City Weekend

How a Hong Kong teen is set to conquer cancer with a granted wish and a drawing tablet

Isabel Pugsley finds respite in between countless visits to the doctor by channelling her emotions into illustrations, and with a nifty new device given to her by a charity, she has found an artist’s touch

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 2:01pm

On a typical Tuesday morning, when most 15-year-olds are getting ready for class, Isabel Pugsley is heading to Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam, a two-hour commute from her home in Sai Kung. The journey is particularly gruelling for her.

Mother Arlina Sereos, 49, who accompanies Isabel on such trips, says: “Tuesdays and Fridays are for blood tests, then chemotherapy every Wednesday.”

The pair recall numerous visits to specialists and with Isabel going through all kinds of scans after discovering a lump on the left side of her jaw bone. She was initially put on antibiotics but within three weeks of the treatment, the left side of her face began to swell up to twice its size, down to her neck.

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“There was a point where [my vision] became blurry … and I couldn’t close my eyes,” she says.

“The cancer cells slowly spread from my lymph nodes in the neck upwards to the temple area.”

With proper treatment now, the routine visits will soon come to an end for the teenager, who has overcome stage four maxillary rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of skeletal muscle tissue. She hopes to return to what she truly loves to do: drawing.

The budding artist wants to draw people, and with a digital drawing tablet, a gift from the local branch of international charity Make-A-Wish Foundation, she hopes to finally master the skill.

“I want to become an animator when I grow up as I have found drawing therapeutic during my time spent between visits to doctors,” she says.

Since the discovery of her daughter’s cancer last May, faith that Isabel would pull through has been the only thing keeping Sereos afloat. For Isabel, one of her anchors was drawing, a hobby she has had since she was 10.

As my wish came true with Make-A-Wish Foundation, I knew I would be able to win this battle
Isabel Pugsley, cancer patient

“I was inspired by my friends who drew,” Isabel says. “They were very kind and encouraged me, teaching me how to draw.”

When she was diagnosed, her fascination with drawing became an avenue to channel her emotions. “It helped me release stress. If I am sad, then I’ll draw something sad and the emotions will go away because they get passed on into my illustrations.”

But through her daughter’s drawings, Sereos realised that something was off. From doodles, Isabel started drawing angry and scary-looking people.

“You could see her emotions hiding in this dark place – lots of the people she drew were crying with blood streaming from their faces as tears. Some of them would be bleeding and chasing others. I had nightmares when I saw them,” Sereos says. She realised her daughter was showing symptoms of depression.

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Through these dark times and countless chemotherapy sessions, the Make-A-Wish Foundation offered some light. Isabel wrote to the charity in February, asking for a Wacom Cintiq 27QHD Touch drawing tablet to continue working on her craft.

Three weeks later, the device arrived at her door. “It has become part of my recovery process – it gave me the strength to continue this battle against cancer,” she says.

“To me, it’s more than just an object. It’s proof that miracles do happen. As my wish came true with Make-A-Wish Foundation, I knew I would be able to win this battle and to grow up to have a job that I love.”