Blessed in Sickness
Cancer—a word feared, and often related to death! But I battled cancer and overcame…and I dance with it!
The Shocking Report
My cancer diagnosis came when I had reached the end of the “Fifth Rabbit”* year of age. On November 18, 2011, I went for my regular annual mammogram. A lump on my right breast had grown bigger, compared to the previous year's result. However, there was no evidence that this was anything serious. On December 22, I went for my GYN checkup, and the doctor urged me to see a surgeon for a review. A biopsy was done on December 30. The result came back on January 9, 2012, confirming the tumor was cancer. The announcement was shocking! I just knew I was getting close to death. My first reaction was to think about how I would meet Jesus. Would I be empty-handed before Him? I prayed, “God have mercy on me!”
On January 12, I went for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) for the final confirmation of the status of my right breast. On January 20—the 27th day of the last month of the Chinese Rabbit year—I had a modified radical mastectomy surgery on the right breast, and twelve axillary lymph nodes were taken out for analysis. Although the report indicated there was no definite lymphoid tissue identified, the Oncotype breast cancer assay showed that the cancer recurrence score was very high. Six months of chemotherapy treatment was necessary.
My thoughts began to go to all the upcoming plans that would have to be canceled: a trip to see my 92-year-old mother and aunt during Mother's Day; a short term mission in China to my hometown village; and the 30th anniversary in 2013 at the bank where I worked. In the past—before my cancer diagnosis—I had always wanted to have everything perfectly completed. But now, God wanted me to realize that all of life was under His control. You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? (James 4:14a).
My pastor husband comforted me by saying that I had been working too hard for more than forty years, including ten years in Hong Kong to support his ministry, so now I really needed to rest. I have always been involved in our church's ministry, and I knew that my involvement was helpful. I reasoned that when I finished my cancer journey, I could share with others the lessons I learned about trusting God through an illness and the many things I learned to be grateful for. Top among everything was my gratitude to the Lord for giving me a concerned and hardworking husband. During my illness, he needed to take care of the church, our home and me. He was the cook, the driver, and the person in charge of all the chores in the house. We thanked God for the protection of his health. He had good blood test results, which he said was due to going to bed early, getting up early, and having dinner early. But we both knew it was all God's grace. So the fact is, this illness became a blessing from God. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; neither are our ways His ways (Isaiah 55:8).
Before entering chemotherapy, I had a cardiology checkup to make sure my heart was strong enough to endure the upcoming treatment. The six-month-long chemotherapy treatment started on February 16—my husband's birthday. He received this not-so-good birthday gift from me without a word.
The treatments during the first stage of chemotherapy were very strong—what people call “poison.” The purpose was to kill all the oncogenes, but at the same time, the white blood cells are also killed. Therefore, the immune system becomes very weak and subject to catching viruses easily. Neupogen injections help grow back the white blood cells, but cause bone aches. When side effects from the medication occurred—fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, hair loss, depression, darkened nail color, unusual body heat and flushing, numbness of the neck, hand, and feet, insomnia, lack of focus, memory loss, slowed reactions, bowel movement problems, and suicidal tendencies—prayers to my Lord were the solution—and He always carried me through. He was my shelter! Blessed is the person who believes in Him!
The strong medicine damaged the blood vessels of my left hand, and my right hand was not able to be used for checking blood pressure or having blood tests, due to the removal of the twelve axillary lymph nodes from the armpits in a previous operation. So an operation was performed in order to insert a tunnel for future chemotherapy. The tunnel and cap were placed into my body, to remain until six months after completion of chemotherapy. I also needed to take medicine by mouth for five years, with side effects of bone aches and osteoporosis. Once again, I learned to bring everything to God in prayer.
During the six months of treatment, I had time to read the Bible, books of a spiritual nature, and testimonies of others who had coped with cancer. Compared with others, my case was not that bad: my cancer was discovered at an early stage and had not spread; I had the best medical professionals; and good insurance covered our financial obligations. Most important of all, God walked through the cancer experience with me. His grace was everything! And an added blessing—because the pastor's wife was missing from church—the brothers and sisters took over responsibilities—and grew overnight!
I was not able to travel to Hong Kong to visit my mother and my aunt, but I thank God for giving them good health, so that I do not need to worry about them. Through chemotherapy treatment, I learned to be grateful for God's amazing design of our bodies. He created hair to keep our heads warm in the winter and protect us from heat in the summer. Eyebrows and eyelashes prevent sweat from getting into our eyes, and the hair in our nose filters dust. Only after losing these, did I appreciate their value.
Cancer helped me become a more grateful person. The Bible says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). While in treatment, I was able to share the Gospel with other cancer patients. I was even able to comfort a customer from my bank who had brought her husband in for chemotherapy and tell her that Jesus was there to help her get through it. Being able to share and show my faith was indeed an added blessing of this illness.
So, I can say that although sickness is not pleasant, it can be a blessing, because anything that comes to God's children is with His permission. When we trust Him, lean on Him, and follow His guidance, we can always win.