by Rozman Mashor
They never buckle. They never retreat.
They fall to their knees. They cry unabashedly.
They are YASKA, and their fight for all we hold dear.
I try to maintain an aura of calm and steadfastness, despite the shattering of my heart into a thousand pieces following the snippet that I have just heard. A snippet that is just one of many other similar stories that have come before, and will continue to come after. It basically goes like this: “Imagine a mother, a father — parents both — sitting on a bed next to their child, an 11-year-old daughter,” who armed with a silent courage that any one of us would be blessed to possess, looks into her parents faces full of love, and states, “Will you be okay dad? Are you ready mum? Are you prepared to let me go?”
I apologise if I have caught you off guard with what is admittedly a very direct and difficult-to-digest introduction, but ladies and gentleman, this is the reality faced by many children — between the ages of 2 and 12 — in Brunei. They are stricken with what is arguably the worst disease in the world, and burying our faces in the dirt will not make it go away. We need to help. We need to do more. We owe it to ourselves as people of conscious.
The Yayasan Kanser Anak-Anak (Foundation for Children with Cancer) is a non-profit organisation first founded in 2011, and over the past 12 years it has strived to provide information, raise awareness, and provide support to children who are diagnosed with cancer. According to their statistics — within this same period of time, between 10-15 children were referred to YASKA annually, and the number of cases in the past decade has dwindled to currently less than 160, with half of all cases being leukaemia, also known as ‘cancers of the blood cells’. The remaining cases includes lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma as well as cancerous tumors in the bone, brain and kidney, and more.
These children and their immediate family members often feel isolated and alone, battling their demons 24/7, while we continue with daily life, free in our blissful ignorance. Yes, we read an article in the daily paper and say to ourselves “kesian” or “poor things”, as we do, and maybe check-out the occasional roadshow. It is not enough. We need to help. We need to do more. We owe it to ourselves as a modern society.
The RIPAS Hospital under the preview of the Ministry of Health has been on the front lines fighting the good fight, since it began providing treatment for children with cancer in the early 1980’s. In 2004, under the guidance of DP Dr Lim MK, a medical officer and 3 nurses went on to form a dedicated children’s oncology team. In the 19 years since, the team has grown considerably to include a paediatric oncologist and 11 nurses. The ward itself was also moved to the Women & Children Centre of RIPAS. This specialist ward is made up of 10 single rooms, a 4-bedded bay area, a multisensory room, a toy library, as well as a classroom and resource centre for the children and their parents. The Occupational Therapy Unit organises therapeutic playtimes often filled with art-related activities.
Even the Ministry of Education entered the metaphorical group chat, with its Special Education Unit supplying a teacher to ensure that the children keep up with their schoolwork. For those who may wonder “Why schoolwork of all things?” — the answer is one of inclusion, to ensure that these children and not left feeling excluded from what is normal. That they understand that they are still every single bit important as their peers of good health. We owe it to ourselves to secure their future.
And that is where the light at the end of the tunnel begins, because as YASKA deals with the stress and sadness of every passing, grieving with the families in question, there are also children who make it through this terrible ordeal. Moments of celebration, gratitude, and love among all who helped contribute to the happy endings that are few and far between. From High Commissions, and financial institutions, to several home grown companies and businesses, there are many who have made financial contributions to YASKA to enable them to continue the tremendously noble work that they have shouldered in the name of us all. They do this because they are people of conscious, that make up a modern society, who aim to secure their children’s future. They do this because they are Human Beings like you and I. So let us all start helping more.