What it takes to love a girl with cancer
Ian Ng // January 22, 2020, 5:34 pm
Written as a response to Chan See Ting’s story, “How is God good if I have breast cancer at 26?”, her boyfriend, Ian Ng, reflects on his side of the journey from the beginning, and what it has meant as a partner, a man and, above all, a follower of Jesus Christ. Their story was recently featured in The Sunday Times on January 19, 2020.
“Step into the ring with her daily, Ian.”
These words came as a still small voice in the middle of a busy street along Ho Chi Minh City, where I was finishing up a work trip.
“But Lord, how do I do it? I’m not equipped to deal with this. I’m still healing. I don’t feel ready to enter into a relationship with Seets.”
“Just keep walking, Ian. I will provide.”
In that moment, I looked down at my feet. Lining the pavement I walked on were hundreds of tiles, each bearing a ring-shaped design. Step into the ring with her. God could not have spoken in a clearer fashion.
The months that led to that moment, however, were more of a blur. Even as I wrestled with the uncertain future that lay ahead for me and Seets, little did I know that God was taking me on a journey of healing and restoration.
I met See Ting, or Seets, as her friends know her as, through the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel in February 2019. Casual chats progressed into deeper conversations about faith and life, and I soon found myself enamoured by this God-fearing woman. I dare say she felt the same about our growing friendship.
But little did Seets know that the Ian whom she knew to be gentle and kind also struggled with fear, brokenness and a lack of self-worth.
Since young, I was known as the “put-together” one. Always available to serve God and love others. The pressure to perform soon took an emotional toll on me as I swept my secret sins under the carpet, gradually chipping away at my self-respect and sense of worth.
I remember the days where I would look in the mirror and feel disgusted at the person who stared back at me. I desperately wanted to hold on to my reputation and ministry, but my grip on myself had begun to loosen despite my best efforts.
Although things were going well with Seets, the perfect veneer started to crack as I started to develop affections for another girl I had gotten to know around the same time. Faced with this situation, the right thing to do was obvious: take a pause, clear the air and sort things out with both parties before moving on.
Yet out of indecision and fear, I chose the worst path. Unwilling to hurt both parties (or so I thought), I continued to entertain my conflicting affections, hoping that the conflict would resolve itself magically. One thing led to another and I soon found myself entangled in a web of cover-ups and lies.
It does not require much to guess what happened subsequently – I was found out and exposed, and my reputation tarnished in circles of friends who knew of what transpired. Most regrettably, I had broken trust with Seets and the other girl, and hurt them both deeply.
What happened next baffles me even till this day: Seets continued to stay by my side despite all that had happened. In the midst of my shame I couldn’t bring myself to speak to her, but she told me, “I’ll wait, Ian. Take the time you need.” I felt unworthy of her love, but she continued to show me grace anyway.
It is with the benefit of hindsight that I see how this mess was merely the beginning of God’s redemptive work within me. In the emptiness of my self-worth – and now my shattered self-image – lay the space to receive grace abundant.
Weeks passed before I began talking to Seets again. Afraid of hurting her further, I was cautious in conversation and generally avoided talking about my feelings and our relationship. Yet in God’s goodness and grace, the capacity to love and care for each other began to take root.
Where there had been hurt previously, genuine care began to birth and grow into godly affections. In late July, before I flew off to Ho Chi Minh for a week-long work trip, we sat down to “define the relationship”. At that point, it was clear to us that we held feelings for each other and thus desired to grow as a couple.
However, there were some major considerations this time round. For Seets, she had discovered a lump in her chest earlier in June. The lump didn’t go away and she eventually went for a scan to determine its nature. Would it be a benign or malignant tumour? If it was malignant, there would be consequential impacts on our future plans.
For me, still fresh on the journey to inner restoration, it was a lack of faith in my ability to provide security and comfort in the context of a romantic relationship, even more so one with an impending challenge.
At the end of that conversation, we decided to place our trust in the God who had brought us together and take the step forward, agreeing to start exploring courtship seriously when I returned.
