To see all the photos from the shoot, click here.
C4S: Tell us a bit about yourself and your story.
Gillian: I diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in my spine, which is really, really rare. Most cases with bone cancer commonly occur at the shoulder, elbow or knees. I’ve had multiple relapses along the way, but the biggest blow happened January this year. The cancer spread around my spinal cord, making me paraplegic from waist down. Although there was a chance it could happen, none of us actually thought it would. I completed my studies in School Of The Arts just last year, and was getting ready to head off to Japan to pursue my studies in Product Design at the Kyoto University of Art and Design. But, my plans were put to a halt because of the latest predicament. I’m now taking a gap year to hopefully recover before applying to anymore art institutions.
C4S: How old were you when you were diagnosed with sarcoma? When did you realise something was wrong?
Gillian: It was 2009 and I was 12 years old at that time. I’d just completed my PSLE. I was having pain around my left abdomen, but the doctor just passed it off as Stress-Induced Gastritis. I remember tolerating the pain for about 3 months until it was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma.
C4S: How did your parents and siblings respond to the news?
Gillian: They were undoubtedly devastated of course, no one would have thought it was cancer.
C4S: How was the treatment? What were your side effects?
Gillian: The treatment was harsh. My chemotherapy cycles lasted about a year. There were many side effects; the usual being nausea, pain, loss of appetite, the spiralling of blood count, infections and the unavoidable hair loss.
C4S: What is your best memory at hospital?
Gillian: There were art and music therapy sessions to keep us occupied and distracted while we were having our chemo, so that was quite fun!
C4S: What was the hardest part of the journey?
Gillian: Hmm, it would have to be missing out on a lot of things. But it wasn’t so bad, because I also had time for myself to think and reflect.
C4S: Did you have to stop school?
Gillian: Yup, I didn’t attend school for the whole year. When I finally completed my treatment course, I had to join the year below.
C4S: Did you make any friends during your treatment? Did that help you cope?
Gillian: I met a few patients during my frequent stays in the hospital, one of whom is my closest friend now. Definitely! Having someone going through similar struggles really bridged many gaps because you can actually relate to each other. It helped elevate a lot of internal struggles.
C4S: Were friends and family crucial for your recovery?
Gillian: Yes of course, they were my pillar of strength and encouragement. People don’t often talk about it but having a closely knitted support group consisting of people who really care about you can ease a lot of physical and emotional burden.
C4S: You’re still going through so much. What’s the latest regarding your case?
Gillian: Yeah well, cancer really does suck. Despite major surgeries to get rid of the bad cells, they keep sticking around. The latest scans show that the cancer is still spreading around the spine, and there’s nothing much I can do since I’ve taken most of the strong chemotherapy drugs and radiation. I’m currently taking oral chemo to suppress and decrease the growth of the cancer, but my family and I are really hoping that my case is eligible for the Carbon-Ion Radiation Therapy in Japan. It’s known for treating various complex cancers including several types of sarcomas.
C4S: You’re an artist. Does art help you cope?
Gillian: People would guess so, but not really. As an artist, people assume that art is a medium for me to cope. I do draw and make things in my free time. However, coping with cancer is more of a mental affair that I have to go through everyday, and I don’t intend to glamourise it. Simple entertainment like watching a series or a show usually distracts me from what’s on my mind. Everyone has their own way of coping with their own struggles.
C4S: Who inspires you?
Gillian: I don’t really have just one person I look up to. I tend to change interest in people very fast. But the qualities in people that I find inspiring include being triumphant in suffering and braving through all odds to achieve their goals despite the limitations that set them apart.
C4S: Do you think you see life in a different perspective compared to most people?
Gillian: Having gone through what others might have not certainly puts me in a different position, but I think everyone has their own unique pair of eyes.
C4S: If you could give advice to other families battling sarcoma, what would it be?
Gillian: Be as open as you can around each other because bottling in your pain and troubles won’t do anyone good. Being chained by your fears is not healthy either. Having cancer is a lifelong journey, and though we need to be careful and wary of the certain things that pose as a risk, my family and I try our best to work our way around it and just live our lives as we would want to.
A VERY BIG THANK YOU TO GILLIAN AND TRICIA FOR MAKING THIS PROJECT HAPPEN