Parents collect PSLE results of son who died from cancer

Raphael Lee took his PSLE despite undergoing therapy for cancer, but died on Nov 13. His parents William and Winnie Lee collected his results on his behalf on Nov 25, 2020. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF WILLIAM LEE, MARK CHEONG
Mr William Lee and his wife Winnie with their son Raphael's PSLE results. Raphael did not want to defer taking his PSLE despite undergoing treatment for cancer. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER
Mr William Lee and his wife Winnie collected his results on behalf of their son Raphael on Nov 25, 2020. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - In 2008, when he was but an eight-month-old baby, Raphael Lee was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in his left forearm.

He underwent treatment for this rare form of soft tissue cancer for a year and the disease went into remission.

But in 2016, when Raphael was a Primary 2 pupil, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, or bone cancer.

It started in his left arm again, and eventually spread to his right collarbone and both lungs.

On Nov 13, the 12-year-old died due to complications from surgery.

His parents, Mr William Lee, 47, and Mrs Winnie Lee, 45, collected his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results from Alexandra Primary School on his behalf on Wednesday (Nov 25).

Raphael was their only child.

Mr Lee, who works as a course manager with St John Singapore, said: "We expected his lifespan would be shortened, but we didn't know death would come so soon.

"We told him that our focus was not on his studies but on his health. We would tell him 'Just do your best, there is no stress' but he wanted to prove himself.

"As much as possible, he tried to complete his homework."

The Catholic couple said that the Church of St. Bernadette, that they attend, as well as Raphael's school have been very supportive throughout this challenging period.

Raphael's teachers often visited him in hospital and at home, and brought his school work to him.

They also frequently sent video clips of class activities to update him on what he had missed, and passed along greetings from his classmates to encourage him.

When Raphael was diagnosed with bone cancer in his left arm in 2016, he underwent cryotherapy, which involved using liquid nitrogen to destroy the cancer cells.

But the very next year, doctors found another swelling near his left wrist and said that amputation was inevitable.

Said Mr Lee: "Raphael was devastated when he heard he had to lose his arm.

"But we told him that the hope was that we would sacrifice the arm in return for his good health in future."

The boy took it in his stride, he said, managing to smile and cheer up family and friends who visited him after his operation.

Last year, another tumour was discovered resting on his right collarbone.

"It caught the whole medical team by surprise because everyone thought the amputation would end the whole episode," said Mr Lee.

In March this year, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan showed the cancer had spread to his lungs. He had operations in April and May.

Mrs Lee, who left her job as a childcare teacher last year to take care of Raphael, said: "We tried to talk him into deferring his PSLE to next year, to give his body time to recuperate.

"But he wanted to do it this year because he did not want to have to take it in a new environment and in a new class."

Raphael was on targeted therapy, or oral medication, when he was taking his papers.

While the medication did not compromise his immunity, it had severe side effects such as diarrhoea.

Despite having to take medication that had severe side effects, Raphael Lee wanted to go back to school as he enjoyed it and loved spending time with his friends. PHOTO: COURTESY OF WILLIAM LEE

He went to the toilet six to seven times a day, up to an hour at a time. When he came out of the toilet, he would be all sweaty, said Mrs Lee.

"But no matter how tired and sickly he was, he wanted to go back to school because he enjoyed it, and loved spending time with his friends," she added.

In August, Mr Lee himself was diagnosed with Stage 2 colon cancer in the large intestine.

"Raphael was a sensible and thoughtful boy. He was worried I may not know how to deal with the treatment.

"He told his mum, 'Why does Papa have to get cancer? Why not let me have it in his place, since I'm more experienced and have gone through chemotherapy before?'

"I was so touched by this. I told him not to be silly. I said, 'It's so easy to tell you to be brave and strong, now it is time for me to lead by example and show you I can do it too.'"

As the eldest child, Irdina Qasrina Isham helps her mother with the household chores and takes care of her younger brother and father, who was diagnosed with cancer when Irdina was in Primary 1. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Another Primary 6 pupil, Irdina Qasrina Isham, received her results after her father died from cancer in April this year.

She had cared for him while preparing for the national exam.

Irdina was in charge of helping him shower, eat, change his clothes and take a short walk every day, from the time she was in Primary 2 in Sengkang Green Primary School.

His will to live taught her an important lesson.

"My dad taught me to have a positive mindset - when he was sick, he never gave up looking for treatment options.

"So when he died, I tried to stay positive," said the 12-year-old.

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