The teenage years are often a time of youthful anticipation, hopes and dreams. Death is far from the minds of most 16 year olds.
But it wasn’t the case for HCA Star PALS patient Nurul Shafikha, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in September 2017. The 16-year-old girl, who loved vlogs, music and writing, was crushed by the news.
The devastating turn of events did nothing to dampen Shafikha’s resolve to continue pursuing her hobbies. HCA Star PALS Nurse Manager and Shafikha’s primary care nurse Lily Li describes her as a “warrior”.
Shafikha continued to pursue what she loved most, despite the toll of illness.
“It has truly been a journey of courage, bravery and faith in her fight with the illness,” says Lily, who shared a close relationship with Shafikha. “Despite undergoing two surgeries one after another within a short span of time, followed by numerous sessions of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, our Shafikha never gave up on life and hope.”
Beneath Shafikha’s reserved and stoic disposition laid an artistic flair that shone through the grime of adversity. Despite the ravages of the illness and brutal side effects of the treatments, her creativity remained bright and passionate.
The girl had penned a couple of romance novels, My Love Story and Pregnant. Completing the latter was one of Shafikha’s last wishes, a hope brought to fruition by a group of volunteers from Project Legacy. The volunteers, who are students from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, tirelessly paid numerous visits to Shafikha’s place over the course of nearly a year.
Shafikha’s final book, Pregnant.
From editing to layout and design, the volunteers devoted countless hours to the project, breathing life into Shafikha’s ideas and drafts. The book revolves around a YouTube family named Dream10, a group of teenaged friends who live and work on video logs (vlogs) together. As the title of the book suggests, a member of the group unexpectedly falls pregnant out of wedlock and receives plenty of support and encouragement from her friends and family.
Shafikha’s inspiration for the book was drawn from a family member’s encounter with premarital pregnancy and it was her wish that all mothers – married or otherwise – would receive the support they needed. “She has a kind heart and soft spot for people who are underprivileged or struggling to survive on the edge of society, especially single mothers,” Lily shares fondly.
Shafikha was well loved by her family and friends.
The love Shafikha had for the people around her was evident in her last wish to hold a book signing for her friends and family. It was a simple desire, to share the fruits of her labour with the people she held dear, for the last time.
In November last year, Shafikha’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse. Her medications had stopped working and her liver was no longer able to metabolise by-products.
With the future hanging in the balance – it was a matter of mere weeks – the Star PALS team scrambled to make Shafikha’s last wish of holding a book signing a reality. The collective efforts from staff and volunteers were evident in the care and attention they devoted to each detail of the event – from Shafikha’s hand-sewn dress to her makeup and the beautiful, unicorn-themed decorations.
Shafikha getting her makeup done before the start of the event.
The event expenses were funded by the sales proceeds of fundraising projects run by Project Heartstrings, a group of students from Hwa Chong Institution. What began as a service learning project for the students turned into a heart-warming endeavour beyond the scope of school initiatives. The group took the time to source for decorations and meticulously put them up the day before the event.
On the day of the event, 8 December 2018, more than 30 of Shafikha’s family and friends turned up, a testament to how well-loved she was. Shafikha no longer had the strength to sign each copy of her book, so she carefully thumbprinted them instead, before handing the books to her loved ones with a huge smile.
Together with Kay Thompson, who was Shafikha’s Medi-Minder. The two often went for little jaunts at the shopping mall.
“She was really happy and energetic,” Lily shares. It was a drastic improvement from the long bouts of lethargy and sleepiness Shafikha had been experiencing in the two weeks prior.
Shafikha passed on a few weeks after the book signing, but the final memory shared with her loved ones remained etched in her mind in the last days. “She was able to recount the memorable experience even after the event,” Kimberly Chan, HCA Medical Social Worker, says.
While there is no denying the tragedy of a child taken too soon, bringing joy and comfort to their last days makes the last leg of their journey just that bit easier.