COVID-19 SPECIAL: How three mothers cope

Main priority is to keep her frail child safe

The coronavirus pandemic worries Ms Azleen Khamis, whose daughter Asfa’s blood cancer is in remission. She and her husband, Mr Horis Hosri, also have a son, Haris, three.
The coronavirus pandemic worries Ms Azleen Khamis, whose daughter Asfa’s blood cancer is in remission. She and her husband, Mr Horis Hosri, also have a son, Haris, three. PHOTO: AZLEEN KHAMIS

Most mothers are looking forward to schools reopening on June 2, but Ms Azleen Khamis has not decided if her daughter, Asfa, will rejoin her classmates in kindergarten.

Just a month after her second birthday in 2016, Asfa was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a type of blood cancer that affects the white blood cells.

After about three years of chemotherapy and a year of remission, her immune system is still much weaker than that of other children, which leaves the six-year-old more vulnerable to the coronavirus. A bout of flu that usually takes a few days to resolve lingers on for 11/2 weeks in Asfa's case, Ms Azleen says.

"Even for her to step out of the house, I constantly worry, because she will be at a higher risk of getting the virus."

She is grateful that her daughter at least had the chance to visit the Mickey Mouse House in Hong Kong Disneyland in 2018, thanks to Make-A-Wish Singapore.

"The wish experience has given my family, and especially Asfa, the strength needed to face future challenges," says the 36-year-old secondary school teacher, who also has a three-year-old son, Haris.

Among the recent challenges was a death in the family.

Ms Azleen's 58-year-old aunt, who was suffering from lymphoma, had moved into her home together with her husband and son the weekend before the circuit breaker began. Ms Azleen's parents also live in the terrace house.

Her aunt died two weeks later and the family had to scramble to make burial arrangements amid social distancing measures.

 
 
 

"But with the kids around, and their laughter, shouting and screaming sometimes, the level of sadness is lowered a bit," she says.

As part of home-based learning, Ms Azleen spent the last month conducting her food and nutrition lessons online, while her husband, Mr Horis Hosri, 35, an allied educator, continued to work in school until circuit breaker measures were tightened and he was told to work from home too.

"Halfway through, my kids would join in the live lessons, like (making) a special appearance," she adds with a chuckle.

Having her extended family at home during the pandemic has its benefits, she says.

"Because there's more family presence, the kids develop better. Haris' vocabulary has increased, he knows how to express himself and he can form sentences.

"Asfa can care for Haris, shower him, dress him. I just sit outside and monitor them."

Reflecting on her multiple roles as a teacher and mum during the circuit breaker period, she says: "You are the principal, school band, canteen vendor, discipline teacher, cleaner - the one the kids run to and run from.

 

"You have to take care of the needs of everyone at home, making sure things are in order, then you are at ease. Being a mum and having kids, it makes me understand better the sacrifices that my mum made for me when I was younger."

How she will spend Mother's Day: It will be a "low-key" affair because of her aunt's recent death, says Ms Azleen, who plans to order food in and extend her appreciation to her mother.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 10, 2020, with the headline 'Main priority is to keep her frail child safe'. Subscribe