I Can’t Choose What Happens to My Health/Body, But I Can Choose My Destiny</center>
When asked what a good life philosophy or tag line that best represents him is, Lim Wai Keong, Deca, sheepishly but earnestly shared, “Deca is a cockroach.” Taken aback? Don’t turn your back on this article just yet, because what some might consider a flippant and thoughtless response to a serious question, belies a philosophy full of wisdom and realistic optimism, and Deca is truly one young man worthy of our respect.
Deca is no stranger to the hard knocks of life, because every step of his recent adolescence has been fraught with one hard knock dealt after another. But like the hardy cockroach he likens himself to, he never gave up, but instead, sprung back into action and fought back. “My Chinese name is 伟强, and in Mandarin, the term “小强” refers to a cockroach – but in a good way. We always say cockroaches never die, no matter how many times you try to attack them or kill them – they are so hardy, they even lived through nuclear bomb blasts. In that way, I believe I am similar, no matter what is thrown my way, I will survive, and I will make it through and stay cheerful,” said the amiable and lively young man. In the prime of his youth in Secondary 4, when he was due to take his GCE O Level Examinations, Deca discovered that he had an unusual brain mass in March 2018. Before the young man could process what had happened to himself, he had already undergone a gruelling 12-hour craniotomy that confirmed that he had low-grade glioma – a slow-growing brain tumour. That confirmative surgery marked the beginning of a life-long battle with the condition, one that would likely never go away for Deca.
Deca was devastated and extremely terrified at first – what would it mean for his youth? “You can imagine, what kind of horrible storms there were going on in my head at first. I had to take a leave of absence from school in 2018 and undergo 42 weeks of chemotherapy, I had all the accompanying side effects, and the worst was neuropathy, my nerves were weakened by chemo to the point where I can’t feel some parts of my legs anymore even now.” Deca admits that it was hard, “When you think about what all the other kids my age were out doing, what you are doing here and what you can’t do.” Thankfully, with the love and unwavering support of his parents, Deca pulled through, and the tumour was kept in check. Amazingly, Deca also returned to school and eventually completed his O Levels in 2019 – all while undergoing his treatment.
Deca did well enough at the GCE O Level Examinations to enrol in a junior college (JC), and joined Jurong Pioneer Junior College (JPJC) in 2020. This leg of Deca’s life journey was, however, yet another tumultuous wave that he had to ride out. While he had known that it would be an ongoing battle, Deca shares, looking back, that it was truly quite a difficult one. “It was not over yet – we had to monitor and deal with the side effects of my past treatment, and also look out for any deterioration in the glioma itself.” In his first year at JPJC, Deca underwent surgery to remove a port-a-cath, a device implanted near his heart to stand in for the veins in his upper limbs that were previously initially damaged by chemotherapy. It was also especially difficult, given that the COVID-19 pandemic was raging all around him, and he had to cope with the new demands of being in a JC, while handling his health challenges.
As if Fate were taunting and testing him, Deca also discovered in July 2020 that he had a partial visual defect that caused him to be unable to see at the corners of both eyes. In an amiable fashion typical of this resilient young man, Deca joked, “It was like receiving doomsday prophecies every now and then. I never knew what I was going to get at my medical review sessions, and it was always quite nerve-wracking.” One would have expected someone with such health challenges to have given up on his education. Yet, in a true demonstration of strength and resilience, Deca soldiered on. From small things like making sure that his medical appointments were scheduled in the afternoons after school, to seeking help from his tutors whenever he needed to catch up, Deca did everything in his power to make sure he never fell behind, or inconvenienced anyone because of the ordeals he faced.
