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Finding Treasures in the Darkness: Seeing God’s Hand in My Bout with Cancer

Written by Linda Tan, Malaysia

In early August 2020, I noticed a mark on my right breast. It looked like a small, insect bite, but somehow I had a feeling it wasn’t that. It didn’t itch, and it wasn’t painful, but there was a small indentation which worried me.

The next day, I went to see a gynaecologist, which led to an ultrasound, a mammogram, and then a biopsy. Finally, it was confirmed: the lump was malignant.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The news left me feeling distressed and devastated.

But this is not a story of sadness or of despair; instead it is a story of hope, joy, and peace, as God revealed how real He is and how He is indeed a God of miracles.

 

A Glimmer of Hope

A week after my diagnosis, I woke up in a hospital room and felt a wave of desperation engulf me. I looked down and saw two tubes sticking out of my right rib. Tears welled up in my eyes as the surgeon’s words rang in my ears.

I had just had a mastectomy the night before. The surgeon had said that if I awakened to find two tubes sticking out of my right side, it would mean that my lymph nodes were also involved.

As I felt pain coursing throughout my body, thoughts of chemotherapy ran through my mind. Then fear, like nothing I had ever experienced before, gripped my heart. In that moment, I realised how small, finite, and powerless I was as a human being.

After a few minutes, I reached for my phone and chanced upon a video entitled “Treasures in the Darkness” by Kay Warren. The title of the video references Isaiah 45:3, in which God says, I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

In the video, Kay spoke of how we can find treasures—hope—in the unexpected places of darkness or the painful places of suffering where we would very much like not to be. For her, it was in the midst of grieving her son’s death that she discovered God could bring forth unexpected good from her pain.

As I listened on, I felt as if God had spoken to me in a still, small voice. In that moment, the peace of God came upon me. It was the kind of peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:6)—a still, quiet peace that reassured me that no matter what happens, things are going to be okay, and I could still find hope and refuge even in the darkest place. I thought of Jesus, the Son of God, who experienced suffering when He lived on earth. And it reminded me that God is always personally involved in our suffering and pain.

 

Seeing God’s Hand in My Darkness 

My breast surgeon had told me during the pre-surgery consultation that looking at the reports from the biopsy, she thought I had Luminal B cancer (Luminal A cancers tend to grow more slowly than Luminal B cancers, and have a better prognosis). She also said that based on the biopsy report and her physical examination, the tumour was at least 2 cm in diameter (note: to be categorised as Stage 1, the tumour should be 2 cm or less in diameter, all other factors considered).

My family and I cried out to God during those dark days, and miracles happened. After the mastectomy, my test results came back as Luminal A, and the tumour was found to be under 2 cm—at 1.9cm.

Still, I was deeply saddened at the thought of possibly going through chemotherapy. After my surgery, my surgeon provided me with three oncologists to choose from. As I didn’t know whom to choose, my family and I prayed again that God will lead us to the one most suitable for me.

On my first consultation with my oncologist, my sisters and I asked him if there were alternative treatments. He told us that chemotherapy and hormonal therapy were the common courses of treatment after surgery. But then, he mentioned a test—Oncotype DX test, which predicts how likely breast cancer would recur after surgery as well as the likely benefit of having chemotherapy. That test, combined with other features of the cancer, can help a cancer patient make a more informed decision about whether or not to have chemotherapy.

However, not every cancer patient was a candidate for the Oncotype DX test. And so, praise God, because my results from the earlier tests showed that I was a candidate.

 

The Surprising Way God Works Through Our Pain

On the day I was to get the Oncotype result, I got up early and kneeled down to pray. In the quiet hours of that morning, I told God that no matter the result, I will accept it, and leave everything in His hands. Before this, I’d felt that I had been twisting God’s hands, forcing Him to give me the result I wanted. I told God that I will still love Him, serve Him, and obey Him. Even though I didn’t know what to expect, God knew.

My Oncotype DX test came back with a low recurrence score, concluding that chemotherapy would have no apparent benefit for me, and that all I would need is hormonal therapy (this works only with HER2-negative breast cancer and I was HER2-negative!). Another miracle.

As part of the hormonal therapy, I was given Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen pill. Tamoxifen is said to be associated with higher risk of endometrial cancer for women who have not had a hysterectomy. But guess what—five years ago, I had a hysterectomy. At that time, I didn’t understand why I had to suffer from fibroids, which eventually led me to undergo surgery. But God knew how the hysterectomy was going to play a part five years later.

Mining the Treasures from My Ordeal

I continued to experience God’s peace in the weeks of recovery that followed. Throughout the ordeal, I held on to this one verse: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 KJV). Even though I’ve certainly had moments of sadness and physical pain, knowing what God has done and continues to do has helped me remain hopeful and grateful.

I am also thankful to have such a strong support system, especially my family, to help me get through each day. For many weeks, my family would gather for nightly prayer meetings. Going through this battle together gave us the opportunity to rebuild our family altar, something we used to do when my sisters and I were young but had abandoned as we grew up. My family looked after me throughout my convalescence and encouraged me to fix my eyes on God at all times.

I share my story to encourage those diagnosed with cancer, caregivers, family members and other readers keep a positive outlook about what they are going through. As I continue to recover and live my life, I see how God’s grace remains sufficient, and I can confidently say that God will see us through; He will give us the courage and the strength for every pain and trial we endure.

 

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