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Expressing Hope Through Pain

*Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in May 2016. Sadly, Khairul succumbed to his illness and passed away on 28 August 2016. Tote Board expresses its deepest condolences to Khairul’s family and friends.

“Khairul never let his illness stop him from doing what he loved. His determination to live his life to the fullest despite his condition inspired all around him. We are glad to have been able to help him fulfil his wish of holding an art exhibition. Through Star PALS, we will continue to reach out and touch the lives of more children-in-need like Khairul in the future,” said Dr Chong Poh Heng, Khairul’s attending physician and founder of Star PALS.
 

"Hope is more than just a positive feeling; hope can also be derived from something negative to be transformed into something positive."
- Muhammad Khairul Ikhwan, artist and cancer patient

Muhammad Khairul Ikhwan was always the life of any party; but at a tender age, he had to learn to fight for his life.

It began with an incessant ringing in his ears, followed by crippling migraines. In Novermber 2015, at the age of 22, the young man was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer and given a mere two months to live.

Not only did Khairul have to suffer the harsh side effects of his chemotherapy sessions, such as extreme fatigue, relentless vomiting and loss of hair, he also had to contend with the loss of his hearing and vision, both of which were precious tools to him as an artist, dancer and performer.

The pain, however, gave him the hope to carry on living life. It is a testament to his inner strength that he remained positive and upbeat through it all.

A DREAM FULFILLED

After his diagnosis, Khairul was referred to Star PALS, a paediatric palliative care programme under HCA Hospice Care dedicated to improving the quality of life for children with life-limiting conditions.

It was then that Nurse Nicole Peng, Khairul’s primary home care nurse, discovered his talent as an artist, and suggested that the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) graduate host a solo exhibition of his art works.

“It is every artist’s dream to host their own solo exhibition,” said Khairul. “But of course, it is not easy to do so.”

With the support of Star PALS, Khairul saw his dream fulfilled. The exhibition, which was held at NAFA, successfully ran from 21 to 25 April 2016.

Fittingly titled ‘HOPE’, his exhibition chronicled the artistic journey of his battle with cancer.

“The reason why I named my exhibition ‘HOPE’ is because I wanted to let people see other perspectives of hope. Hope is more than just a positive feeling; hope can also be derived from something negative to be transformed into something positive. Just as how light cannot shine without darkness, hope cannot exist without one first experiencing pain and suffering,” Khairul explained.

THE STARS OF HIS LIFE

The days leading up to the exhibition were, in his own words, an “emotional roller coaster”. There were times when Khairul struggled to complete his art pieces, as the effects of his cancer overwhelmed him.

But he revealed that he could not have done it without the love and support he received from those around him, including his family, friends, and the staff from Star PALS, who soon became his friends as well.

Khairul recalled how his social worker from Star PALS, Desmond, was sick on the opening night of his exhibition, but still came to provide emotional support.

He also spoke fondly of his art therapist, Choon, who is from Star PALS as well. “She is someone whom I can share my innermost thoughts and feelings with,” he shared.

“They are all good people who have helped me pursue my dreams and passion.”

About The Star PALS Programme

In the Star PALS programme, multidisciplinary teams comprising doctors, nurses, medical social workers and counsellors work hand in hand with parents and caregivers to tailor treatment plans for each child. 

The programme is funded under the Tote Board Community Healthcare Fund, which supports programmes that provide enhanced heathcare delivery, especially in the community.