Andrew Hui: I’m 32 and I’m Dying

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
Written By Janice Tai, Singapore 

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.

Why me? 

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.

Why now?

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.

 

Andrew with his mum in Jeju in December 2018. This was his last overseas holiday. 

Andrew with his family members, including his niece Naomi, in April 2019.

 

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.

 

Andrew with his accapella group, reaching out to grassroots organizations during one of their carolling sessions.

 

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.

Andrew and friends helping to plant a children’s shelter in Banchang, Thailand.

 

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.”

 

Screenshot of Andrew’s Facebook status on 16 August 2019

Want to let Andrew’s family know how his story has impacted you? Leave a comment below with a prayer or word of encouragement!

Tom Nearing: Into the Light

Tom Nearing knows what life looks like holding on to a secret. When Tom had a revelation at 18 years old about a childhood trauma, this new knowledge only added to the shame and disconnection from God that he was already experiencing. This would eventually lead Tom to a breaking point where he found himself at the end of himself: almost homeless and living a purposeless life.

And yet despite this, Tom also knows what life looks like with the realization of God’s overwhelming love, forgiveness and acceptance.

Watch Tom’s journey from shame and secrets to forgiveness and acceptance through relationship with a loving God.

Heidy Quah: Giving Up University to Serve Refugees

Written By Priscilla Goy, Singapore

The turning points in our lives often come when we least expect them. For Heidy Quah, 24, it was after secondary school in 2012, when she was only 18 years old, and had time to spare before going to college and wanted to do something productive.

After searching for volunteering opportunities, Heidy and her best friend Andrea Prisha decided to teach English for four months at a Burmese refugee school in Sungei Besi, a town in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At the time, Heidy’s main interests were in arts and crafts, baking and hanging out with friends. She was going to pursue a degree in accounting and finance, and planned to work for one of the “Big Four” accounting firms.

Heidy Quah with RFTR co-founder Andrea Prisha

But it was at the school that the children “taught me how to love as Jesus loves us,” says Heidy.

“I was just a teacher, but they scrambled to give me their best. They drank tap water, but they made sure to buy me bottled water. Once, an eight-year-old girl with bracelets picked the most beautiful one and gave it to me. It may not seem much, but she was giving her best to me.”

This was in stark contrast to some companies who donated items to the school. “They were giving their trash—clothes with period stains, coffee stains, all sorts of stains; expired milk powder; old undergarments. Perhaps to them, giving something is better than giving nothing,” she says.

“We throw around the word ‘love’ quite loosely when we say words like ‘I love you’, but to what extent do we go for a person? The children loved in such a big way, they loved so differently.”

Towards the end of her four-month stint, the school’s headmaster told her and Andrea that the school would be closed as their funding from the United Nations Refugee Agency would not be renewed. Heidy says: “I was going to pursue higher education, but here were children who were going to be robbed of their only access to education.”

So the duo raised funds for the school, turning to social media and going door to door to sell cookies. Within a week, they had raised enough money to keep the school open for six months. They then set up Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR).

In September, RFTR marked its sixth anniversary. It now supports 35 schools—10 in Malaysia and 25 in Myanmar—which care for 2,000 children in total. RTFR connects the schools with aid and resources such as volunteer teachers, syllabus help and fund-raising.

 

Overcoming Loneliness and Self-Doubt

Last year, Heidy was named the sole Malaysian winner of the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award for her work with refugees. She was among 60 winners, selected from thousands of applicants across the Commonwealth, to be recognized for “taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives.” Heidy received the award from none other than Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

And in June this year, she joined politics, becoming a member of the Democratic Action Party (DAP). The conversations she had with other winners of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award sparked her interest in politics, as many of them wanted to be in a position to make changes in their communities.

But Heidy’s journey in helping refugees began as a lonely one, with much self-doubt, no thanks to older adults who asked when she would get a “real job”. Setting up a new organization and having it formally registered was something that Heidy and Andrea had never done before, and they could not rely on their peers to learn how to navigate through the amount of paperwork required.

They also had to overcome language barriers and learn the Chin dialect and Burmese language in order to communicate with the children. “I used to stay up almost the entire night preparing lesson materials in two languages, just to communicate with the kids. But I am thankful that they speak really fluent English now and the years of hard work paid off,” Heidy says.

 Andrea and Heidy were often reminded of their lack of experience. Heidy says: “I’ll try to convince people that I knew what I was doing, but I would go home and struggle with self-doubt. Are we seriously doing this? Why are we doing this?”

