12 July 2014


I have never before felt so helpless and hopeless and hapless as today. I have never before seen such fear and bravery and such kindness and compassion all together in the one place. I spent the afternoon at the Children’s Cancer Centre at the KK Women and Children’s hospital here in Singapore.

It was harrowing.

It was moving.

My hands are trembling a little just trying to capture what I witnessed. I doubt that any words I write will quite do the experience justice.

I shall nevertheless try.

I feel compelled.

I don’t know why.

I was made bald early this week. I was amongst quite a large group of people in my Company and on the Island that voluntarily had our heads shaved to raise both funds and awareness for the Hair for Hope Foundation. Like all the other volunteers I did it because it is a good and noble cause. I was more focused on the raising of funds though - and I didn't give the awareness piece as much as it deserved.

The head shaving act was no big deal to me. I am not very pretty with or without hair and it will grow back.

I saw the video presentation on the Hair for Hope foundation so I knew what the cause was all about – but I didn’t really know. 

I hadn’t seen it.

I hadn’t witnessed it.

But today I did - and it has shaken me to the core.

I went to my weekly acupuncture treatment the day of my balding and wearing my ‘Hair for Hope’ tee shirt. At the conclusion of my treatment my delightful and quite demure acupuncturist Dr. Jun meekly and politely thanked me for taking part in the event. I told her it was my pleasure and it was no big deal and then began a conversation about cancer and children. She asked me if I had known any children with cancer and I told her that I hadn’t but I had two adult friends who were currently battling the disease

Dr. Jun gives her time at the Children’s Cancer Centre at the KK Hospital a couple of days a week and she asked me if I would like to visit the oncology centre this weekend – which was today. She told me that the unit has many volunteers and always has a need for more – if only to read stories to some of the smaller children while their parents received some respite. She thought that me being freshly bald would also entertain the children – most of whom were the same.

Bald that is.

Dr. Jun told me that despite the advances of modern medicine – loss of hair and nausea were still common effects of the intrusive and often painful chemotherapy treatment that was required to fight the disease.

So along I went – with Dr. Jun – today.

I learned much today about cancer and myself – but amongst the knowledge I acquired was that leukemia is the most common form of cancer suffered by children in Singapore - and it chooses it victims indiscriminately. I met children today of many races and religions – Asian and Caucasian and Indian – Christian and Hindi and Muslim – all of them bald.

I met the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunties and grandparents of children who were brave but terrified. They were exhausted too. I saw brokenhearted parents walking into bereavement sessions with counselors so kind and considerate that all my petty worries evaporated in a moment.

They disappeared into thin air.

I played for a while with a bunch of little boy and girl baldies who laughed sometimes when I made fun of my own bald head and myself. Their chuckles and giggles came in between coughs that I could tell hurt their little lungs and I had to wear a mask in some of the rooms so I wouldn’t compromise their tiny and fragile immune systems. Dr. Jun gave me a good tour of the facility and the afternoon passed by in a kind of a blur that even now I have difficulty in remembering all of the detail.

I do recall her telling me that the odds of survival of childhood cancers are increasing all the time and with the advancement of bone marrow and stem cell transplants more than one in two children with the disease will now likely recover and go on to live healthy and happy lives. It was chilling though to think – no to know - that of the fifty or so children I saw today twenty-five would probably die.

None were older than ten.

At the end of the afternoon I sat for a while with a little six-year-old girl named Libby who looked so tiny and frail in her big hospital bed. I read her a story. Libby has been undergoing chemotherapy for nearly three months. She was bald and brave and she giggled at the funny voices I put on and I don’t think that she could hear the trembling in my voice. I read her less than half the story about Jack and the Beanstalk before she fell asleep and then I held her pale and minuscule little hand in mine until her mum and dad came back into the ward after getting a cup of tea.

I am sure there was despair in my face when I hugged Libby’s Mum goodbye and I think I may have hugged her a little tight. When I shook Libby's Dad’s hand I saw the anguish in his eyes and I desperately wanted to say it’s OK – everything will be all right.

I knew though that I couldn’t.

Then I walked out with a big and fake grin on my face and I said goodbye to the other kids while my heart broke into a million tiny pieces.

I am not sure if it will repair.

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