Awards recognise inspirational patients and caregivers

Celeste Chang with her parents, Mr Astro Chang, 49, and Ms Jackie Lee, 47. Celeste is one of the winners of the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient and Caregiver Awards.
Celeste Chang with her parents, Mr Astro Chang, 49, and Ms Jackie Lee, 47. Celeste is one of the winners of the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient and Caregiver Awards.ST PHOTO: LEE JIA WEN

SINGAPORE - At the age of seven, doctors removed a tumour the size of a table tennis ball from the back of Celeste Chang's head.

"The world just came to a standstill for us because it all happened too quickly," said her father, Mr Astro Chang, 49, who quit his job in 2010 to look after her.

Celeste had to go through 15 months of radiotherapy and chemotherapy before she could return to school in Primary 3 - and then faced an uphill struggle to catch up with her peers.

On Tuesday (May 15), the 15-year-old was among the award winners at the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient and Caregiver Awards (IPCA).

They pay tribute to patients and caregivers who show extraordinary courage, resilience and strength in the face of adversity of their healthcare challenges.

The ceremony was attended by Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health.

Each recipient received $300 worth of grocery vouchers and a plaque at the ceremony organised by SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre.

Even though the surgery and treatment affected her psychomotor skills, cognitive learning and growth hormones, Celeste persevered and did well enough in her Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) to get into a secondary school of her choice.

However, she was bullied there for being shorter than her peers. Classmates would throw gum in her hair and leave mean notes on her table.

Her parents found out and decided to put her through home schooling last year.

Despite the hardships, Celeste found strength to push on through her parents and her favourite character, Mickey Mouse.

"Mickey Mouse is very easygoing and he is a mouse that never gives up, so I strive to be like him, not to give up in anything," said Celeste.

Celeste painted more than 20 bags in order to raise money for the Brain Tumour Society Singapore.

"I love art and it is even more meaningful because I can do what I love and make other people happy," she said.

"For all those warriors who are fighting their battles in the ward, remember that you are not alone, and when that is over, we can all come together again and encourage the rest."

Madam Cynthia Tay, 45, was also one of the award recipients at the ceremony.

Madam Tay took care of her late husband, Mr Jesse Peh, after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2010.

While "news of his cancer felt like a death sentence", Madam Tay continued to be a pillar of strength for the family.

As her husband longed to go home after months of hospitalisation, Madam Tay took the initiative to ask the doctors and nurses to teach her the treatment procedures so she could take care of him at home, where he eventually died last year at age 45.

Asked what gave her the strength to carry on, she simply said: "True love. That was what kept me going."