Despite health challenges, Chung Mae Ling Alyssa Cherish (18A05) persisted in achieving her goal.
Chung Mae Ling Alyssa Cherish, a student of Pioneer Junior College (PJC, which became Jurong Pioneer Junior College [JPJC] following a merger in 2019) is no stranger to adversity. When she was 11, doctors diagnosed her as having a congenital heart condition.
While this condition was not life-threatening in her earlier years, it took a sudden turn for the worse when she was enrolled in Temasek Polytechnic. In her second year there, a resultant severe infection of the bloodstream forced her to be hospitalised so often that Alyssa had to repeat one semester twice.
“When the polytechnic course manager called me and asked me if I would like to take a study break, I knew I had to seriously consider alternative options because I was suddenly very unsure if I could actually complete my poly education. In poly, everything is very module-based and cumulative, so missing one major part of it means you can’t graduate. After much consideration, I then turned to the option of going to a junior college (JC). I felt like in a JC, the exams are at least at the end of two years, and there is much more guidance and structure, that helps someone like me in the situation I am in.”
With this turn of events, Alyssa made the difficult decision of switching to a JC education. At first, it was extremely challenging for Alyssa. Prior to her enrolment in PJC (JPJC following the merger in 2019), Alyssa suffered a relapse relating to her heart condition and had to be hospitalised for two months.
“When I first got the news that I was posted to PJC (JPJC following the merger in 2019), I was initially very apprehensive about it. It was very hard for me to leave the good friends I had made in poly, and now I would miss the Orientation programme and my chance to make friends because I was in hospital.”
Alyssa’s apprehension also stemmed from the fact that it would take her 1 hour and 45 minutes (one-way) to commute from home in Tampines, to the college in Choa Chu Kang. Although she had chosen PJC (JPJC following the merger in 2019) as her first choice because it offered China Studies in English (CSE) as a subject at the GCE A Level examination, the long commute and school days could affect her health.
However, this apprehension dissipated when Alyssa witnessed how supportive and caring the school culture was. Once classes were assigned, Alyssa’s Civics Tutors, Madam Khoo Puay Cheng and Miss Leong Wymin visited her in hospital immediately.
“I was very touched by Madam Khoo and Miss Leong. They brought me stuff like notes and materials when they visited, when they didn’t even know me at all yet. My initial fear about not being able to make friends was also unfounded, because when I finally came to school, my Civics class was really very nice and understanding to me.”
It was this strong support system and the care of her teachers and classmates that saw Alyssa through her two years in JC. In her first year in college, Alyssa’s studies were threatened yet again when her cardiologist suggested taking a study break and undergoing open-heart surgery. At that point in time, stress aggravated the health challenges Alyssa was facing, and it was a constant battle for her just to attend school.
“I remember breaking down in the General Office, when I broke the news to my PW tutor Miss Jane Lee – that I may have to disrupt my studies again. I had to go around to inform my teachers about this news, and it really upset me to see that time and again, my health came in the way of my studies. It would mean that I would miss my Promotional Examination and not be able to go on to JC2. But Miss Lee was very firm and assuring, she always told me that my health comes first, and that once I was healthy again I could always complete my studies later on. I felt assured that my teachers would be there to support me even if I should have to take leave from school.”
Eventually, after much deliberation and delay, Alyssa did not undergo surgery after her cardiologist and family weighed the risks involved. Alyssa’s teachers and classmates rallied around her with unwavering support through the difficult times, when she shuttled in and out of hospital due to her weakened immune system arising from her condition. Alyssa recalls fondly the unconditional care and assistance her teachers provided.
“I had already found the switch over from poly to be a right choice. I found the teaching style to be more suitable because there was more guidance, attention and routines – this sense of familiarity from secondary school. JC education is definitely not easy, but my teachers truly made it so much more tolerable and enjoyable actually. They really cared for me!”
Apart from her Civics Tutors, Alyssa’s CSE Subject Tutor Mr. Lim Yu Ching and Economics Subject Tutor Ms. Foo Ee Von also went out of their way to support her in her learning. Mr. Lim even offered to travel to hospital to give Alyssa lessons, while Ms. Foo was very understanding about her being unable to come to school at times, and was always ready to provide her with additional consultations.
Bolstered by this strong support from the college, Alyssa was able to persevere in pursuing her interest in the Humanities, which she greatly enjoys, and complete her A Level education. She expressed her intention to consider reading Law if her results allow for it, or major in Political Science and Public Policy in university.
“Of course, there were many times that I woke up for school and felt like giving up. However, what kept me going was the fact that all my teachers and friends (from JC and poly) had not given up on me. I also felt this sense that all my peers were already reaching their ‘finishing lines’ in their education paths, but here I was, still stuck. I did not want to give up; I did not want to repeat this endless cycle.”
Alyssa’s tutors also noted that her struggles have also made her more resilient, and mature beyond her years. Her Civics Tutor, Madam Khoo Puay Cheng, noted that despite the challenges Alyssa faced, she gave of her best, remained positive and did not give up.
Even as Alyssa prepares for the next chapter in life, a shadow of uncertainty still looms over her. While her open-heart surgery had been postponed indefinitely, Alyssa still suffers from a weak immune system, and every infection still stresses her body and could be potentially fatal. Yet, with her can-do spirit and amazing resilience, Alyssa is positive she can fight the odds, follow her dreams and persevere through university.