Living life like a butterfly

Lam Yi Ling receives 'Regeneration Warriors Award 2014'

Do you remember the little girl standing on the stage during the Living Water Campaign in March last year? Her name is Lin Yiling, the student ambassador for Living Water in 2013-2014.

Yi Ling visiting mountanious

regions in China

In the first session of the Living Water Campaign, Yi Ling had already shown her personal support for the cause. But in 2013-2014 she went even further by visiting the remote mountainous regions of Hunan and Guangxi Provinces. Her sincerity shines through on her TV and newspaper appearances. The effort and support of Lin Yiling and others for the Living Water Campaign over the last four years has led to safe drinking water for more than seven thousand people in mountainous regions, brining the 'Living Water Dream' to reality.

This winter, Yi Ling was elected to be the youngest 'Regeneration Warrior volunteer' by the Hang Seng Regeneration Society and was nominated at the 'ATV Awards Loving Hearts Campaign 2014'. Attached is the exclusive 'Sing Pao Media' interview with Yiling that took place on 7 December at the Amity Office, done by Zhang Junquan.

At only 14 years old, Yi Ling suffers from brain cancer. Faced with such a diagnosis, the average person would not necessarily be able to bear the suffering that she has endured. Yet after treatment, Yi Ling is often found wearing a smile, using her story to inspire the less fortunate, doing voluntary work, and hoping that what little strength she has will help more people in need. Yi Ling's positive attitude towards life and her unremitting spirit really is worthy of our attention.

Living life like a butterfly

Yi Ling, her fight against cancer and her obligation to help people cherish life

Good health seems like a simple wish, but for children with cancer it becomes an extravagant desire. The arduous process of treating cancer through chemotherapy and radiotherapy leads to physical and mental fatigue, which is particularly tormenting for sick children. At just 14 years old, Yi Ling was diagnosed with brain cancer. As she was diagnosed early, after a lengthy process of treatment, she has shown signs of recovery. Yet such chronic illness has left some lasting problems to her health that has severe effects on her daily life. However, this has not changed her positive attitude to life and she has thrown herself into even more volunteer work: "I have benefitted from the help of others, and now that I have recovered I hope that I can also help others and benefit even more people. I want to share my experience of fighting cancer with other people. I hope they will cherish life and never give up when they run into hardships."

"There was so much of life I hadn't experienced, I really didn't want to die.”

Yi Ling advocating for water-related issues

at Amity's Walk for Living Water 2014

Yi Ling took a year out of school to recover and has continued to experience physical discomfort ever since. She often has a fever, headaches, gets extremely thirsty, and experiences mental fatigue. Ling’s mother took her to many consultations but doctors could not find the cause of her illness. Later, after referral to Wells Paediatric Hospital, she was finally diagnosed with brain cancer in May 2009. At that time, she already had water in the brain and needed to be taken to hospital immediately to begin treatment. "At the time I was studying in second grade. Being so young, I didn't understand why I had to go to the cancer centre for treatment. Mum explained that I suffered from brain cancer and I asked her: "Why do I have cancer when I don't even smoke?" I didn't understand what cancer was. I only knew that I could die soon. I was only a second-year primary school student and I was going to die. I felt so sad. There was so much of life I hadn't experienced, I really didn't want to die. Injections and blood transfusions were common practice during the treatment and made me feel troubled and wronged. I would cry often."