During his particularly trying JC1 year, Deca was committed to playing his part for Project Work (PW) despite his numerous conditions, and was even instrumental in ensuring the success of his group’s project. Deca’s PW subject tutor, Mr Philip See- Tho Peng Kuan, had this to share about his fortitude, “I vividly remember he came to see me after the first or second PW lesson to tell me that he had to go for check-ups at the hospital regularly as he was concerned that his frequent absences would affect the progress of his group. Although there were occasions where he was very unwell after a visit to the hospital, he would endure through it and still come to school; he would only agree to return home to rest when he was advised to by us, for his safety.” For his efforts, excellent character and positive attitude, Deca was awarded the Edusave Character Award. True to his sensible and practical nature, Deca never shared about his condition to his new friends and classmates throughout his JC journey, unless it was absolutely necessary. “At first, it was because I felt inferior, and didn’t want others to view me in a strange, different light,” he recalls. “I also greatly lacked confidence, and I always thought that there are, and will be many things I can’t and won’t ever do, because of the way I am, so I really kept everything to myself.”
But as time went by, despite the undesirable cards he was dealt by Fate, Deca started to view his condition more positively, and his worldview changed as he continued his JC journey and negotiated the many valleys and peaks of his life. “One day, it just struck me, that here I am, I have cancer, I thought I was going to die, but hey, I am still here. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did, Time and time again, I have proved myself to be more capable than I ever thought I would be,” he shared in a touching revelation. It was at that moment, that the self-proclaimed “extrovert in an introvert’s body” decided that it was time for a change of mindset. From then on, Deca still did not share about his condition with anyone, but “more because I didn’t see why it should be an issue, or a point of focus,” he muses, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and my health conditions have become a part of my life, so I don’t see them as something particular that I have to bring up.” In keeping with his change of mindset, Deca also participated actively in Co-Curricular Activities that his health condition permitted him to. He joined the college’s Eco Club because he was interested in technology, especially environmental and biomedical engineering, while keeping pace with the rigour of preparing for the GCE A Level Examinations. “I am really thankful that it was, and is biomedical technology that has kept me alive to this day, and of course, I need to ensure that the Earth that sustains me is intact so that I can live to a ripe old age here,” the jovial young man quipped.
With such renewed strength and vigour, and a refreshing new take on life, Deca was ready for whatever might come his way. Even when Deca’s condition took a turn for the worse in July 2021, just months before his GCE A Level Examinations (it seemed that his tumour was regressing, with new nodes around the primary tumour), he was worried but not shaken – this was but another hurdle that he had to, and would overcome. During the final leg of intensive A Level preparation in college, Deca endured yet more physical ordeals (fatigue, headaches, drowsiness, blood loss) and the mental strain of his heavy school workload and concerns about his health condition. Shuttling in and out of hospital visits and between medical procedures, “just like that, thankfully, I successfully completed my A Levels, without much disruption, exhausted, but not defeated,” he recalls. Fate relented this time, and it was recently ascertained that Deca’s glioma recurrence is currently under control.
When asked how he was able to overcome an ordeal of such gargantuan proportions at such a tender age, Deca did not hesitate to express his gratitude towards various individuals in the college. “I was initially quiet and reserved after my diagnosis in 2018 and did not make many friends when I first came to college. So, I don’t think I would have survived the demands of the A Level curriculum and school without the unwavering support of all my tutors – truly ALL of them. They have always been patient, kind and caring, continuously checking in with me, and giving me consultations whenever I needed help or even extra support while I was away from school. I think they gave me confidence and made me feel I was not alone.” Deca added, “Of course, my parents and old friends from secondary school were also my pillars of support, and I could never repay them for what they have done for me.”
When asked to share some nuggets of wisdom with his juniors, Deca paused for a moment before saying “Believe in yourself – you are much stronger than you think. Sometimes, all the challenges and obstacles you face are but part of the process, each one is like checkpoint. At each checkpoint, you must take a breather, and look back, to see how much you’ve overcome to reach your current stage. If you face a setback, it’s okay to fall, but you will and must eventually get back up on your feet. Never give up!”
In continued pursuit of his love for biomedical and chemical sciences and his hope to pay it forward, Deca hopes to major in Environmental, Biomedical or Chemical Engineering at a local university.