News: The New Paper "Big Donations Leads to Bigger Smiles...."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A followup article by The New paper .. extracted from Saturday, 26th December 2009.

Charmaine taken off drug for now

IN OCTOBER this year, Charmaine Lim had to stop her third cycle of 3F8.

THE 3F8 drug which is given intravenously is circulated in the bloodstream until they attach to aneuroblastoma cell. The drug is made from antibodies produced by the white blood cells of mice.Then, the patient’s own immune system will attack and kill the neuroblastoma cell.She had to stop treatment because she developed human anti-mouse antibodies (Hama).

According to the center’s website, once a patient develops Hama, 3F8 treatments are no longer effectivebecause Hama blocks the 3F8 from getting to the cancer cells. Because of this, she had to stop her 3F8 treatmentuntil Hama recedes before resuming treatment, explained her mum, Ms Cynthia Lim.“No one can tell me when treatment can go ahead again, so I’m pretty much living in uncertainty,” she said.

Charmaine’s doctor, Dr Brian Kushner, declined to comment on her case citing patient confidentiality.


INTHE past five months, her scanty wisps of hair have been replaced with a full-headed pixie crop.

Those previously sparse eyebrows havegrown out, and her formerly frail 13kg frame has filled out by 3 kg.

Smiling sweetly from photographs whichcapture her trick-or-treating during Halloween or playing in the snow, 4-year-old CharmaineLimlooksthe picture of robust health.

But even though the Singaporean child is currently in New York with her mum, 29 andbrother Jase, 5, these aren’t your average holiday snaps of a carefree child.

Charmaine is critically ill with stage four cancer. She is there for treatment that couldpotentially give her anewlease of life. The treatment, which is estimated to cost at least half a million dollars, coulddouble Charmaine’s chances of survival as comparedto if she hadbeen treated locally.

The little girl was diagnosed with neuroblastomathis February. It’s a rare form of cancer that strikes the adrenal glands of infants andchildren.These are the small glands above the kidneys. They control the heart rate and blood pressure,amongother functions.

Just three weeks after her story was first reported in TheNewPaper in June this year, people here raised half a million dollars forthe treatment. Charmaine’s chances of survival could go up from 20 per cent to as much as 50 per centwith treatment at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, doctors in Singapore said.

Charmaine’s mum, Ms Cynthia Lim, 29, a divorcee, couldn’t afford the treatment as she gave up her project management job at a water treatment company earlier this year after her daughter becameill.The little girl with the winning smile strucka chord in Singapore and many were moved to donate generously –and swiftly.

Over the phone fromNewYork earlier thisweek, Ms Lim told The New Paper: “This gift of life – having Charmaine here to receive the treatment – is the most precious gift for usthis Christmas. “I never imagined the amount of love I could get from people I hardly know.”Christmas this year is extra special for their family, even though they are away from Singapore.If Charmaine hadn’t received any medical treatment, she would have had only “a few monthsto live”, saidMsLim.

While Ms Lim would put up a Christmas tree for her children in the past, the occasion was “never really a big deal” – until this year that is.She said: “All this while, I took it for granted that I will always have my two kids with me.“Now, holding Charmaine and watching her get all excited playing in the snow with her brother, is a giftnomoneycan buy.“I’m eternally grateful to everyone who helped tomakeit possible for me.”

The family plans to do a quiet Christmasdinner with two of Charmaine’s godmothers, who will fly over to celebrate the occasion with them. As Charmaine misses kaya, the local coconutspread, her godmothers will be giving her someas a special treat.

Apart from donations for the treatment,people here have continued to show little acts of kindness to the family even while they are in the Big Apple.

For instance, some members of the Singapore Airlines crew visited the family thrice at their lodging, The Ronald McDonald House,which provides affordable housing near the hospital. Other donors have diligently sent textmessagesto the family checking in on them, whilesomeothers have sent snacks like cuttle fish, cartoon DVDs and lanterns to keep thekids entertained.

The family has also been invited to gatherings like Halloween parties through Singaporeanswho have friends and colleagues in the United States.

Charmaine sounded chirpy over thephone when The New Paper spoke to her. She greeted this reporter with a cheery “merry Christmas, happy new year, happy holidays!”

This is the first time she’s seen snow and she’s “of course excited”, she declared loudly.

When The New Paper first met her early this year, shewas shyand reserved. Her daughter’s more outgoing nature is achange,MsLim has observed as well. She told The New Paper that her daughter has become chattier and likes running littleerrandsaround theiraccommodationlike getting toilet paper from the lobby.

“She’s more feisty than ever,”saidMs Lim,who documents her daughter’s progress on ablogdubbed‘Feisty Princess Charmaine’.

The little girl’s life in New York revolves around hospital visits, blood tests, bone marrowbiopsies (where a sample of the bone marrowis taken) and various scans.

Despite the discomfort and pain, Charmainewho refers to the cancer as “the monster”, is trying her best to stay healthy. Ms Lim said: “She will tell me, ‘I don’twant the monster to beat me, I will eat more, I will eat fruits’.”

There has been some positive news sinceCharmaine’s treatment in New York, said Ms Lim. Charmaine’s scans in October, showed that there is no evidence of disease – meaning no new cancer cells have developed.

Traces of old cancer cells, however, still remain on her rib cage, spinal cord and near her heart. While Ms Lim is delighted with that development, her happiness is mixedwith anxiety.That’s because Charmaine has developed resistance to the cancer-combating drug 3F8, which are antibodies produced by the whiteblood cells of mice. (See report, above.)

So far, about half of the amount raised has been used for treatment, even though treatment could take up to a total of two years, Ms Lim said. She plans to take it one step at a time,saying: “For now, we are financially okay, I’m just trying not to think too far ahead for nowthough.” The family will return to Singapore next monthfor ChineseNewYear.

Being reunited during the festive occasionwith her grandparents, both in their 60s, and her uncle in his 20s at their four-room HDB flat in Punggol is something Charmaine islooking forward to. That andher favourite bak kwa, of course.


Love, Charlene


deedee said...

all the best for dear Charmaine and Cynthia, and all those around them and love them. ^^ happy 2010!

JulietJas said...

Can't wait to see the kiddies! HUGS

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