I Met God in the Face of Cancer
By Willy Pang, Singapore
I was working one day when I suddenly experienced a severe chest pain. I noticed the pain would subside if I held my breath, so I thought that it might be due to my coffee consumption. I did not expect the bouts of chest pain to come in subsequent nights, leaving me gasping for air and writhing in pain after taking a breath.
After three days, I went to see a doctor, and he prescribed some painkillers. I took one and was about to have dinner when the most severe chest pain struck, causing me to fall on the floor and start gasping for air. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
For an entire week, I was on strong painkillers and did countless of blood tests to determine the cause of my chest pains and my low white blood cells. Doctors initially suspected an unknown infection, but that didn’t match up with the low white blood cell count.
A haematologist (blood specialist) recommended that I undergo a bone marrow aspiration (BMA) test. They would insert a big needle into my hipbone to take some bone marrow fluid and a bone sample for clinical tests. The thought of it made me shudder, and I immediately rejected the idea.
I began to lose confidence in the doctors and embarked on intensive research with “All Knowing Google”, which gave me too much information but no conclusive answer. At one point, I even tried reducing my painkillers on my own, since there was no diagnosis and the pain seemed to be receding. But as it turned out, my condition had not improved at all. It was only the medicine that kept my pain at bay.
At my lowest, I remembered the “God from my school days”
Lying on that bed, with no one else to talk to and nothing else to consult, I suddenly remembered Jesus, the God of my then girlfriend (now wife), and all that I’d learnt from my missionary school days. I began to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
While praying, I thought, God, I am at a complete loss. I don’t know what to do. If You are real, can You do something to help? And as I finished praying, I felt an inexplicable peace wash over me. Through the prayer, I felt that God was in control of the situation, and that I could trust Him to deliver me.
The next morning, I told the doctors to arrange for the BMA test. But when the haematologist saw me, she decided that it wasn’t necessary and so discharged me with a direct follow-up appointment. I was overjoyed and on that very day, I accepted Jesus into my life.
However, life took a turn for the worse. Although I was able go home, my body got weaker, and I would get tired very easily. I had to have blood transfusions once a week because I was still suffering from low red blood cells. And every time I walked up the slope leading to the hospital, I would get lightheaded and would have to sit and rest.
On my fourth weekly follow-up check, the doctor told us that they found blast cells—cancer cells—in my blood. I immediately underwent the BMA test, and was prescribed chemotherapy. During the chemo session, the doctors finally told me that I had leukaemia, and needed a bone marrow transplant.
I remembered a scene I once saw on TV of a pitiful little girl who died because she could not find a donor. It dawned upon me that I might not have much longer to live.
Transplant usually involves looking into immediate siblings, and would have a 25% chance of a match; otherwise, they would look at global donor list. In the meantime, I would have to continue with chemo to keep the cancer at a manageable level.
I celebrated my birthday in the hospital
Two weeks after checking into the hospital for chemotherapy, I turned 27, and my best friend came to celebrate my birthday with me. He had been a Christian for a lot longer than I have, so when he came to share God’s Word with me, I was ready to listen. He then shared with me Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.
These verses humbled me. Most of my life had been smooth sailing, until the sickness brought to my knees. I was once again reminded of the prayer I made two months ago. I decided that if I am to meet Jesus soon, I should get to know Him better.
The entire treatment, which included three initial sessions of very harsh chemotherapy, took around 1.5 years. The transplant followed, which included an even harsher chemo treatment and a full body radiotherapy.
In the hospital, with poor internet connection and not much else to do, I had the luxury of time to read the Bible from cover to cover. It was my first time reading it, but by God’s grace, it really helped me understand what Christianity was about.
I also had the privilege to experience God’s care and providence. I had bought an insurance just a year before I learned of my condition and was able to claim for my medical bills. I also found a fitting donor in my younger brother.
With transplants, there’s a high chance of dying in the first five years if the new immune system does not recognise the host body. I had to take immunosuppressive medication to manage that transition period, which made me even weaker than I was during chemotherapy. But thankfully, I was able to recover sooner than most people, too.
This was a “Kairos” season in my life that I am tremendously grateful for. I experienced so much grace from God that the whole thing felt worthwhile.
I asked God “Why?”
After the entire ordeal, I asked God two questions:
“Why did You make me go through the entire treatment when You could have healed me in an instant?”
“Why did my friends have to pass away?” I thought of the 15-year-old girl who had been fighting for her life for three years, and the 25-year-old friend who did not make it, even though we went through the same treatment.
God revealed His answers in His own time.
In response to my first question, He showed me that I had to go through the entire treatment so that I can “show my badge” when the need arises, both as a hope and testimony to His goodness, especially to cancer sufferers.
The answer to the second question came much later, when my dad passed away in 2020. My dad grew up in a church but did not accept the Lord as his parents were Buddhists. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and lost a lot of weight. Eventually, there was suspicion that he had cancer, due to swollen lymph nodes and the pain and weakening he was experiencing.
One night, he told me that he wanted to “bury his mum” first before accepting the Lord, but he felt that his time was running out. I explained the gospel once again and that very night, he accepted Jesus.
Shortly after, my dad was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and had only three months to live. Despite Covid-19 restrictions, we managed to arrange for his mum and siblings to visit him, where he shared openly that he had received Christ. He passed away the next day.
Through that episode, I saw God’s sovereignty intertwined with His grace. I cannot decide who lives on, but I know I can trust God wholeheartedly after experiencing His limitless grace.
Whoever chances upon this article, I pray that you can “trust in the Lord with all your heart and not on your own understanding” and experience His amazing grace and “the peace that is not of this world”.
Thank you for sharing your story. Your answer to the first question reminds me of Romans 8:17 NLT: “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”