek understanding members of the public to come forward and see for themselves the children in need of help,” said Liew before concluding the interview.

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