Editor’s Note: Andrew passed away peacefully at 11:25 p.m. (Singapore time) on 31 August 2019. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
Images By Andrew Hui
At 32, Andrew Hui now has an estimated two to three months left to live.
His latest treatment option of radiation was ceased a month ago after it was deemed no longer effective in controlling the spread of the cancer cells in his body. Since then, the tumor has been growing rapidly, and the lymphoma has spread to almost every critical organ and is pressing against important blood vessels.
Despite having just a month or so left where he would still be conscious and lucid, Andrew enthusiastically made time for this interview at the hospital before being discharged back home to be made comfortable on palliative care as death looms.
“I want to encourage people to trust in God during the darkest points of their lives,” he said.
A Shocking Discovery
Andrew hadn’t always viewed his condition this way. It took months of wrestling before he was able to reach this stage of peace and acceptance towards his prognosis—which came as a bolt from the blue last June.
Doctors had found out about the cancer in his body during a visit Andrew had made to the hospital’s emergency department one night because he was running a high fever. X-ray tests showed signs of a tumor growth in the upper part of his chest. Further biopsy tests identified it as Stage 1 Aggressive Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Yet, doctors were confident that his was not a complicated case and had even told him that 90 per cent of people who had this cancer at this stage have been cured.
So Andrew put his hope in probability and medical science, presuming that his treatment would be like a few months of “holiday”, and confident that he would recover soon enough.
But he was in the 10 per cent.
Undergoing six rounds of R-EPOCH therapy, a form of chemotherapy, did not help him.
So doctors gunned for a stronger form of chemo—RICE therapy. This time, they said, some 70 to 80 per cent would successfully have their cancer treated by it.
Again, he went for four rounds of treatment but was found to be in the 20 to 30 per cent of people for whom this treatment did not work.
He was next put on immunotherapy which was deemed to be suitable for 99 per cent of patients.
Andrew, however, once again found himself in the one per cent deemed unsuitable for the treatment due to the severe side effects that emerged.
“This is as straightforward a message you could get from God, don’t you think so?” Andrew said matter-of-factly, with a laugh and a glint in his eye.
“I had placed my faith in medical science and when that failed, He has shown me I need to drastically change my perspective and fall back on Him totally,” he added.
A Time of Questioning
Despite being a believer from young and one who actively served in church as a musician and leader, Andrew wrestled with God over his sickness earlier this year.
Andrew was not one who was careless with his diet or lifestyle.
The young banker did not drink or smoke. Instead, he would have salads for lunch five days a week and frequently head to the gym after work.
His questions to God piled up thick and fast. “I have barely fulfilled 10 per cent of my dreams and I thought You would be able to use me to a greater extent. I have been serving in church for 20 years and this is the way I am to go? This is how You tell the world that you care for Your servant?”
In his anger and disappointment with God, Andrew also lashed out at other Christians.
“They proclaimed or declared healing on me as they believed that by His stripes, God has carried our pain and bore it all (Isaiah 53:5). But I can’t reconcile it with the fact that I am not only not healed but also getting worse. It gave me false hope. So I scolded them and shut them out,” said Andrew.
“The way I see it, if He chooses to heal me, then his task for me on earth is not done. If I am not healed, then it is time for me to go home, so either way it is a win-win situation.”
Part of Andrew’s struggle and despair also stemmed from the fact that he was in a lot of pain.
He had to deal with nausea, lethargy, and hair loss, and many a time he would throw up so violently that his stomach contents would hit the wall.
Bad coughing fits would leave him curling up into a ball on his bed and his heart would shatter whenever he saw his mother crying by his bedside.
A Turning Point
However, a profound sense of peace and acceptance of death came when Andrew’s view of God shifted.
“I have always viewed His sovereignty over my life as something that can’t be questioned. He can do as He likes and pleases, and we have no right to ask for, say favor, unless He gives it. I saw His sovereignty as judicious and high and mighty,” said Andrew.
“But later I realized that the way He expresses His sovereignty is through love. What is happening to me may not be good but He is good and His sovereignty is seen in how He carries me through the storms in life,” he added.
