Faith

Stricken with cancer at 22, I came to accept that my life is in God’s hands

Shaun Lim // October 15, 2020, 3:56 pm

SHAUN THIRSTACOUSTIC MY LIFE IS IN GOD'S HANDS

In January 2019, I began experiencing nausea, vomiting and bloating in my abdomen all of a sudden.

These symptoms persisted for three days. Feeling uneasy, I decided to visit the GP who then referred me to the A&E.

I remember feeling panicked as my dad drove me to Sengkang General Hospital. At the hospital, I was made to go through several tests to determine what was wrong with me.

After spending about 3-4 hours in the emergency ward, I was diagnosed with angiomyolipoma. In layman terms: internal bleeding due to the bursting of a benign tumour in my kidney. 

The doctor explained that the discomfort I experienced was due to an abnormally large blood clot in my kidney – 30cm in diameter.

I was warded in Sengkang General Hospital to undergo a minor keyhole surgery. This was to stop the bleeding of the tumour so as to stop the blood clot in my kidney from growing in size.

Upon hearing that I had to undergo surgery, I felt very lost and fearful. Thoughts like “I’m still so young” and “I gym quite regularly” rang in my head.

I just couldn’t seem to make sense of this whole ordeal. Everything just felt so surreal.

The surgery took about three hours. Looking back, I thank God for ensuring that the whole process was a smooth one without complications during the surgery.

After a day of rest, the doctor discharged me from the hospital and told me that I could go back.

I went back to school though I continued to experience pain and discomfort in my abdomen – this was because the blood clot was still in my body.

The doctor explained that it required time for the blood clot to be absorbed by my body. Thus I was unable to engage in most physical activities.

A TURN FOR THE WORSE

From February to June, I started to see improvements in my condition. I was feeling better and the bump got smaller. This led me to think that I would recover in no time and be able to return back to my normal life.

Little did I know that things would start to take a turn come July. That was when I noticed the bump in my abdomen had grown bigger. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Out of concern, my mum advised me to consult my doctor.

After several tests, including a biopsy, I found out that I had contracted sarcoma: a rare form of cancer that was affecting the soft tissues in my kidney.

At that moment, I felt a pool of emotions: anger, bitterness, disappointment, fear.

I questioned God on His sovereignty and about His plans for my life. “Wasn’t what I went through at the start of the year enough?” I thought to myself.

Furthermore, this meant that I had to disrupt at least one semester of school for treatment and recovery.

How is God still good if I have breast cancer at 26?

My parents tried their best to stay strong in front of me, but deep down I knew that they were devastated and worried.

I remembered hearing from my aunt that my dad had trouble sleeping because he was worried about my condition. I felt helpless. I also felt like a burden to the people around me.

Even though it was crucial for the cancerous tumor to be removed immediately, that was not an option because it was too big to be operated on.

The tumour was so big that it was pressing against the surrounding organs such as my liver and diaphragm.

Because of the risks, the doctor advised against a surgery to remove the tumor.

CHEMOTHERAPY: A FEAR-FILLED JOURNEY

The only option was to begin chemotherapy.

But the thought of going through chemotherapy made me fearful because because I didn’t know what to expect. The various side effects of chemotherapy also made me scared.

It was mandatory for the doctor to explain the risks and side effects of chemotherapy. Although chemotherapy is very effective in killing off cancer cells, it also kills the good growing cells in my body as well.

What that meant for me was that my overall immunity would drop, and that I would lose my hair.

I was diagnosed with brain cancer at 24

The doctor also explained that I may experience side effects such as nausea and vomiting due to the chemicals.

At first, he said that I would need to go through at least 3-4 cycles in order for the treatment to have its maximum effect. We would then play by ear, judging from the scan’s results.

The chemotherapy sessions took a toll on me. They were tiring and caused me much discomfort: ulcers developed and there was a metallic taste in my mouth. And I began to drop hair.

It definitely made me feel less confident and insecure in myself as well. “I look so sickly” was what I often thought to myself.

GOD MET ME AT MY LOWEST MOMENT

In the midst of these fears and uncertainties, I sought God.

And as I did so, I was reminded that my life came from God in the first place. Just as He gave life to me, He had every right to take it away from me as well.

At the same time, I also knew the extent of His love for me. I recognised that I am His child and that He would do anything to protect me.

So I decided to trust in His plans, whether that meant complete healing or to be with Him soon. I came to a spirit of surrender and prepared myself for both possibilities.

I began to seek God through worship.

And God, in His grace, began to encourage me through songs about trusting in Him despite fears and circumstances.

I remembered repeating songs such as “Surrounded” and “Stand In Your Love” in order to encourage myself through the season.

These moments of worship were where God met me. These encounters with the Lord became my daily motivation to carry on with a spirit of positivity and hope.

I became less worried about the outcome of chemotherapy – even the whole ordeal. I took joy in being able to wake up each day and feel a bit better than the day before.

I decided to trust in His plans, whether that meant complete healing or to be with Him soon.

During one of my worship sessions with God, I felt compelled to write a song. Songwriting was my form of communication to the Lord. It empowered me to articulate emotions that were hard to express.

