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NUS student battles leukemia with help from family and friends. By Deborah Choo.

Undergraduate battles ALL with a smile

Deborah Choo / Ishardi Jamil

Ms. Zhang Xiaoou, 24, is an NUS final-year undergraduate student majoring in Quantitative Finance.

Zhang arrived in Singapore in 2003 from China on a PRC scholarship.  A bright, cheerful, and strong lady, she set out full of aspirations. She worked her way to the Dean’s list for a first-class honors programme; only the top five percent of the cohort has this privilege.

Zhang leads a very active lifestyle. She was the Vice Chairperson of NUS Students' Union Welfare Standing Committee, and volunteered as a teaching assistant for community service project "GIVE".

She also likes sports, engaging in basketball, swimming and jogging.

However, her life took a turn in February this year when she experienced giddy spells.

Faced with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

“I just feel giddy for maybe two to three weeks, almost falling”, Ms. Zhang said. She then decided to see a doctor at NUS clinic. She added, “They checked my blood count and realised something was wrong. So, they sent me to the emergency unit immediately.”

She was all alone then.

She was shocked to hear the news, and said that she did not think it would really happen to her. However, she was faced with the reality that cancerous cells are spreading in her body. On the 4th March 2009, Zhang was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).

ALL is a type of blood cancer, otherwise known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia or acute lymphoid leukemia. It is the most common type of leukemia in children under age 15. The risk of getting ALL increases in people ages 45 and older.

Zhang first informed her uncle as she did not know how to break the news to her parents, for fear they would worry for her. She had also confided in her good friend, Han Si, whom she had known for five years.

“She was initially very scared, very depressed. But she cried to me only once”, Han Si said, recalling the first time she visited Zhang in hospital, one day after Zhang was admitted to NUH. She added that since then, Zhang has decided to be optimistic about her condition, and only hopes she can recover.

Her aunt and mother are now in Singapore to care for her.

“I cannot put in words how I am feeling now,” said Zhang’s mother, as she withheld tears in her eyes, adding that she did not think her daughter would be diagnosed with cancer.

Coping with staggering Medical Bills

Zhang’s medical fees are a constant worry for her parents. She is currently undergoing treatment at the National University Hospital, and she will need a prolonged period of chemotherapy. Each treatment session costs about S$50,000. The medical bills is estimated to come to S$400,000.

Zhang is also slated undergo a bone marrow transplant soon.

Her insurance will only pay S$30,000. This leaves Zhang and her family to foot the remaining S$370,000.

Her father, a Chinese government official, earns a monthly salary of approximately S$449. Her mother is unemployed.

Zhang’s friends have started to pull in donations for her, and have roped in the NUS Student Union (NUSSU) for help. An email was sent to the entire NUS school cohort on the 5th March 2009, and donation is pouring in.

Donation Drive

NUSSU President Kuan Yee Han revealed that as of date, S$125,000 has been raised. This was achieved with the help of NUS students who manned a booth daily at three locations on campus, namely the School of Science, Engineering and at the Central Library.

Besides NUSSU, graduate students from the Southeast Asian Studies are also embarking on a collaborative effort to raise funds for Zhang. Mr. Arthur Chia, a graduate student, said that he and his friends would like to bake cup cakes to sell. They are hoping to raise about S$2,000 to S$2,500 for Zhang’s treatment. All ingredient costs would be borne by themselves. Orders have already started rolling in, although they have not met their target amount yet.

Yu Qiao, Zhang’s friend for five years and had arrived in Singapore with her on a scholarship, described Zhang as a “very outgoing, nice girl” who was “always willing to help”. He added that she loved studying, and is a strong lady who remains optimistic about her illness.

TOC’s Hospital Visit

When TOC visited Zhang at the hospital today, she was taking a nap. She woke up later and said she felt groggy. Her mother told us, her voice trembling, that her daughter barely manages to eat anything, many a times vomiting the food and the medicine.

Zhang’s mother was touched that TOC paid a visit, and sent us all the way to the door when we left.

She cupped her hands as she watched us leave.

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If you want to make a donation, please visit the students’ Facebook group: Save her life, Save her dream.

Also, visit the blog which has been specially set up: Bless Xiao’ ou.

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