Yi Ling's parents were very worried about their daughter's illness

Mr. Enoch LAM Tin Sing, the Director of Water Supplies Department with Yi Ling

As the tumour grows in the centre of the brain, it can become inoperable so some doctors arranged for Yi Ling to first undergo four courses of chemotherapy followed by thirty rounds of electrotherapy. During the course of treatment she was often in and out of hospital, and every time she went into hospital it was always for a long period of time. During the treatment you could not eat so the body becomes weak, and there is frequent vomiting, hair loss and other side effects. “For chemotherapy, I needed to stay in hospital where I was first given drugs and then the antidote. Then everything was flushed out. During the course of treatment there were periods of rest, and a period of four sessions of treatment took four weeks. The drugs would cause a strong tingling sensation, and there would be repeated applications which would make my hands and feet inflamed and cause great discomfort. After chemotherapy, there is a thirty-day stretch in hospital for electrotherapy. Each round of electrotherapy takes about 15 minutes, but with the blood test beforehand plus waiting time, each session takes up most of the day. The whole course of treatment lasted half a year, putting young Yiling through physical and mental torture. Due to the weakened immune system, her body became unusually weak and she couldn't go out to play or to school. Despite her love for learning, she could only observe from afar the schoolchildren studying nearby and imagine herself being part of it.

When the treatment was completed in December 2009, she spent another six months recovering. It wasn't until 2010 that she returned to school, only to have to drop out again for almost a year. During the treatment period, Yi Ling's parents were very worried about their daughter's illness. Every day after work they would take her to the hospital and the next day, feeling exhausted, they would wake up very early and go to work straight from the hospital.

"I often thought about giving up”

Yi Ling visits Amity's water-related projects in Guangxi and Hunan

Yi Ling said: "During the whole course of treatment, I think the most difficult part was electrotherapy. Every time after receiving electrotherapy I felt particularly tired. I couldn't do anything, even walk, and had to be carried by my parents. When the cancer spread from my brain and to the spinal chord the skin on the back of my head would be scorched after the treatment. It looked like sever sunburn. When there was an abnormal prickling sensation, I had to take a gentle shower to soothe the pain.” The treatment was hard going and Yi Ling had thought of giving up. Fortunately, with the encouragement and care of her parents, she persisted. "I often thought about giving up. I thought I couldn't go on any more, but I knew I would die if I gave up the treatment, and I didn't want to leave my parents. I grew up listening to them and they hoped I would persist and always encouraged me so I knew I had to hold on and never give up."

A good appearance is something all girls care about, and gradually loosing hair during the treatment was tough, even for little girls like Yi Ling. "At first I really didn't want to shave my head. I thought it looked horrible and every time I went outside I wore a wig. But I really liked running, and every time I ran the wig would fly off. It wasn't very practical. During treatment, I studied in the Red Cross Hospital School, and the hospital schoolteacher complimented me saying I was pretty without the wig. After that, I didn't wear it anymore. During the rehabilitation process, my hair slowly grew back and when I walked along the street people would think I was a boy which I found so funny!"

“He thought I was vomiting blood and immediately began running tests”

Yi Ling experiences farm work in rural China during an exposure trip

Yi Ling loves to laugh and is a cheerful girl. Even during the hardships of her treatment, she remembers the good things. "My father said that beetroot juice is good for the blood. When I was having treatment in hospital he would often bring some for me to drink. It’s difficult to drink beetroot juice and there were many times when after I finished drinking the juice and ate a banana, I couldn't help but vomit. As the beetroot juice was red, naturally so was my vomit, so when the doctor came to check on me he thought I was vomiting blood and immediately began running tests, and blood transfusions. He looked so nervous. The chemotherapy caused my blood platelet count to drop, which meant once I started bleeding there was no way to stop it. Therefore, I had to be very careful to avoid injury every single day. Even if I had a nosebleed I had to have an immediate blood transfusion. Later, my father explained to the doctor about the misunderstanding with the beetroot juice and we all laughed."

Sequela: Dizziness, headache, narrowed vision

Yi Ling plays with school kids in Hunan

After the recovery phase, Yi Ling finally returned to school. After a year away from learning and school life, she had to repeat a year. As her former friends moved up a year, Yi Ling had to adapt to making new friends. "Before I got sick I found school boring, but now I find learning fun. You need to be healthy to attend school and learn every day, and now I cherish my time at school." Her experience being ill has made Yi Ling more mature than her peers and she has learnt how to be grateful even in the face of difficulties. Even six months after her recovery process, Yi Ling's body is still very weak and she still needs injections and medicine. When the school arranged a camping experience, Yi Ling insisted on participating. Even though every night Yiling's mother had to give her injections and medicine at the camp, she never complained. Yi Ling’s experience has made her appreciate the value of life. Once when she went outside to play with her classmates, she saw a group of boys trampled ants on the ground and rushed over to stop them.

