Speech by Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health at the Children’s Cancer Foundation 20th Anniversary Symposium on 11 February, 2012, 9.00am at Furama Riverfront Hotel

Dr Tan Miah Hiang, Chairman, Children’s Cancer Foundation,

CCF Management Committee members,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Introduction

1.          Good morning. I am very glad to join you as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF). First and foremost, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to on reaching this important milestone.

2.          CCF had started from humble beginnings. In the words of its founder, Dr Tan Hiang Khoon, the pioneers “were young, had no experience, no money and no credibility. Everything started from ground zero”. But, driven by the passion to improve the lives of children with cancer, they soldiered on. Because of their vision, steadfastness and dedication of the leaders and commitment of the staff, it is no wonder that 20 years on, CCF is in the forefront of providing important psycho-social support to children with cancer and to their families.

Childhood cancer

3.          The work of organizations like the CCF is important as childhood cancer is a traumatic experience for both the children and their families. Let me share with you some numbers. During the period of 2006-2010, our hospitals treated about 100 new cases each year[1]. The commonest childhood cancer is leukaemia, a type of blood cancer, which makes up about 1 in 3 of all childhood cancers. This is followed by cancers affecting the brain which make up about 1 in 5 of all childhood cancers. It is a sad but real fact that the incidence of childhood cancers is highest in children below the age of five[2].

4.          However, the good news is that the survival rates of childhood cancers have improved dramatically over the years as well, thanks to advances in cancer treatments. An example of this is leukaemia. Survival rates in the 1960s were around 20% and it has now risen to about 80%2.

5.          Childhood cancer is something that causes much physical and emotional distress to the child, parents and the family. I want to commend CCF for making a difference in the lives of more than 2,000 children and their families since your inception. CCF offers useful hand to children and parents in their time of need. Your support has certainly helped to enhance the lives of the children so that they too, can live life to the fullest.

6.          Your work has also inspired and impacted many people in the community. I was at the Hair for Hope event in 2011 and it warms my heart to see people from all walks of life, individuals and corporations alike, join in to support a worthy cause. This signature event has been successful in garnering the support from the community and continues to send a strong message to children with cancer that they are not alone in their fight against the big “C”.

Inspiring stories

7.          Today, we also celebrate the lives and courage of the young cancer warriors and their families who have put up a brave fight against cancer. Their display of fortitude and strength in their cancer journey is an inspiration to many others whose lives they have touched.  

8.          Their experiences and stories are captured in a book, which is being launched today, titled “Playing in the Rain”. I had the privilege to get a sneak preview of the book and have read the first-hand accounts of some of the survivor stories. The stories speak of their struggles, their triumphs, their dreams and aspirations. But the stories have one thing in common - they resonate deeply with the message of hope, love and resilience.  I would like to quote a couple of stories from the book which have inspired and touched me. 

9.          First, there is the story of polytechnic student, Xinyi, who at age 15, was diagnosed with leukaemia. One month into her chemotherapy, she had a lung-infection which required an operation to be done. Over two-and-a-half years, she suffered many side-effects of chemotherapy, including diabetes, collapsed left hip and a bone problem which required her to get a stem cell implantation on her right knee. On her first day back to school after a two-year absence, she was infected with shingles due to her low immunity. Despite all these, Xinyi has remained hopeful. Her words are an encouragement to those who feel discouraged by their difficulties in life. She wrote, “My cancer journey had been so tough with so many ups and downs, but the encouragement along the journey, the friendship, the love and care, all helped me to overcome everything, especially my fears. Today, I may have some concern about a relapse but I am not afraid of facing any upcoming obstacle. I have realised that life is fragile and now I make full use of everyday like tomorrow is the last.”    

10.      Then, there is Salman, a 17-year-old secondary school student, who said that cancer cannot stop him. Despite having leukaemia at six, cancer did not stop this adventurous and sporty teenager from living out his dreams. In fact, just two years after his treatment, he made it to the school team for badminton, swimming, soccer and table tennis. He even scaled Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak of Malaysia. There are yet so many things he want to do, among which is to climb Mt Fuji and, like many Singaporeans, to get a degree. Salman is indeed a living testimony of the spirit of resilience. His ‘never say die’ attitude makes him a winner.

11.      While survivors share of their physical and emotional pains, their stories also draw attention to the challenges of cancer survivorship. For 19-year-old polytechnic student Ying Wen, surviving bone cancer is not without worries. He wrote in his story, “Occasionally, I worry about the stigma associated with cancer – such as whether there will be discrimination when I apply for jobs or when I apply for scholarships.”

12.      On a slice of life, Ying Wen, who had undergone both leg and hip operations, has taught us to appreciate the small things in life as simple as being able to eat the food that we enjoy, which we take for granted but is denied to many childhood cancer patients.

13.      These stories highlight the indomitable human spirit in the face of difficulties. They also speak of the love, sacrifice and support given by the family members, friends and CCF staff and volunteer workers which have brought comfort, joy and hope to the children.  I want to commend each of the 20 survivors for your courage in sharing your story.  Your inspiring life’s journey will be a tremendous encouragement not only to those who are going through cancer treatment but also to those who are experiencing difficulties in life. I am therefore pleased to have opportunity to launch the book ‘Playing in the Rain” and I hope that all present will have the opportunity to give the book a read. 

Conclusion

14.      In closing, I would like to wish Dr Tay Miah Hiang and the CCF Management Committee every success even as you bring CCF to its next lap. I wish all of you a fruitful symposium. Thank you.

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