One of the verses that has helped Andrew arrive at this understanding is Ephesians 3:17-18, which says, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”
His trust in God’s love and sovereignty has cast out any fear he used to have in facing his mortality.“I have zero fear of death now. When I close my eyes for the last time, I am more certain about being with Him than I can have in boarding a plane and being assured of reaching my destination,” said Andrew, who worships at St. Matthew’s church.
“That is the certainty I cling on to. Without that, if God or Jesus didn’t exist, I would have committed suicide because then all my hope is gone and there is no point or meaning to life,” he added.
He is also immensely grateful for having a church family who fasted, prayed, and cried with him throughout his period of illness. Many volunteered to buy food for him or to drive him to and from his home and the hospital.
A Dying to Self
Though Andrew was born into a Christian family and grew up in church, he only truly “came to faith” or owned his faith when he was 16.
He was in a Boys’ Brigade service in chapel one day and the lyrics of the song “So You Would Come” touched him immensely:
Nothing you can do
Could make Him love you more
And nothing that you’ve done
Could make Him close the door
These words pierced Andrew’s heart as he used to throw himself into doing good works or serving in church to try to atone for his sins.
The lyrics of the song gave Andrew a sense of freedom as he began to realize that God loves him and that he did not need to do anything to earn it. It also gave him the hope that despite his sins, God will never close the door on him.
But the journey since then hadn’t always been smooth-sailing.
Though he majored in communications and media studies, he joined the banking sector after graduation as it was more financially lucrative.
The number-crunching did not interest or excite him, but he had put money above fulfilment then as he loved to travel to experience different cultures and food. He also wanted to support the church by funding its missions work.
So Andrew worked long hours to climb up the corporate ladder and 12-hour workdays were the norm. His last position was as a manager in private banking.
But what he learned at the age of 16 never completely left him. The peace that comes with being convicted of God’s full acceptance and love for him, said Andrew, is the same peace that guards his heart now that he faces a larger battle of faith in confronting death.
A Blessing Through Faith
Besides having the assurance of peace and knowing that he will meet Jesus in heaven after he dies, Andrew said his faith also makes a difference in mitigating his present pain.
“When I call out to him for help at night because of the pain, I find that the pain lessens when I focus on God and I will fall into deep sleep after that,” said Andrew.
Andrew’s faith has also enabled him to see the blessings that have arisen out of his illness, such as being able to know when he is going to die, and to be able to die without pain.
“This is so that I can prepare for death and say what I need to say and do what I need to do.
The pain medication and palliative care also enables me to be comfortable and die with a smile on my face,” he said.
Lately he has been able to talk to his parents about topics such as what they would be doing when he is gone and what they would use his room for.
“It is a blessing to be able to have such conversations because then there will be closure for them as well,” said Andrew, who is preparing a “death box” that contains all his farewell messages to his loved ones and friends.
“I don’t believe in having sad funerals. I want mine to be happy and I also want to have a gathering now when I am around to thank and affirm people who are important to me and enjoy good food together,” said Andrew, who enjoys cooking, and used to cook anything from kaya to sambal to mooncakes for church fundraisers.
These days, he finds himself not really thinking about death, but about “short-term” things such as his craving for tulang, or bone marrow soup.
One unrealized dream he has is to set up a soup kitchen with his two close friends for migrant workers or anyone who needs a meal.
“If I were to live my life again, I think the only part I would change is perhaps going into social service because that may bring more of a difference to the lives of others. But then again, I don’t know. I am who I am today because of all the moments in the past that shaped me,” said Andrew, who has a father with polio.
A Final Wish
His greatest wish now is to reconnect with people in his life, such as his primary and secondary school friends whom he has lost touch with.
When asked why he prioritizes his precious time with people he is not close to, Andrew said his heart is for them to come to know the peace that they can have through Christ.
“Whether they are busy working adults or battling their own problems, I want to share this peace that I have with them. So that when they come to the end of their lives, which may happen any time, they would know of a peace that money or toil or relationships or health or wealth cannot bring,” said Andrew.
“I want them to not hear of me as just someone who died, but a person who is waiting to welcome them in heaven and who desires to see them again in heaven.”
Want to let Andrew’s family know how his story has impacted you? Leave a comment below with a prayer or word of encouragement!