Written By Rica Sham, Malaysia
I was 34 when I was diagnosed with Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma, a type of head and neck cancer behind the nose. But what hit me like a ton of bricks that day was the news that followed: my cancer had already advanced to stage 4A.
The year was 2018 and I had just returned to Malaysia with mixed feelings after completing my diploma course in Melbourne, Australia. While euphoric that I had attained a distinction for my course in Audio Engineering and Sound Production, I was sad that I had to leave the place that I had grown to love.
Back then, the signs had already started to show but I did not make much of it. Before leaving for Melbourne, I noticed that my right ear was blocked, as though there was water stuck in my ear. But a trip to the ENT specialist allayed my fears, as no serious problems were discovered aside from the blocked ear. I was advised to go for a review the following month but as I was already leaving the country that week, I decided to put it off.
Over the nine months I spent in Melbourne, the symptoms persisted. Towards the end of my stay, I would get headaches and jaw pain on the right side of my face, but aspirin seemed to solve the problem each time. And though my hearing was muffled, I did not feel any pain and was still able to do well in my sound production course.
It was only after I returned home that I decided to get my ear “fixed” once and for all, so that I could regain my hearing ability for my line of work. This time, the ENT specialist insisted that I take a biopsy test, and that was when my husband and I realized how bad things really were.
Within the same week I received the biopsy test result and a CT scan report, I was confirmed to have NPC Stage 4A. We were both in disbelief and distraught by the news.
I had to go through three cycles of chemotherapy—each cycle comprised a week at the hospital where I would be placed on 24-hour IV drips. After that, I had to go through 35 daily sessions of radiotherapy, except during weekends. On top of the radiotherapy sessions, once a week I had daily chemoradiotherapy of several hours as well which lasted four hours at a time. The long hours of waiting and time spent at the hospital drained me both physically and emotionally.
Throughout this time, my husband, family, and close friends prayed and supported me as much as they could. It was the toughest thing I had to go through in life.
Though every cancer patient’s experience is different, the side effects we experience are similar, such as hair loss, fatigue, mouth sores, vomiting, loss of taste, and appetite change to name a few. Due to radiotherapy, I developed a mouth ulcer that seriously affected my jaw movement. I could not open my mouth at all which meant I could not eat any solid food. I spent four to five months on nothing but a liquid diet, drinking formulated milk powder six times a day. I felt constant pain inside my mouth due to the ulcer, and couldn’t sleep or rest well. So I had to take painkillers daily to manage the pain.
I felt like I could not go on. I begged God countless times to take away the physical pain I had to endure from the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Yet each time, God reminded me through His words, people, events, and prayers that He was always there with me and He will never forsake me. God’s words brought me comfort whenever I was on the bed receiving radiotherapy, when all I could do was meditate and recite His words in my mind.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4, NKJV)
By God’s grace, I was able to pull through, from treatment to recovery. I still feel emotional writing about this now, even though it’s been more than a year since I went through treatment, which lasted six months from October 2018 to March 2019.
As of today, my cancer has been in remission for over a year and my latest CT scan report shows no signs of cancer. Many people cannot believe my transformation after cancer as I now have returned to a normal BMI. Some have even wondered if my cancer was merely at an early stage, since I don’t look scrawny or under nourished with my hair growing back fully and my skin completely healed from radiotherapy burn. This is truly God’s miracle in my life.
Instead of cancer ruining my life, it gave me a new beginning. I’ve learned to revaluate what is important in my life and cherish the time I have with my loved ones more because life is short. Before having cancer, I tend to overwork but now I make it my priority to take care of my health. I learned to appreciate the little things in life more—even eating makes me so happy because I wasn’t able to eat for a while! I’ve also learned to be patient and encouraging to others.
Of course, there are things I’m still working on and adjusting to, such as developing a healthy lifestyle, building up my confidence, scheduling doctor reviews every so often. I’ve also been contemplating what my future should be like. What’s my next move? What would be my next mission?
Though I may not have all the answers from God, l want to be a voice of encouragement and share my story to whoever is willing to hear it. I want to encourage those who are fearful and are experiencing dark times to trust and have faith in the Lord, and to know that they are not alone in this fight. God’s promises are trustworthy and He gives us hope.
Editor’s Note: If Rica’s story has moved you, or if you wish to get in touch with her, you can find her on Instagram @ricasham.