SINGAPORE, Nov 30 — Valerie Goh, 20, was diagnosed in early October with a rare form of facial bone cancer, a tumour located close to her brain and right eye.
Doctors recommended that she seek treatment in Japan but it costs S$100,000, and her family simply could not afford it. Her father is a taxi driver, her mother a homemaker and she has two older brothers, one of whom is self-employed.
Social workers advised the family to try raising funds on fundraising platform Give.Asia. Less than 36 hours after the campaign went live today, their goal was met.
The campaign ended on Thursday at 1pm and a total of S$142,386 was raised by 4,586 donors.
“It was beyond our imagination that the amount was raised so quickly — S$100,000 is not a small amount of money,” Goh’s brother, Gordon, 26, told TODAY.
“We planned for her to fly to Japan by the end of December because we thought we would keep the fundraiser open for a month to see how much we could get but this was just totally unexpected.”
Goh, who graduated from Temasek Polytechnic's Interior Architecture Design diploma course earlier in April, took to Instagram last Tuesday to talk about her condition and the fundraising campaign.
She told TODAY that she initially had reservations about highlighting her plight on social media.
“To me, social media is known for light hearted and fun content, but cancer isn't exactly the most joyous news to share,” Goh said.
“So, I was hesitant and nervous at first, slightly worried about how my peers would react because I didn't want to be seen as a pitiful case, I didn't want to be defined by my sickness.”
The post has since received more than 53,000 likes and over 2,000 comments.
“It's been shocking and extremely comforting at the same time. I never expected such an overwhelming response,” Goh said.
“I'm very grateful and relieved, because I was initially worried that I wouldn't be able to raise this amount before I was due to receive treatment.”
It all began in January when she began experiencing an onset of symptoms that escalated to partial hearing loss in her right ear, a blocked nose, jaw pains and frequent headaches.
Her family took her to the dentist as they thought it had something to do with her wisdom teeth, but a suspicious lump began growing in the upper right oral cavity in August and she developed significant swelling on her mouth and her face.
Goh was eventually diagnosed with right pterygoid osteosarcoma, which is a rare form of facial bone cancer.
Her tumour is locally advanced and located deep in her right facial bone, resulting in partial hearing loss in her right ear and a completely blocked right nostril.
It has also affected her jaw, making her unable to chew.
Medical visa tentatively approved
The standard treatment for facial osteosarcoma involves chemotherapy and surgery or radiotherapy, but due to her tumour being close to her brain and eye, undergoing surgery is going to be difficult.
As such, the next best treatment recommended by doctors is carbon-ion therapy, which is not available in Singapore.
Her family hopes that she will be able to start her treatment in late December, having obtained tentative approval for her medical visa.
“However, we are still in the works of gathering the relevant documents needed for approval, such as Valerie’s medical reports, the referral letter to the treatment facility in Japan, and our rough itinerary for when we are in Japan,” her brother, Gordon, said.
“We are also liaising with a medical coordinator in Japan to be our guarantor and settle our transportation and accommodations before we can arrange an appointment with the embassy and get the green light to travel.”
He added that the funds raised will go towards the fees for Goh’s medical treatment and it will be paid by Give.Asia directly to the hospital in Japan.
It is estimated that she will have to be in Japan for two months and she will be accompanied by her mother and another brother, Clement.
The family is still figuring out how to fund their personal expenses, estimated to be around S$30,000.
Apart from the funds received through Give.Asia, they are also receiving donations from family and friends.
Goh is currently undergoing chemotherapy to control and shrink the size of the tumour. The chemotherapy also aims to prevent the spread and growth of her tumour to other vital organs such as the eyes and lungs.
Even with the treatment in Japan, she is bracing herself for a long battle ahead as the carbon-ion therapy comes with potential side-effects.
Her plans of either furthering her studies in interior design, or entering the design field, will have to be put on hold for now.
Goh is aware that she is just one of millions of cancer patients who are bravely fighting their battles in their own ways.
“Cancer isn’t easy no matter who you are, but we’re all just trying to survive and do what’s best for us,” she said. “I’m truly blessed to have the support I need to keep going.” — TODAY