SINGAPORE: It all started with a fever that would not go away.
After returning from a school trip to Thailand over the June holidays, Wee Han Jing, then in her second year at Nanyang Junior College, found herself running a temperature. It turned out to be lupus, an autoimmune disease that results in symptoms like fever, joint pains, fatigue and a recurring skin rash.
Just one-and-a-half months earlier, her father had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
“It was a highly distressing time for my family and we didn’t know what to do,” she recalled. “Everything had just fallen apart so suddenly and I had to take my A-Levels in a few months.”
“I felt so frustrated because out of everyone this could have happened to, it had to be my family.”
The next few months were not easy for Han Jing, now 19. She missed her school’s mid-year exams because she was in the hospital at the time and had to take them when she returned. This meant staying back after hours and returning on weekends, all while juggling regular school work and her fortnightly medical appointments.
To make matters worse, her condition meant she was more fatigued than usual. “Sometimes, I couldn’t complete what I wanted to in a day,” she said. “The side effects of the medication also gave me mood swings, which was very frustrating.”
She admitted that there were times when she felt like giving up. “When I was all alone in the hospital, it just felt like everything was too much and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to withstand the pressure,” she said.
But despite having the option to delay her A-Levels for a year, she chose to persevere.
“I studied so hard for 12 years, and I don’t want lupus to be a barrier to completing my A-Levels in time,” she said. “I also didn’t want to let down the people who had trusted and had faith in me.
“So I wanted to show that even though there are challenges, you can get over them and emerge a victor out of it.”
NO SPECIAL TREATMENT
Han Jing credits her friends and school community for rallying around her when they found out about her situation. One of the school’s vice-principals visited her while she was hospitalised, and kept tabs on her when she returned to school. Her teachers also paid her special attention, she said, making sure that she was able to keep up with her studies, and often checking if she needed emotional support or a listening ear.
She was also buoyed by the strong camaraderie of her close friends.
Han Jing with her close-knit group of friends. (Photo: Lianne Chia)
"When I had to take my exams on a Sunday, one girl stayed behind after her paper to study with me,” recalled Han Jing. “I was so touched, because no one would want to stay in school, especially on a Sunday.”
Her friends, in turn, marvelled at her independence and unwillingness to be given special treatment.
“Han Jing took her exams in a special room because she’s on medication. So when she feels tired or her attention span is wandering, she can take a break,” said her friend Renie Low. “But she didn’t even use that ‘privilege’ at all."
“She wanted to take the exams like the rest of us.”
Han Jing admitted that she was not in the best condition when she took her A-Levels and that she is “ambivalent” about her results. But she has no regrets.
“Regardless of the results, I feel quite proud of myself for completing the journey, because there are a lot of obstacles that I had to overcome in order to take the exam and finish it,” she said.
Her civics tutor Oon Su Ping added that in her eyes, Han Jing has done very well. “Despite the setbacks, she told herself that she wanted to go through the entire process and that she didn’t want to back down. I think that’s highly commendable.”
And Han Jing is not looking back. Moving forward, she said she has two career options in mind: To become a teacher or work in healthcare.
“I’ve met inspiring teachers along the way, and I want to inspire future generations and make them become better people,” she said. “And as for healthcare, I’ve met with so many healthcare-related problems that I really want people not to take their good health for granted.”
“I hope they can be grateful for their body and what they have.”