Six years ago, Pansy, who prefers not to give her full name for privacy reasons, found out that she had a malignant brain tumour. It was pressing down on her optic nerve, giving her blurry eyesight and, occasionally, causing loss of vision in one eye.
She was only 16 years old at the time, but the then teenager didn’t immediately have an emotional breakdown in the face of her frightening medical diagnosis. As she now recalls, she didn’t even have the time to process her illness. In the week after her tumour was detected, her treatment began. When her doctor told her she had to have surgery and chemotherapy, she felt numb.
It wasn’t until later, on a hot summer night, that Pansy finally lost her composure and cried herself to sleep. She says she wasn’t upset because of her illness or the long road to recovery, but because she didn’t know how to break the news to her friends. She was also scared that her family and other relatives would suffer emotionally.
It was around this time that Pansy was approached by Make-A-Wish Hong Kong, a charity that organises once-in-a-lifetime experiences for young people with critical illnesses.
“I thought about making my own wishes come true at first, like going travelling or meeting a celebrity. And yet, I felt like the joy that I would get from all of these things wouldn’t be as palpable as if I were to help someone else out,” Pansy tells Young Post.
She decided to listen to her heart, and asked Make-A-Wish if she could use her wish to help children living with illnesses like hers on the mainland, where resources for cancer patients are often limited.
Pansy then set about raising extra funds for the project by making and selling bracelets. With the help of volunteers from energy company CLP Power Hong Kong, she was able to make 400 bracelets in one day. These were sold at CLP offices, raising both awareness for her project, and some HK$30,000 for charity.
The money was sent to the Pau Kwong Wun Charitable Foundation, that supports children with cancer. Most of it went towards launching a new reading programme at a hospital in Hangzhou (杭州), while the rest went towards funding a volunteer training programme for reading corners, specially built in the hospital for young cancer patients.
“I have received some reports and photos from the hospital in Hangzhou. I was quite stunned by the fact that this one small wish of mine could help so many children. I never thought I could achieve something like this, just by caring about others,” says Pansy, who has since recovered from her illness.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. After hearing about Pansy’s project through Make-A-Wish Hong Kong, local children’s author and illustrator, also a Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Hong Kong graduate, Libby Lam was so touched that she decided to create a character based on Pansy for one of her books.
The book, Ten-Star Service, was published this year. The story is about a boy named Max, who goes from envying his wealthy classmates to realising that love and happiness can’t be bought for any amount of money.
“Rather than being eager to experience the five-star hotels and services his friends revel in, he finally has an “ah ha” moment, and realises his life is actually a ten-star experience,” Lam tells Young Post.
The turning point in the book happens when Max meets a cancer patient named BJ, a character based on Pansy. Instead of focusing on his own suffering, BJ wants to spread joy and care for other children living with cancer. Just like Pansy, he holds a charity sale.
This prompts Max to remembers how much fun he and his family used to have doing simple things together like fishing, reading bedtime stories, and watching films on rainy nights in. Thanks to BJ, Max learns to appreciate the family who have always loved and supported him.
“The concept of gratitude can be quite abstract for young children and sometimes, if you’re forcing this concept onto them, they may become quite resistant to it,” says Lam.
“But through showcasing different scenarios on a day-to-day basis, they start to understand it more.”