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To honour the passing of my beloved late grandmother, I am raising a fund for a cause that is very close to my heart. Cancer is a merciless and selfish disease which not only kills the person who contracted it but also breaks the family members spirit and soul. I was told before that you only need to look into the eyes of cancer once and you will never be the same. I did not know what it meant until it happened to my family. This Mother's Day, join me in trying to make a difference by supporting Cancer Research Malaysia in their studies and focus on the effects of cancer on Asian Genetics and how treatment efficacy can be improved to better suite the Asian population. We need to nip this in the bud.

My Story

Ahma was a woman of great patience, strength and humility. She had her first child (my father) when she was 16 and she raised 5 children with her income as a helper. She did everything with pride, even when she was cleaning the house of others and cooking for children of others. She did everything to the best of her ability, even when situations were unforgiving and unfair to her. When my grandfather was on his deathbed, she took care of him as a dutiful wife despite despising him for having a second wife without her knowledge nor permission. She was the strong and kind matriarch of our family and she was the glue which held everything together.

She was also a woman with great blessings. She was cared for by her children and grandchildren with so much love and respect that anyone in the family would do anything to make her happy and proud. She was always happy, she was always healthy and she was always there. And because of that, I had subconsciously taken it for granted that she will forever be there in all walks of our lives.

Her first encounter with cancer was in 2011. A mosquito bite at the side of her breast had her scratching and realising a small lump, which turned out to be malignant after a mammogram was carried out. Fortunately, it was detected early and surgery was done to remove the right breast before the cancer began spreading to other parts of the body. Although a little shaken and emotionally affected by the surgery, she was strong and recovered from the physical wound quickly. Again, I thought to myself, 'Ahma will always be there as she is a blessed woman.'

When Covid struck us in 2019, I was worried that the side-effects of the vaccination would harm her. However, she breezed through all three jabs almost effortlessly and proved me wrong. I remember hearing my parents say, 'Ahma is very strong. She was enjoying her Chinese dramas after the jabs.' And again, my subconscious whispered to me that my ahma will live a long life. Throughout the 2.5 years of not being able to return home, it had never once occurred to me that I would never have the chance to have a meal with her nor get a chance to hug her and kiss her again. 

Then came the Year of the Tiger, which was the year she was born in and also the same year which took her away from us. Cancer had come back to bite again, and way harder the second round. I received a call from my family one night that she was diagnosed with a very rare type of cancer called undifferentiated Endometrial Stromal Sarcoma that begins mostly in the soft tissues of the body. Endometrial stromal sarcoma (ESS) is a rare malignant tumor that constitutes about 0.2% of all uterine malignancies and 10% of uterine sarcomas. Not only is this type of cancer very difficult to diagnose, it is aggressive and spreads to other parts of the body rapidly and mercilessly. In her case, it started in the lining of her uterus and had spread to her lungs when she was diagnosed. I remember how my heart sank when I was told that the cancer was already in Stage 4. And I prayed and begged to God that I will be able to see her quick, that Covid would suddenly disappear one day and everything would return to normal. I waited and waited as her health took a plunge and I read every message about her almost instantly at any time of the day as she was always too tired to take any calls.

On 1st April 2022, the border between Malaysia and Singapore finally re-opened. When everyone was excited about finally being able to go home, my husband and I were racing against time which so much fear and dread as we packed our bags and got the kids out of bed just so we could get past the checkpoint as soon as the clock struck midnight. My family had whispered to her that I was on my way home to see her and that she would only need to wait just a little longer. Gasping for air even with the oxygen mask on, she nodded very weakly. I will never forget that feeling as I stepped into her room at 4 a.m and saw her at the brink of death, yet still clinging as hard as she could because she was not ready to leave. She was already unconscious when we arrived that early morning, and I cried as I announced to her that I was home with her great-grandchildren. With every forceful breath she took with her mouth, her chest heaved up and down and I could feel her lungs collapsing more and more. She was also having a temperature and she was bleeding from the cervix. She had never looked so frail and defeated.

Despite all that, Ahma was no doubt a woman with great perseverance and determination. In the very last moment when I had given up all hope, she showed me how much she loved me by using up whatever strength she had left in her to lift her eyelids just a little as a form of acknowledgment of my return. As she looked at me, I spoke as loud as I could knowing that would be the last time I could say anything to her. I apologized for making her wait and for arriving too late. I apologized that she did not have a chance to hold my youngest child, whom she had not met and was so excited to hold. I placed her hand on my daughter's head, arm and body and ran her fingers through my daughter's hair. I would like to believe that she had heard me and finally managed to see us, who was also the last family members to reach home, before she embraced her fate peacefully. 

That is why I had chosen Cancer Research Malaysia as the beneficiary of this fundraising cause. I really hope that more research and studies can be done on undifferentiated sarcoma (or any other form of rare cancer) so it can be diagnosed at an early stage and more lives can be saved. For my grandmother, it could not be detected despite multiple screenings until it had advanced all the way to Stage 4 within a short couple of months as Endometrial Stromal tumors are composed of cells resembling normal endometrial stroma even in its proliferative phase. Everything happened so quickly that sometimes I felt it was all just a nightmare that I could wake up from and I would turn around and see that she was still there. It is indeed ironic that the very womb which gave her 5 children also the same womb which had caused her life to end.

I hope with all my heart and soul that you will support my cause. Although my aim is to raise a total of RM200,000 in honoring her, every amount is greatly appreciated. The start date of this fundraising will be on Mother's Day itself and the end date will coincide with her 100th day on 9th July 2022. The illustration on the banner of this page is my latest drawing to date dedicated to her. Among the many other flowers she loved, I had always remembered her by this very 'Desert Rose' also known as 'Fuguihua' in Chinese which symbolises wealth and abundance. As a token of appreciation and also how much this drawing means to me, I will be gifting a physical print of this illustration in A3 size with a personal thank you message to any donor who makes a contribution of RM1000 and above. Please screenshot your screen showing the amount and email it to me at melannieyeo@yahoo.com if you feel a connection to my art and I will follow up accordingly. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Last but definitely not least, let us all remember that my grandmother's name was Mdm Chee Mee Keng. She was born on 10 April 1938 and passed away on 2 April 2022 at the age of 84 years old. May she rest in peace without any all the pain and suffering inflicted upon her during the last moments of her life.

'Ahma, Wan- An.'

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