8-year-old S'porean boy gets diagnosed with cancer, beats it & writes book about it all in a year

Doctors initially feared he might not survive.

Andrew Koay | June 27, 2019, 08:40 PM

In the last year and a bit, Andrzej Goh was diagnosed with cancer, beat it, and most recently, became a published author.

These accomplishments are impressive by any overachieving Singaporean's standards, let alone an eight-year-old.

The book — titled The Villain in Me — is about Andrzej's battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a form of cancer that attacks the body's immune system.

Written and illustrated by Andrzej, all proceeds from the sale of the book will be going to the Children's Cancer Foundation.

"His face turned purple"

In an interview with Mothership, his mother, who wished to be referred to as Mrs Goh, recalled how they first found out Andrzej had cancer after he experienced a few weeks of coughing at night.

"He looked tired, but you know children when they play too much they look tired. And during the day he didn't cough. So I didn't notice anything wrong with him.

One night he was already sleeping, when he started to cough. So his daddy went to carry him out of the room. He started looking not well and we thought why not give him some water."

They carried Andrzej to the toilet and gave him some water to drink, which he spat out before fainting.

"His face turned purple and he collapsed.

The moment I saw that his face was purple, I thought okay this is... this is an emergency situation."

Two attempts to resuscitate Andrzej — one by a neighbour who was a doctor and another by paramedics on board the ambulance — failed, before a doctor at the National University Hospital's accident and emergency department managed to save Andrzej's life.

"Luckily there was the big doctor. He actually managed to push the whole tube into [Andrzej's] windpipe. Otherwise, he can't breathe... he would have been dead that night."

Doctors feared for his life

X-rays showed that Andrzej had suffered from a fully collapsed lung, and he was diagnosed with cancer.

He started treatment immediately, but his body did not respond to the chemotherapy after two days of treatment, which left Andrzej's doctors fearing for his life.

Andrzej with his favourite illustration in the book. It depicts him in a hospital with the book's villain, Red Ron, hovering above the family. (Photo by Andrew Koay)

It wasn't until the third day that things started to look up.

"Actually, I was not too worried because I just believed that he will recover and that NUH was good. I was more worried that he would be feeling weak and not feeling well," says Goh.

Her trust would be rewarded when Andrzej was declared cancer-free in September last year, and finally completed treatment in April this year.

Becoming a young author

It was when Goh came across an advertisement for a young author programme by Artistic Strategies Academy (ASA) — a local organisation that aims to engage children in writing through artistic activities — and encouraged her son to write about his journey.

After pitching their idea to ASA just in time for its May 20 deadline (Goh had seen it just the day before), Andrzej was accepted into the programme.

He told Mothership that the book took him just two days to write.

It features the author, a character inspired by his own experience, fighting against Red Ron — the cancerous villain of the story.

"My brother got a toy, then we named it [Red Ron]" Andrzej says, describing where the name originally came from, before adding why it fit the book's villain perfectly.

"I thought [the cancer] was red (in) colour."

Apart from supporting the Children's Cancer Foundation with the proceeds from the book, Andrzej is hoping that his story can inspire other children facing difficulties.

“Never give up because you will become stronger,” he said.

Andrzej's book can be purchased from ASA for S$18, including local shipping.

More details can be found here.

Top image by Andrew Koay