Indomitable Spirit

By Sondra Foo, Corporate Communications and Marketing

Photo by Poh Jun Ming, Republic Polytechnic

When life deals you a bad hand, it is easy to plunge into the depths of despair. But not for Safri Bin Salleh, 43.

He used to be an avid weightlifter who was also actively involved in contact sports like soccer, rock-climbing, skydiving and touch rugby. His active life came crashing down after two falls, and a diagnosis of bone marrow cancer.

In 2003, Safri had to undergo an operation to remove pus from a boil that developed after falling 21 steps at a cinema. He lost a lot of blood then and his mobility was affected. Though he was promoted to a security supervisor that year, the accident compelled him to stop working. A fall at his workplace in 2009 caused him to develop a similar boil, which acted up repeatedly for close to a year.

The turning point

In April 2013, Safri dozed off after returning from his night shift. When his wife woke him up, and he couldn’t move and was paralysed from below his neck. He was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma Cancer Stage 3 (Bone marrow cancer).

“All my organs gave way. I had liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), heart ameroid, diabetes, high blood pressure, acute kidney injury, and chronic gout where my joints were inflamed and swollen, and the pain was excruciating. I had to go for dialysis and was bedridden. My doctor said if I did not go for any treatment, I only had six months to live,” he explained.

Yet, he did not let thoughts of fear or worry seep through his mind.

“My wife was worried. But I told her not to worry as I will seek treatment. I was determined to get better,” said Safri.

Since then, his wife has been his full-time caregiver. His family relies on various financial assistance schemes from various organisations.

He went through chemotherapy in May to June 2013. While he used to be active, he became a shadow of his former self. He developed difficulty in walking, there was hardly coordination between his left and right legs. While he could think and speak quickly before, he had to think first. His speech slurred, like those people with stroke. His memory faltered.

He had to undergo occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy. He had to relearn how to walk using crutches, walking frame. He had to re-learn to speak. Five months after chemotherapy, he could finally get out of bed.

Focusing on his diet

Safri’s cancer was a jolt out of the blue. It reminded him that he has to take care of himself before he can take care of his family.

He researched about his illness and learnt that many bodybuilders who took supplements also developed bone marrow cancer. He decided to put in more effort in ensuring that he and his family have a balanced and healthy diet.

“While I did not care for my body previously and instead abused it through the supplements I took, I decided to take better care of my health. While I did not care about what I ate before, now I take better care of my diet.

The monthly FoodAid worth $250 from the Singapore Red Cross benefit me and my family a lot because it enables us to have fresh food products, and my children can grow up healthily,” he explained.

Safri hopes his life story will inspire others facing challenging times.

“Everyone has problems. It is important to have a positive attitude. I see problems as challenges. Whenever there is a problem, there is always a solution. No matter how big your problem is, face the problem. I faced my problems one at a time; be it for my debt, or my medical condition. You can’t solve all the problems yourself. Ask for help. The world is not a bad place, good people come to help. Just as Red Cross did,” affirmed Safri.