So I wrote a song out of my heart’s cry toward God in this season. And as I wrote my song, God put lyrics into my heart that uplifted my despairing soul.

I began to write about trusting in His plans and His character. And that in trusting Him, I truly did not need to fear because I knew who goes with me.

In the whole process, I was constantly reminded of the unfathomable love of our heavenly father and of his faithfulness. Despite the many times that I doubted Him and complained, His love for me does not waver.

God’s goodness didn’t come just in the form of personal encounters.

His goodness also shone through the many good friends who stuck with me in this season.

They blessed me with their presence, edified me with words of encouragement and spurred me on with God-centred advice. Friends like these showed me that I wasn’t alone in this.

I remember how Jackson, George and Lionel extended their love to my family members, offering to buy food and drinks for them, lightening the atmosphere and even praying for them through the whole ordeal.

Even through the chemotherapy sessions, God remained faithful. It seemed as though God was making the process as smooth as possible.

I didn’t feel nauseous and neither did I vomit. This was surprising to many people around me, including nurses and friends who were previous cancer patients.

Looking back, I am convinced that God was with me through it all, protecting my body from all the toxicity.

ONE MORE HURDLE

After five and a half cycles of chemotherapy that had drained me physically, the doctor told me that I was ready for the surgery to remove the tumor.

While this might have seemed like good news, the days leading up to the surgery presented their own set of struggles and fears.

There were many things that could go wrong on the surgery table. The doctor talked about how excessive bleeding might cause death as mine was a major surgery which involved multiple organs.

It felt a little unfair, that even when I have gone through so much, I was still faced with a large hurdle to cross.

I couldn’t do anything about it, so I put my trust in God and the surgeons who were going to operate on me.

I remember vividly, how God used John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Cancer to encourage me.

There was this one line in the book that went: “You waste your cancer if you trust in numbers and statistics more than you trust in the name of God.”

That line really struck a chord in my heart. It felt so relatable as there were a lot of risks which the doctor highlighted.

  • 5% risk of death
  • 10% risk of stroke
  • 10% risk of excessive bleeding and many more with regards to anesthesia.

It definitely was not easy, but I chose to trust in Him a little more each day.

Even if death comes my way, I am safe in the Lord’s hands.

I also read Elliot Soh’s article during my final chemotherapy session before surgery. Elliot was definitely someone I really looked up to, especially in how he was able to have joy despite suffering.

I felt a certain connection as we both suffered from the same condition, only his was a later stage.

The things that he went through were comparably worse than mine, but I felt his joy and peace as I was reading through his testimony.

Elliot was so inspiring to me because even in his final days, he chose to praise God, using his last words to spread the gospel and encourage believers.

25-year-old Elliot Soh: “Goodbye… you know where to find me”

As I continued to seek God through the whole process, allowing Him to journey me through this, I constantly reminded myself of His character.

I grew deeply rooted in God’s word throughout that season and confident in His character despite my circumstances.

The people around me made the whole process easier as well, with their presence, prayers and encouragement. One thing I knew by heart was this: if God has my life in His hands, then I have nothing to fear.

This gave me the courage not to fear death. Because I knew that even if death comes my way, I am safe in the Lord’s hands.

These continued assurances from the Lord gave me the peace that I needed as I underwent the surgery.

I knew that no matter what happened, I could rest in the knowledge that I’d either be opening my eyes to see my friends and family, or Jesus my Lord and Savior.

GOD HAS VICTORY OVER DEATH

The tumor has since been completely removed – with negative margins!

Looking back, God’s fingerprints were definitely evident in the surgical procedure: the tumour was perfectly intact when it was removed, it had not invaded other organs other than the small portion of my liver which the doctors had previously discovered.

And, there was no need for a heart bypass which would have complicated the surgery much more.

Even in recovery, there were little to no complications. There was visible progress each day! I was able to remove the tubes and supports which were attached to me day by day.

Initially, the doctor predicted that I would have to be warded in the hospital for at least seven days for recovery. However, I was well enough to be discharged in just five days.

Dear Andrew, you’re finally home

I am thankful to God for never leaving me alone throughout this scary journey, for fighting the battle together with me and ultimately protecting me.

I am thankful for my family and spiritual community. I feel so blessed to have received so much care and love from everyone around me.

Through this whole process, my parents were able to experience the love and support of the church. I can confidently say that their hearts are definitely more open to Christianity and Jesus.

I pray that one day they will be able to declare Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

I have grown and matured. God has changed the way I look at life, my purpose and what is important to me.

He has taught me to be thankful for the little things, such as being able to move around, to go for service, for the friends around me and my family.

I understand His love for me a little more now.

Even though there is a chance of relapse, God has delivered me and I trust that He would do it again. I am choosing to live my life fearlessly and do the things He calls me to do.

God revealed to me that He isn’t done with my life yet. He has great plans ahead of me. And my only rightful response is to obey and walk in His will.

Whatever has been entrusted to me, I will steward it well for His glory, doing much with the life He has saved and given to me.