KUALA LUMPUR: Clad in a chequered shirt and having a casual air about her, it’s hard to believe that just two years ago, 25-year-old Irene Lock Siew Mei was battling leukemia.
Lock graduated at the top of her class with a 3.98 CGPA in Chemical Engineering from Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP) last month.
She was just 19 years old and in the midst of preparing for her final exams in the first year of her Bachelor’s degree when doctors broke the devastating news.
In total shock, her first reaction was to ask: “Am I going to die?”
Faced with a life-threatening disease, Lock made the tough decision to defer her studies to undergo intensive treatment at Ampang Hospital, where she went through countless cycles of oral chemotherapy and other medical procedures that left her fatigued and suffering from loss of appetite during the first month of treatment.
The scholarship student lost a staggering 10kg and began to lose her hair as a result of the treatment.
“At one point, I was completely bald and I had to wear a wig whenever I went out, as I couldn’t stand the stares from passer-by.”
Her doctors advised her to stay in the Hemoglobin Unit for evaluation and treatment. She stayed there for two years with other patients.
“When you are stuck in a ward for so long, you tend to crave companionship, I made the most of it by socialising with the patients.”
“I made good friends there, and we spent time watching movies together and exchanging thoughts,” said Lock.
Despite being surrounded with others in the same ordeal, the reality was harsh.
“As time went by, I realised that not everyone would make it. I would have a chat with a fellow patient and a few days later, I would go to their place…to find an empty bed.”
Every day at the hospital was mental torture as she constantly waited for the doctors to tell her she was fit enough to go home.
During hard times, her family became her source of unconditional support.
“My mum took two years off unpaid leave to take care of me.
“she is a senior nurse educator and would often monitor my progress to see if the nurses were giving me the right dose of medicines.”
After two years of treatment, the doctors finally told her she could go home. Lock wasted no time and quickly resumed her studies.
However, catching up was hard, especially since she was not used to the classroom environment.
Fortunately, her twin sister, Serene, who had graduated from University of Toronto with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, became her personal tutor.
“I couldn’t have done it without her. She was able to tutor me in a way that made catching up easier.”
“She was my motivator, teaching me in an interesting and effective way.”
Lock also actively participated in competitions and research exhibitions.
At her convocation, she won the UTP’s Chancellor’s Gold award, Vice-Chancellor’s Award and the best final-year project as well as a silver award for her department’s plant design project.
She also won three international gold (Itex 2015, Eureka 2014 and Sedex 2014) and three silver international awards (NIRC 2014, CCE 2014 and Sedex 2014) as well as bagging top awards in two essay-writing competitions in 2013.
Lock has fully recovered from her disease but still undergoes medical check-ups every six months.Currently, she is employed by PETRONAS and works as a processing engineer for the company.She hopes that her story will inspire others going through hardship.