Family of cancer victim raising funds to get her home from US

Diagnosed with terminal cancer in US, she is stuck there as pandemic limits her options

Ms Lerine Liu had arrived alone in the US three months ago to start her life afresh after the end of a relationship.
Ms Lerine Liu had arrived alone in the US three months ago to start her life afresh after the end of a relationship.PHOTOS: SCREENGRAB FROM GIVE.ASIA

Hopes of a fresh start in the United States for a Singaporean woman have turned into a nightmare as she battles inoperable cancer alone, while her family here struggles to bring her home so she can spend her last days with her loved ones.

Their already daunting task has been made considerably worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has curtailed much international travel.

The first option of flying Ms Lerine Liu, 42, home on a commercial flight with a nurse at a cost of US$35,000 (S$49,900) is now unavailable, and the only other option - an air ambulance - is prohibitively expensive: US$235,000.

The family is now trying frantically to raise the cash online in a race against time as cancer slowly tightens its grip on Ms Liu.

It was not supposed to be like this when Ms Liu arrived in New York three months ago, alone but keen to start her life afresh after the end of a four-year relationship.

Things were looking up for a while. She scored a job offer in fashion merchandising and found an apartment in New Jersey.

But the coronavirus pandemic swept across the US and her job offer was rescinded.

Then she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, which had spread to her bones, one of her lungs and her liver. She was admitted to Saint Michael's Medical Centre in Newark, New Jersey, on April 20, but she did not tell her family until the start of this month.

Her family was shocked, said Ms Felicia Liew, 46, one of Ms Liu's three sisters. Ms Liu's 68-year-old mum is unaware of her plight as the family does not want her to worry.

"Lerine is a very strong and private person. Whatever happens in her life, she will keep to herself and try to solve it on her own. So, her speaking to us about it is a big deal," Ms Liew told The Straits Times.

She said her sister had asked the family to help make arrangements for her to return to Singapore, but their options are limited.

Putting Ms Liu on a commercial flight accompanied by a nurse would have cost around US$35,000, and that was still acceptable for the family, said Ms Liew.

But the pandemic put paid to that option and also made it too risky for the family to travel to the US. They would not have been allowed to see her in the hospital anyway.

Ms Liu's savings have also been "wiped out, with probably only about a few thousand left in her bank account", her sister said.

Her hospital bills are being covered by an assistance programme under the New Jersey State Department of Health.

She did not take out travel insurance before the trip, so any repatriation costs cannot be claimed.

Her family has started a fund-raiser on crowdfunding platform Give.asia.

So far, more than $80,000 has been raised.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has been giving Ms Liu and her family consular assistance, including helping explore whether her Medisave savings can be used for her hospitalisation in the US.

"The Singapore Consulate in New York will remain in close contact with Ms Liu and her family to provide support on the ground," said a spokesman, adding that it is essential that people take out sufficient insurance when travelling overseas.

Ms Liew said her sister's condition has worsened in recent days.

"We want to bring her back to Singapore so that we can walk the last leg of her journey with her... Lerine keeps saying she wants to come back, and I just want to grant her last wish," Ms Liew added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2020, with the headline 'Family of cancer victim raising funds to get her home from US'. Subscribe