Two days after I landed in Ho Chi Minh, Seets called me. She was at the doctor’s and had just received the scan results. It was an aggressive form of breast cancer and it was into its third stage. Initial feelings of shock gave way to a sense of unjustness. God, how could you do this to Seets? She has done nothing to deserve this. How is this fair to her?
I grappled with many feelings over the next few days, Not being able to be with Seets physically added a sense of helplessness into the mix. At the same time, the all too familiar feelings of fear, lack and insecurity began to surface in my thoughts and emotions.
Cancer wasn’t your everyday fever and flu. Apart from having long term health effects, major aspects such as finances and family planning would have to be considered carefully. To the outsider, Seets and I were neither married nor engaged. We were not even an official couple. Would it not be easier to walk away while I still had the chance?
Deep within my gut, I knew that God had called me to love this girl with all my heart, mind and strength. In sickness and health, for better or worse, I desired to be her partner for the journey ahead. But what about my various inadequacies? Bear in mind, I had hurt this girl deeply only months before. What if I hurt her again?
It wasn’t about having perfect visibility of the future nor confidence in my abilities to be a good partner – the Lord was calling me to trust in Him.
This is when the Lord spoke into my troubled heart on the second last day of the trip.
“Step into the ring with her daily, Ian. Just keep walking, I will provide.”
In that moment, His grace spoke clarity, conviction and courage into the situation. It wasn’t about having perfect visibility of the future nor confidence in my abilities to be a good partner. Rather, the Lord was calling me to trust in Him, the one who holds the future.
On September 1, 2019, I officially asked Seets to be my girlfriend.
It has been five months since we started walking together, a faith journey filled with loving moments and treasured times. Of course, Seets and I have our fair share of disagreements and quarrels like most couples. It would also be naive to say that cancer treatment hasn’t taken a physical and emotional toll on us.
But God has been and continues to be faithful till this day. One thing that I’ve learnt is this: When God calls, He provides. And He will provide not according to our human expectations, but out of His endless abundance. Indeed, He is Jehovah Jireh, our provider.
As a couple, we’ve been immensely blessed by family, friends and even strangers. We’ve had the privilege of sharing our stories of victory and struggles. Even as we step into the ring daily, we’ve grown stronger in our walk with God, both individually and as a couple.
In my daily reflections, I continue to be amazed at how far we have come in such a short time. From the pits of hurt and betrayal to a place of healing and growth in our journey. And I know that what we share and enjoy today is only possible by the grace of God.
Make no mistakes, the road to healing and restoration has not come to an end. Do the failings of my past come back to haunt me? Yes, they do. Do I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and lack? Definitely so.
The path of holiness is a narrow one. We are called to love God, love others and do good. Yet we all miss the mark. I’ve missed the mark countless times. But there is grace greater still that finds me in moments of wretchedness. There is mercy in times of undeserving. And the past months have shown me how broken pieces get restored. The path is narrow, yet infinitely wide.
To the young men who might be reading this: the struggle is real. The pressure to align our actions to a certain set of societal standards, the need to be “a man” at all times. Being weak and vulnerable sounds undesirable, does it not? How can we provide security and stability for our loved ones if we show signs of weakness?
Yet I say to you as a fellow sojourner on this road called life – it is okay to be vulnerable. Contrary to what mainstream society might tell us, it is in our moments of weakness that grace and strength find us.
Let the words of Charles Spurgeon be a reminder and an encouragement to us all: “God does not need your strength: He has more than enough power of his own. He asks your weakness: He has none of that Himself, and He is longing, therefore, to take your weakness, and use it as the instrument in His own mighty hand. Will you not yield your weakness to Him, and receive His strength?”
In the eyes of the Father, perhaps less is more than we ever need.
THINK + TALK
- Have bad things happened to the people you love? How have you processed this with God?
- Do you believe God is good, even when those you love are suffering?
- How can we walk well with those who are going through tough times?