Grandmas' cancers spur him on

Mr Ang is the valedictorian of the Diploma in Biotechnology course at Republic Polytechnic. He is fascinated by how the body's system works and hopes to become a clinical scientist specialising in cancer.
Mr Ang is the valedictorian of the Diploma in Biotechnology course at Republic Polytechnic. He is fascinated by how the body's system works and hopes to become a clinical scientist specialising in cancer.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The hardest time in Mr Royce Ang's life was after his maternal grandmother from Myanmar lost her life to cancer in 2004.

She had raised him until the age of five in Myanmar, while his parents worked in Singapore. Mr Ang's mother is from Myanmar, and his father is Singaporean.

After he moved to Singapore to start primary school, he would return to Myanmar during every school holiday to visit his grandmother.

When she died, he grew depressed and lost interest in his studies. As a result, his O-level results did not qualify him for junior college.

He then decided to apply for the Diploma in Biotechnology course at Republic Polytechnic, as he always had an interest in biology.

Last week, the now 20-year-old graduated as the course valedictorian, winning a Republic Award.

FIGHTING ILLNESS

I really wish that I could have had more time with my grandmothers, and I don't want other people to suffer the same way that I have.

MR ROYCE ANG, who wants to research ways to prolong the lives of cancer sufferers.

"Biotech is a manipulation of genes to better treat sick patients. It's amazing how the body's systems are all linked, and I was fascinated about how they worked," he said.

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During the course, he grew "obsessed" with the curriculum, and would go to the library to read in-depth books on the subject, including topics that were not covered in lectures.

When a friend invited him to join the polytechnic's Service Learning Club in his first year, he also found that the act of helping others in community projects lifted him out of his grief.

Then last year, his 85-year-old paternal grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer.

This second brush with cancer inspired him to research the disease for his final-year project at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, where he studied protein reactions in cells that might slow the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.

He is applying to the biological science and life science courses in local universities, and hopes to eventually become a clinical scientist specialising in cancer, researching ways to prolong the lives of cancer sufferers.

He said: "Cancer is very complicated and the more complicated it is, the more I love it, because I like solving challenges.

"Also, I really wish that I could have had more time with my grandmothers, and I don't want other people to suffer the same way that I have."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Grandmas' cancers spur him on'. Print Edition | Subscribe