SINGAPORE – Despite the pain of stomach cancer treatment, Mr Koh Ming Hao, who died on June 8, never stopped helping others throughout his four years battling the disease.
Among the hundreds of guests who turned up each day at a four-day wake held for him in Pasir Ris, about a quarter were strangers who knew about him through his social media accounts, according to estimates by his family.
To the family’s surprise, flowers and tributes sent to the wake came from as far away as Australia.
His wife Daphnie Chong, 34, told The Straits Times: “These people have never met him before but they still came for the wake. It was very heartening to see. It shows how big-hearted he was to others.”
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Mr Koh, who worked as a manager at Microsoft, was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer in June 2013.
He died a day before his 34th birthday on June 7 and barely a year after marrying his long-time sweetheart.
Doctors had given him only a year to live.
While he was alive, he shared details about his fight against cancer on Instagram using the hashtag #watchmingbeatcancer.
Initially set up to provide his friends with updates on his health and cancer treatment, the hashtag eventually took on a life of its own.
A Facebook page was also set up by Mr Koh, drawing at least 700 users from countries including Singapore, the US and Australia.
The page is no longer available online.
His wife said Mr Koh hoped to help other cancer patients in sourcing for effective treatment options and share his experience fighting the disease.
For Mr Koh, every little bit to help others counted.
He set up a small support group on messaging platform WhatsApp with five other cancer patients, whom he got to know through friends and met during his chemotherapy sessions at the hospital.
In the chat group, Mr Koh would often say words of encouragement and give advice on battling cancer, said Mr Simon Yong, 36, the fifth patient to join the group.
Mr Yong was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 2015 and has since recovered.
“We never really met very often, but he played a very important role in my life,” he said. “Although he was younger than me, I looked up to him as my role model because he was always so positive. His passing was a very big blow to the group.”
Despite given just a year to live, the feisty figure defied the odds and survived for four years – perhaps due to his positivity and determination, said Ms Chong.
“We never once spoke about death,” she said.
“We knew that one day it would happen. But I guess we thought, maybe if we don’t think about it, then it wouldn’t happen so quickly.”
As a testament to his grit and determination, Mr Koh underwent more than 60 rounds of chemotherapy sessions, including radiotherapy and immunotherapy.
But over time, the treatment led to various side effects, including loss of hair and the function of his left leg, migraines, and vomiting.
As a result, he lost about 20kg and fell from a size L to a size S.
“He had to change his entire wardrobe and even started buying skinny jeans. But he tried to make the best of it by saying things like he’s always wanted to try these clothes anyway,” said Ms Chong.
Despite the pain, Mr Koh continued working and maintained an active life as much as possible, said his family and friends.
Every week, he would play football on Friday and go for a morning run on Sunday.
As his condition deteriorated, he exercised less.
He also continued working remotely at home, or even when hospitalised.
“On the Sunday before his death, he was still working on the hospital bed with his laptop,” said uncle Trevis Tan, 48. “He said he just had to send out a final e-mail for work.”
Mr Koh might have passed on but his family and friends believe he did not lose the battle to cancer.
Instead, by surviving for four years, he had already beaten the odds and demonstrated the power of an indomitable will.
Said Mr Yong, the cancer patient whom Mr Koh had helped encourage: “Hopefully those with cancer and undergoing treatment will not give up because he’s gone. Be inspired by his courage and positivity.”
“If he didn’t have such a fighting attitude, he could have left us much earlier.” he added,
By sharing his story, Mr Koh’s family hopes other cancer patients will be inspired by his positivity and perseverance in overcoming the illness.
His cousin Jovina Fong, 31, said: “That’s what he would want. For his story to help others.”