Saturday, January 15, 2011

He overcame cancer and scored 5 As

Lionel's determination to overcome cancer spurred him to achieve better in his second O'Levels attempt.

JUST one month before his O-level exams in October 2009, Lionel Khoo began suffering severe pains in his abdomen.

The general practitioner he saw thought it was appendicitis.

But his mother, Mrs May Khoo, 49, felt it was something more serious.

"It was just a mother's instinct," the executive told The New Paper yesterday.

"We took him to the hospital the next day and a CT scan revealed a tumour in his intestines."

The doctors diagnosed Lionel with Burkitt's Lymphoma, a rare form of cancer that affects mainly children.

He had to undergo surgery to remove 38 cm of his intestines, followed by aggressive sessions of chemotherapy almost immediately.

His stitches from the operation were not even fully healed when he started on the chemotherapy treatment, said his father, Mr Peter Khoo, 53.

Lionel returned to school only in June last year to start preparing for the O levels again.

Yesterday, Lionel, a student of St Hilda's Secondary School, surprised many, including himself, when he scored 11 points for his L1R5 (First Language andrelevant five subjects), including five As.

"I'm really surprised. I could not study at all when I was undergoing treatment, and everything felt alien when I looked at the books again," he said.

"I think the school environment helped me a lot. My teachers and classmates were all very helpful and supportive."

Lionel was also part of the school's volleyball team that won the National Schools Championships in April 2009.

"We were all so shocked to hear the news," said his volleyball coach, Miss Teo Siew Lan, 51.

"The volleyball players were a close-knit group and they all took turns to visit him when he was in the hospital."

The chemotherapy sessions were tough on Lionel, who turned 18 last Tuesday.

"At first, I thought, 'Why me?' and I was very upset during the first two months of the treatment.

"I suffered from nausea and loss of appetite all the time but I still had to force myself to eat.

"But after a while, I realised I had to stop wallowing in self-pity and just move on."

Lionel spent the first two months of chemotherapy in an isolation ward and was later moved to a normal four-bed ward with other cancer patients.

To keep his spirits up, he spent most of his time watching sitcoms and reading.

Mr Khoo quit his job to take care of Lionel.

"Lionel's chemotherapy sessions had to be more aggressive because of the nature of his cancer," he said.

» Overcoming deaths in her family

» Overcoming his failures
"He went through 14 days of treatment, took two to five days of break, then it was back to treatment again.

"The chemotherapy treatments took about eight months to complete."

Lionel's aunt, Mrs Yim Nam Calais, 40, a teacher at St Hilda's Secondary, gave him extra English lessons to help him catch up.

Like his parents and teachers, she was all praise for his perseverance.

Mrs Calais said: "When he first started lessons after his treatments, he was easily tired and suffered from a short attention span. But he did not give up,and consulted his teachers when he needed help."

Lionel scored an A1 for English, an improvement from his usual B3.

Lionel, who hopes to work in oncology in the future and help other cancer patients, said: "When I was in the four-bed ward,some of the patients on the beds next to mine died. I did not know them personally but I still felt very sad."

Linette Heng | The New Paper | Wed Jan 12 2011

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