Mr Goh Kee Choon is a familiar figure in SPD. He is a social worker, an avid photographer and a person of ability with a disability. SPD’s advocacy senior analyst, Poh Sho Siam, shares his story.
At many SPD’s events, we will see a gentleman in crutches, his left leg slightly shorter than his right, clicking away with his camera. We may even spot him balancing precariously on a chair, crutches and all, trying to get the best angle for a shot.
Kee Choon participating in air gun shooting at an SPD staff retreat
Colleagues would agree that Kee Choon is approachable, helpful and always a dependable source for positive energy. When I first met him in 2014, I did wonder what happened to his left leg. I eventually learnt his story and I admire his strength and positive attitude towards life.
Kee Choon was not born with the disability. Back in his polytechnic days, mountain biking, cycling and soccer were his favourite sports. However, what initially felt like a muscle pull in his left thigh worsened in a year and affected his activities. He could not participate in sports as often and it got so bad that it affected his walking as well. He consulted a specialist and was told that he had a tumor growing at the femur around his left hip. After the biopsy, the doctors delivered the shocking news that he had cancer. He was 19 then. The news shocked and devastated him.
A sample of the tumor was sent to a renowned clinic in the United States for testing. After one week of waiting and refusing to believe that he had cancer, the report from the United States came and the tumor, though aggressive, was found to be non-cancerous. Kee Choon said he felt the utmost relief.
However, things did not go well after that. After the first tumor was removed, it recurred and the surgery site would not heal and was constantly infected. He went in and out of the hospital, and had one surgery after another. This went on for more than 10 years, a period Kee Choon describes as being on a roller coaster ride.
There were risks with every surgery and after each one, he was most grateful that he could wake up. “Heng ah! I’m still alive!” (‘Heng’ means fortunate in the Hokkien dialect), Kee Choon would say. It was only in the recent few years that his condition became more stable and his visits to the hospital, less frequent.
While Kee Choon now gets around using a pair of crutches, he is not any less agile than many of us. He never gave up on life. “Being alive is the most fortunate. Make the best out of it!” Kee Choon would always say with heartfelt conviction.
Photography is a great motivation for him. “The beauty of photography is that each photo tells its own story.” He recalled reading books on photography on his hospital bed and kept telling himself, “I want to get back to this.” In the last few years, he went on photography trips to China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan. He recently held a photo exhibition at Millenia Walk together with a few friends who shared the same passion.
Kee Choon clicking away with a camera
Other than pursuing his interest in photography, Kee Choon also wants to contribute back to the society. “After what I have gone through, I want to help others”, he said. That was why he took up a social work degree and joined SPD as a social worker in 2011. As a person with disabilities, the challenges that his clients face are close to his heart and he would share his own experiences in dealing with challenges with them.
Kee Choon (far left) with SPD social workers
When asked about the one thing that he felt glad and appreciative about, he replied that he was grateful to his family who had supported him through those difficult times and his friends, and peers who did not see him as a lesser person.
Acceptance is crucial in making a person feel included. Besides acceptance from others, one must also accept himself. “Yes, people stare, but there is no point feeling useless or dwelling on whether the world will accept me or else I will lose out. We should not limit ourselves in what we do. Just go out and do what you have been wanting to do. Once you accept what you have, you can achieve greater things.”
Kee Choon (middle) receiving a medal at DBS Marina Regatta 2015
Because of his long medical history, health is not something that he takes for granted. Kee Choon appreciates and values life and he would always advise his colleagues not to keep harping on issues or take things too hard when they face difficulties at work because “there are more important and valuable things in life than sulking at your current problem”. Words spoken like a wise man.
Summing up his life goals, Kee Choon said, “I try to do what I can do, do what I want to do, do what I like to do and do what I need to do.” When asked to clarify, he said that he would continue to help other people with disabilities, see more of the world, further develop his photographic skills, and work.
In choosing to focus on the good things that life has given him, Kee Choon has inspired many around him.
Kee Choon receiving a promotion congratulatory letter from SPD Executive Director, Mr Abhimanyau Pal