In those moments, she would hold on to God’s call upon her life. “It’s important to know my identity and worth—is it found in the comments of man or what God has called me to do?

“I’ve been very aware that our work with refugees is a calling. We’ve seen God’s hand so clearly, that we know it’s God’s grace. When we have child-like faith and take that step of obedience, He’ll never leave you stranded. As long as it’s His will, He’ll continue to cover the bills.”

Sure enough, God sent various people to support them through different hurdles, and opened many doors for them. The process of registering RFTR, for instance, went smoothly despite it being set up by young co-founders who were clueless on how to register an NGO.

 

Overcoming the Fear of Missing Out

 After registering RFTR as an organization, running RFTR was still a huge challenge for Heidy, especially in their first year of operations. Heidy says: “There was a huge disconnect between my peers and me. It was frustrating on so many levels. Their conversations were revolving around J-Pop, K-Pop.”

“The RFTR work is difficult sometimes. There are days when I feel like I’m missing out on things that other young people do—they have more free time and can juggle a much smaller load of stress—and it can get lonely. I follow their InstaStories and sometimes think that I’ve got zero life and have not had a break in the longest time.

“But I chose this life, which has its perks and its sacrifices. I also love spending time with the kids, being on the ground with the community. So, in a sense, I have not missed out much either.”

RFTR work is less lonely now, with her team of volunteers. She has also had many supportive friends who volunteered with RFTR.

The moments of struggling with FOMO (fear of missing out) and other challenges in running RFTR are real, she admits. “But every time I spend time with God, He realigns my perspective and reminds me that He’ll bring me through.”

 

Heidy Quah (extreme left) with members of the RFTR core team and refugee children

 

Living Out Her Dreams

Thinking back on her journey so far, Heidy says she had recurring dreams of herself on stage for a year, before she accepted Christ into her life when she was 11 years old.

“I didn’t know then that people gave talks on stage. I thought I was going to be a performer, like a singer or dancer. I spent the next six to seven years wondering what the dream was about,” she says. She also used to speak so little that her parents thought she needed speech therapy.

Heidy now understands what those dreams meant. She has been granted not only opportunities to give talks on human trafficking, refugees and youth empowerment, but also opportunities to preach and share the love of Christ.

And God has continued guiding her as she leads RFTF. She says: “He gives me new vision for the work, shows me what needs to be done, who I need to speak to, in the everyday of spending time with Him.”

The visions get bigger and bigger, she says. “Each time I feel that we can’t go any further, because we’re already covering so much, He tells me to be humble and obedient, that it’s His plans and not mine.”

Over the years, she has also felt God leading her to venture into politics, in order to work with authorities to change laws and policies.

 

From NGO Founder to Politician

The life of DAP politician Hannah Yeoh is a great inspiration to Heidy. In 2013, Hannah became Malaysia’s first female and youngest speaker in a state parliament at the age of 34. In the general election in May 2018, she won the Segambut parliamentary seat and is now the country’s Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development.

 

Heidy Quah with Hannah Yeoh

 

Heidy says: “There isn’t one thing that Hannah did that stands out for me; they are all amazing feats. But the very fact that she’s always been grounded in her faith and clear in her calling inspires me.

“Hannah went into politics without knowing what politics was about. She portrayed obedience to chase after God.”

But Heidy also had her doubts about politics: she only agreed to join the DAP after being approached twice.

“The first time, I had confirmations but they didn’t come with peace. There was a lot of support from friends, but I felt God was saying ‘not yet’,” she says. She spent a year thinking about her decision before agreeing to join politics after she felt peace. She hopes to “elevate the voice of refugees”, influence policies that would protect refugees and migrant workers, and address issues of human trafficking, child abuse and child marriage.

Asked about her advice for young people, she says it boils down to following God’s call. “Find your identity in Christ and understand where your worth lies. Know your why. Many of us get so caught up chasing what the world wants, instead of asking God what He wants us to do,” she says.

“Catch on the urgency to do more for Christ. Don’t wait until Sunday; there’s so much more we can do. You’re never too young to make a difference.”

Thompson: Why Am I Battling Depression?

“Why am I this way?” The question had played through Thompson’s mind many times. He had seen others healed from their depression and anxiety. He had been prayed for numerous times. When healing didn’t come, he wondered if it was his fault. He felt like it was out of his control.

Hear Thompson’s story as he shares about his journey with depression and anxiety along with the insights he discovered on the way about himself, about God, and about the church.

 

 

For more stories on depression:

I Have Depression And This Is What I Want You to Know
Letter to A Depressed Christian
Why Am I Depressed?