Yi Ling's chronic illness left lasting negative effects to her health. At present, her field of vision is narrower than the average person's by 5%. She has a poor sense of distance perception and spatial awareness, which makes her vulnerable to injuries. Yi Ling's father loves exercise and every time he goes running with her he follows closely behind in case she should fall. Yi Ling also gets headaches and experiences dizziness. She has to take painkillers regularly and because the cancer cells destroyed her brain nerves, her muscle strength is only about the extent of a five year old. She cannot even open the lid of bottled drinks by herself, causing inconvenience to her daily life. She is currently receiving physical therapy involving exercises to strengthen her grip, but the human brain is incredibly complex and it is still unknown whether or not it is possible to recover strength through this kind of training.

"Volunteering makes me happy and is lots of fun. Helping other people can be so interesting.”

During Amity's Walk, Yi Ling simulates the carrying of water in water-deprived China

In the course of her illness, Yi Ling was exposed to various different institutions that gave her their full support. "I have benefitted from other people's help and now that I have recovered I want to help other people so that more people can benefit. I want to share my cancer experience with others in the hope that they will cherish life and never give up no matter what hardships they face.” During her recovery period in 2010, Yi Ling participated in her first voluntary activity with 'The Little Warrior Society' at a local hospital, playing and chatting with sick children at the hospital and encouraging them to stay positive about treatment. In early November last year, she took part in the 'Barefoot Line' walk fundraiser organised by the Ceder Fund, to raise funds for the poor in Southeast Asia and Africa. In the last two years she has been actively involved in the 'Walk for Living Water' organised by the Amity Foundation, visiting Hunan, Guangxi, and other remote mountainous areas. She currently volunteers at least three times a month, and each time she goes to the hospital for a follow-up consultation she goes to the children's ward to take care of the sick children. During the summer months when she has more free time, Yi Ling plans to get even more involved in voluntary work. "Volunteering makes me happy and is lots of fun. Helping other people can be so interesting. I do volunteer work that will not have negative effects on my physical health.” Besides from volunteering in her spare time Yi Ling mainly stays at home and rests. She also searches for information on the Internet and in books on how to do all kinds of handicrafts. "When I have no school on Saturday and Sunday, I spend one day reviewing my studies, and one day doing volunteer work. This was my volunteering will not affect my rest or my studies. During the rehabilitation period, I originally didn't dare to go out, but participating in volunteer activities helped my self-confidence and spirit. My volunteer work helped me increase my problem-solving abilities as well as my ability to learn. My parents are very supportive of my work as a volunteer. During my recovery phase, volunteering brought many inconveniences. My field of vision was narrowed, and occasionally I had to turn my head to look left and right to watch out for hazards. I also had to make sure I brought along enough medication and that I took it on time, as well as taking supplements and making sure I got enough rest. But as long as you are careful, these things are not really a big deal!"

Living life like a butterfly

For the future, Yi Ling has a simple wish: "Because I was so ill, I now appreciate the value of good health. Simple things make me happy. I just want to grow up healthy so that I can continue my work as a volunteer and help more people. Nowadays I still experience frequent headaches, dizziness, and tiredness, but I hope that my energy levels will get a little better." Yiling uses the life of a butterfly as a metaphor: "A butterfly's life is very short, but it has beautiful patterns on its body and a brilliant life. People are the same. Whether we live a long or short life is out of our control, but the most important thing is to cherish the time and to live a fulfilling life. This is why I went with the staff in Hong Kong at the Red Cross to volunteer at Tai Fung Yuen. It was something I had always wanted to do."

Yi Ling speaks at the kick-off ceremony at Amity's Walk for Living Water after she has visited water-deprived villages in Guanxi and experienced the situation on-site

Translation by Rosie Martin