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She bounces back after brain tumour

Nanyang Primary pupil Celeste Chang, who was diagnosed with a type of brain tumour common in children when she was in Primary 1, scored two As for English and Chinese, and two Cs for Mathematics and Science.
Nanyang Primary pupil Celeste Chang, who was diagnosed with a type of brain tumour common in children when she was in Primary 1, scored two As for English and Chinese, and two Cs for Mathematics and Science.ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Celeste Chang was pulled out of Primary 1 in 2010 after being diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumour common in children. A part of her brain the size of a table tennis ball was removed, her growth was affected and she suffered memory lapses.

But 15 months later, the Nanyang Primary pupil returned to school and, despite the odds, yesterday found out that she had scored two As for English and Chinese, and two Cs for Mathematics and Science, in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

"I told myself to do my best for the PSLE. I am relieved to be able to move on to a secondary school, but I will miss my teachers and friends," said the 12-year-old.

Celeste's mother Jackie Lee still cannot forget the moment when her daughter was diagnosed after complaining about headaches.

The 44-year-old housewife added: "It was as if my world had stopped."

Celeste was pulled out of school because the treatments made her too tired. After surgery, she underwent radiation therapy and chemotherapy over several months. The treatment affected her pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands.

When she returned to school as a Primary 3 pupil, she would take five hours to finish a task which would normally take another child an hour.

The initial years adjusting to school again were not easy. Besides taking longer to grasp mathematical and scientific concepts, she also had trouble hearing as she suffers from high-frequency hearing loss.

Celeste, who requires growth hormone replacement therapy and is also on lifetime medication, added: "When my class was too noisy, I would hide in the toilet to escape the noise."

With strong support from her family and teachers from the school, Celeste, the eldest of three children, eventually managed to catch up with her studies, keep pace with her lessons and submit her work on time.

Mr Astro Chang, Celeste's father, quit his corporate job in 2010 to look after the family. He said that Celeste's condition has brought his family closer. Her brother Elliot, nine, also attends Nanyang Primary, and her sister Jordan, six, will enrol in the school next year.

"It used to be about finding a bigger car, getting a bigger house. Now we chase different things," Mr Chang, 46, said. "Every day, we look forward to being with our children. Family is what keeps us going."

Calvin Yang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'She bounces back after brain tumour'. Print Edition | Subscribe