February 2, 2018

You can’t miss Yap Qian Yin’s infectious grin that she carries around with her. At one glance, Singapore’s homegrown sailing champion can be passed off as a teenager with sun-kissed skin and freckles, which reflect the many hours spent under the sun. Yet, she is so much more than meets the eye. At four, Qian Yin was diagnosed with leukaemia and although her cancer cells went into remission when she was five, a relapse occurred at seventeen causing her to be in a wheelchair since then.

Twenty years on, although Qian Yin has a far more arduous journey than she lets on, she is never one to allow her circumstances to hold her back, and has channelled her love for sports into a quest for excellence. In conjunction with the upcoming World Cancer Day, Qian Yin shares with us her story of how she turned her despair into motivation, which led to the nation’s first Asia Para Games gold medal in 2014.

On growing up

I was just like any other kid. I was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 4 and at 5, the cancer cells went into remission and my family and I were so glad that it happened. I was able to live my life as a normal active kid. Outside of school, I enjoyed participating in outdoor activities as well as doing volunteer work. Going out with my family and seeing my mum happy, makes me happy too.

On the relapse

Just when I thought that my life was at its peak, and I was doing well in my studies and CCAs, I had a relapse at 17. When the doctor broke the news that this time I was diagnosed with 2 types of leukaemia (ALL and AML), I was in disbelief and could do nothing but cry. My only memory of leukaemia as a 4-year-old was how painful it was, and back then, I had nothing to lose. But at that time, I had my entire life ahead of me, so naturally, I was overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of my world falling apart. Subsequently, I told myself that if I could endure the pain as a child, nothing would faze me. Unfortunately, dealing with 2 types of leukaemia is much more complicated. The treatments were more intense and I required a bone marrow transplant.

With the relapse, everyone around me was shocked. The biggest blow was to my parents and siblings. Just as when we thought that it couldn’t get any worse, I lost my mobility due to the side effects of chemotherapy. I still remember the moment when the doctor said to me, “You will never walk again.” I cried so much because I thought that I had lost everything.


On sailing

I was introduced to sailing as a parasport (Paralympic sport). The first 3 years of being in a wheelchair was a nightmare, and I struggled to get used to it. I kept holding on to the belief that eventually, everything will be all right. Though the encouragement of my family and friends, I thought that I would resume some form of ‘normalcy’, but I realised that life doesn’t pan out the way you want it to be.

My family struggled to accept my disability too. Before I got into sailing, I was very weak and had to depend on people for my daily needs. I always needed assistance whenever I had to go from one place to another. People doubted my ability and if I was strong enough to compete. However, I was determined to push myself and prove that despite my immobility, I can still lead an active life and also sail on a competitive level. 

On juggling a full-time job and training

Having a full-time job, while juggling my training sessions can be extremely challenging. There are many times where I will find excuses just to skip training. Usually, my training consists of lightweight work at home on Monday and Thursday, while Tuesday, Wednesday and Fridays are dedicated to cross-training exercises from 7 to 10 pm after work. Saturdays are dedicated to sailing and from March onwards, I will be sailing on Sundays too.

On records

The 2015 APG (ASEAN Para Games) were really memorable for me because my mum watched me compete and it was nice that she could cheer for me on the side. Most of the time, I am competing overseas, so my family and friends don’t really know what I have been doing. The APG 2015 which was held in Singapore gave me the opportunity to showcase all my hard work. 


On overcoming setbacks

I will give myself some time to be upset, whine, or even cry because I always believe that nothing is permanent and what goes down will eventually go up. Even in dark times, although things may get tiring or unbearable, believing that it will soon be over is what keeps me going. I am the master of my own destiny and I call the shots. People can make comments but they are not responsible for my life. It is up to me to filter out the noise.

On the misconceptions of leukaemia

Some might think that it is contagious and that being diagnosed with leukaemia is like a death sentence, but that’s not true at all. With the advancement in science and technology, there are constant medical breakthroughs that aim to prolong our lifespan. 

On inspiration

When I read about other wheelchair users, especially ladies who push themselves to do many things like incline pull-ups or going up a flight of stairs, I feel more motivated to work harder and be stronger, so that one day I can achieve the same thing.

On goals

I am living each day to the fullest with no regrets.


Image Credits: WomenTalk and Qian Yin’s Facebook