Written by Kathy Lim, Singapore
15 March 2017. It was a Wednesday evening, and I had decided to take a GrabCar home from school in order to make it back on time for dinner with my parents. Mum hadn’t been feeling well for the past few weeks, so I’d been making it a point to go straight home after school every day. But when I opened the front door, it was pitch dark, and the house was empty.
Mum had been brought to the Emergency Department at National University Hospital (NUH) for high fever and shortness of breath. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing it, and they ran test after test. We had our own suspicions as to what it could be, but we did not want to jump to conclusions and worry even more. All we could do was wait and pray for God to give the doctors wisdom.
16 March. The day after Mum was warded, I was on my way to lunch with a friend when I received a frantic call from my sister—my brother-in-law had accidentally cut himself and was bleeding so badly that he couldn’t get to the A&E on his own. My friend and I had to rush over and be his ambulance!
22 March. After 8 days of confinement for Mum, the doctors finally concluded: Cancer. Stage 4. Incurable.
The diagnosis was hard to swallow, but we were determined to not let it defeat us. “We are going to get through this,” my sister texted me. “Mum will go through chemo. We will go through it with her.” We had been through this before, and we knew that God is the same God who healed Mum 17 years ago.
23 March. The day after she was discharged, Mum complained of a pain in her bones. It was the only time I heard her express any discomfort, and the first time I could physically see that she was suffering. That night, I cried over Mum’s diagnosis, which made me realise that I had only been able to remain strong because of the strength that she had shown.
27 March. “OUR FAMILY IS UNDER ATTACK”, I texted my sister. “Dad going A&E”.
Dad had come down with a high fever and was too weak to stand, and a friend from his cell group had come to help bring him to the hospital.
I felt like my life had turned into a movie. Why was God allowing these things to happen all at once? What was He trying to teach us? What was he trying to teach me?
Dad was warded, and the next day when my brother-in-law and I brought Mum to the hospital for an appointment, we wheeled him over to the Cancer Centre so the two of them could be together.
I can’t put into words what it felt like to see both my parents in wheelchairs, but I can say this: God was present and our family was greatly blessed.
Where was God?
This was a record of the most tumultuous two weeks I can ever recall experiencing.
At every juncture, it felt like God was asking: “Do you trust me?” Each time I said yes, He allowed something else to happen. “Now, do you still trust me?” It became harder, but yes, I still trust Him.
I learnt to look for the ‘fingerprints’ of God, to see Him working in the midst of our suffering, His faithfulness in the ordinariness of life. It was in His divine timing that Mum was brought to the hospital. It was by His mercies that Mum was upgraded (due to a shortage of beds) and given her own ward, which allowed her to have more privacy and accept visitors without worrying about visiting hours. He sent us a community to provide us practical and spiritual support. We were physically and mentally exhausted, but spiritually we were pressing on, full of joy—for the Lord’s mercies are new every morning.
Experiencing the Strength of Community
Our church community was a significant pillar of strength. For two months, people came by every day to make sure that our meals were taken care of. Knowing that Dad and I had to go to work and school, people volunteered to spend time with Mum so that she wouldn’t be left alone—even if it meant that Mum would be napping and they’d just be sitting around. The response was so great that my sister and I had to set up an online system for friends to book slots! People came not just with food; they worshipped, prayed, and spoke of God’s goodness in our lives.
Of course, this new way of life took getting used to. We received so much food that at one point we had four varieties of grapes in our fridge! (Did you know there was such a thing as Moon Grapes?) I also remember having to wash a lot of cups whenever I took a break from studying, since we had many guests streaming through.
One of the hardest things we had to learn was how to respond to the many forwarded Whatsapp messages about foods to eat or things to do that the Internet said would help cure cancer. Although these were shared with the best intentions, we wanted to make sure we were only following advice from the doctors.
Over time, we learnt to adapt to the new routine. Our family would message the community about the foods mum was not allowed to eat (e.g., grapes), and friends would check in with us before buying or cooking any food. They even pooled together resources to buy us a second fridge (to keep all the food!) and hire a domestic helper to take care of the chores. God also blessed me with understanding teachers and group mates in school who allowed me to attend meetings remotely so I could stay home with mum.
The love and compassion shown to my family really helped lighten our burden. It was and still is a complicated situation to deal with, but we acknowledge that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of need (Psalm 46:1).
Suffering and Joy Go Hand in Hand
One reason I was never tempted to turn away from God throughout this journey was seeing the way Mum responded. She had brought us up to love God and love others, and the way she lived with her diagnosis showed us exactly how.
Every morning I would see her sitting in the living room, reading the Bible and spending time with God. Friends who came to visit would always leave feeling encouraged by Mum—I once walked into the ward to find her giving a sermon from her hospital bed! Instead of being angry and worried and hiding herself from the world, she wanted to get the word out—that suffering and joy could go hand in hand.
There have been moments of grief and doubt, but I realise that if I choose to turn my back to God, how would I be able to see His blessings in my life? As hard as it is to see Mum fight this battle (e.g. constantly taking pills and getting poked by needles) and to go through it with her (the pandemic has greatly restricted our time outside the house), I know that this struggle is but a fleeting moment in light of the eternity we have with God.
In our family, we often remind each other that if you truly believe in the gospel, there is no need to fear death. Of course, those of us left behind would grieve, but at the same time we would find a way to rejoice, knowing that the person we lost would be in heaven, dancing at the feet of Jesus.
Looking Towards the Future
Mum was given a two-year life expectancy back in March 2017, and one of my greatest concerns was whether or not she would make it to my graduation in July 2019—spoiler alert: she did! Not only that, when we had a celebratory dinner for Mum surpassing the two-year mark, my sister announced that she was pregnant, and Mum would get to be a grandma!
Next month, it’ll be four years since her initial diagnosis. Although Mum recently had to return to chemotherapy, we are so thankful for the life that God has given her, and we will continue to be thankful for each day that we get to spend together. Despite the uncertainty of the future, we know that we can trust God because of who He is, and find comfort knowing that He will never leave nor forsake us. In the midst of suffering, we choose joy in Him.