Cherish what you have

dexter family photo

Cherish what you have

Helping a patient in his prime say a last farewell takes a different touch, as the Assisi Hospice care team shared.

For a young patient in the prime of his life, bidding farewell to his loved ones when facing a life-limiting illness has its unique challenges, as the care team from Assisi Hospice shares how they helped 36-year-old Dexter Chua say a loving and dignified farewell to his loved ones.

“I told my parents if I had the chance, if reincarnation was a thing, I would want to be their son again,” said Dexter.

An only child, he was usually not expressive, but appreciated his parents very much. Being in the prime of his life, he loved music, playing the guitar, and was physically active with running, wakeboarding and snowboarding.

However, in April 2021, he suddenly felt unwell. A lump was discovered in his nasal passage after a nose scope. With a biopsy, he was diagnosed with stage 4 sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC), a rare cancer of the nasal cavity.

His parents were his pillar of strength. He said, “They are really the best parents anyone could ask for. When they heard about the diagnosis, they said things like: ‘Don’t worry, Daddy and Mummy will be here to support you no matter what happens. And if got chance, we would want to be your parents (again) as well’”.

He went through two rounds of chemotherapy, and a third round of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The vision of his right eye was affected and he lost his sense of taste and appetite. Eventually, the cancer spread, and he lost his mobility. He was admitted to Assisi Hospice in March 2022.

Dexter was relieved that his father, his main caregiver, could be released from the caregiving duties after his admission. Spending time with his parents during his final moments was most important to him. Assisi Hospice’s medical social worker Angela Tan helped Dexter to show appreciation and create memories and keepsakes for his parents. Dexter did hand casting, and the completed piece was handed over to his parents. His hair was collected and placed in a metallic cigarette box for his parents. The keepsake was meaningful to his father, as they both loved to smoke. His parents were his greatest worry. He said, 

"We had a talk as a family and we made promises to each other. I made them promise me that when I leave this world, they would still continue to be happy as a couple. To live happily, to live normally. They can grieve for me, but don’t be too sad for too long. I want them to be happy and continue to live their life."

As Dexter loved music, he enjoyed the sessions with Assisi Hospice’s music therapist Tammy Lim.  She planned and facilitated an appreciation and karaoke session for his parents for Mother’s Day. Tammy observed that Dexter was struggling with whether he had fought enough for his parents. She said, “I asked him what his motivation was for fighting all the challenges and living, he said it was his parents. He said that it was very challenging and tiring for him to undergo all the treatments but he was trying to spend as much time as he could with his parents.”

She also shared, “When working with an older person, you would reminisce on what they had done in their 30s and 40s. But a younger person will speak more about their regrets, what they would do if they could live longer. For Dexter, he would encourage us not to wait, to do the things that we want.”

Dexter was open to sharing his regrets, to remind others to learn to cherish what they have. The Assisi team created a video for him, where he shared his appreciation for his parents and a message to all to cherish their parents on Global Day of Parents. The video on Assisi Hospice Youtube channel garnered more than 180,000 views. His words touched many.

Dexter passed away peacefully on 3 June 2022 at Assisi Hospice, with his parents by his side.

Photo: Assisi Hospice

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