SINGAPORE - To say that life has dealt Jason Chee a bad hand would be an understatement. Five years after a horrific naval ship accident that bound him to a wheelchair, the navy serviceman has also lost an eye.
The 34-year-old was diagnosed with choroidal melanoma (a cancer of the eye) in late April, when a tumour measuring 1.5cm in circumference was discovered in his right eye. It meant that a man who had lost both his legs, left arm and three fingers on his right hand was now also about to lose part of his vision.
He told The Straits Times: “I was reporting to work in the morning and suddenly there was a ‘50 per cent black out’ in my right eye. My colleague sent me to Changi General Hospital and the doctor found a lump in my eye. They told me the next day that it’s a tumour.”
He was advised by doctors at the Singapore National Eye Centre, and later when seeking a second opinion at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, that the best course of treatment to contain the cancer since it had not spread to other parts of his body would be to remove the eyeball.
“I tried to find out the cause and treatment to save my eye, but there was no way,” he added.
While Chee took the news stoicly, his elderly father did not accept it that well at first. Said Chee: “He said I already went through that accident (in 2012), why did this happen to me. My father questioned why my life is so unlucky.”
Yet Chee, a self-proclaimed “calm and steady” man, never let his latest ordeal defeat him. He did not once break down, nor has he lost his temper. He underwent surgery in mid-May, a fortnight of rehabilitation and by early June, was back to his routine of buying groceries at the market, cooking and working.
Even participating at the Asean Para Games, which will take place in Kuala Lumpur from Sept 17-23, was never in doubt. Chee, who turned to para-table tennis after his accident, is a multiple medallist at the biennial event. He won a team gold at the last Games on home soil in 2015, and also has an individual silver from the same Games. He won a team bronze at the 2013 edition in Myanmar.
He told The Straits Times: "My first reaction (upon hearing about the cancer) was question how come this would happen to me. I was a bit down, but I told myself I have to stay calm.
"I'm a very cool, calm and steady person. I did my research about the disease, went to seek a second opinion and made the decision (to go for surgery) after advice from family and friends."
Even while being wheeled into surgery at the Singapore National Eye Centre, Chee maintains there was little fear.
Chee insists he has been the same person throughout his ordeals, and the only change he has had to make since losing his right eye is to make adjustments to his table tennis training and be more careful when moving about in his motorised wheelchair.
“I have to carefully drive my wheelchair, especially when I go out in crowded places,” he said. “I need to adapt because my depth perception and flexibility on my right side is gone.
“In table tennis, I practise a lot on my right side now. My coach Chia Chong Boon said my ball skills are still there. I only have to make adjustments.
“I can’t give up. I still have one eye and life has to go on. Things happen for a reason. I couldn’t prevent this from happening, I just have to face it. I can be happy day by day.”