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Can Cancer Be Part of God’s Plan?

Written By Debra Hunt, New Zealand

The three words you never want to hear: “Unfortunately, it’s cancer.”

I was 31 when I received my shock diagnosis. My husband and I had three small children, a mortgage, and I was working as a children’s pastor at my church.

Breast cancer was not part of my five-year plan—or any plan I’d made for my life for that matter. I was a non-smoker, reasonably fit and healthy, with no family history of breast cancer.

Despite all this, I found myself sitting in a small seasick-green room, listening to my doctor explain how far my cancer had spread. It hadn’t been caught early, and was quite advanced, so she detailed a treatment plan involving surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and 10 years of endocrine therapy*. She estimated that if I went through all this treatment, I would have a 75 percent chance of being alive in five years’ time.

Over the weeks that followed, I gradually let go of the dreams and hopes I had for the immediate future. The half marathon would have to wait. So would my goals for the church I was working at.

My life was interrupted. I found myself asking, “Why God? Why would You let this happen? Why would You allow this cancer to hold me back from the things I thought You wanted me to achieve?”

My church family prayed for me. I prayed for myself, begging God to heal me.

What I felt God say in response was that I simply needed to trust Him on this path. Yes, He could heal me, but would I trust Him even if He didn’t?

It took me a couple of weeks of wrestling with the concept, but after many tears, I realized that my response was, “YES.” Yes, I could trust God, even if He didn’t take my cancer away. The Bible says He is trustworthy, and I chose to believe it. I put my faith in Him because I knew He wouldn’t be careless with me. I leaned into a long-time favorite verse, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

I appreciated The Message’s paraphrase of this verse as well: “Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you” (1 Peter 5:7, MSG).

So, I decided to stop asking God to instantly fix me, and instead, to trust Him through the process of treatment.

 

Unexpected Blessings

What I found during my treatment, was that although it was hard, God wove blessings into the journey.

You see, when I really thought I might die, the world became insanely beautiful. Reminded of my own mortality, I drank in sights and sounds like I’d never see them again.

I would step through my door in the morning, and be struck by the sight of dew drops on leaves—the way the light filtered in through branches, or the way flowers closed up so tightly at night but opened themselves widely to the sun during the day. The beauty around me became so acute and intense that it almost hurt. Having my life threatened led me to a deeper appreciation of creation; I could see God’s artistic hand everywhere.

I was also blessed with a special closeness to Jesus. I was surprised, because I didn’t feel like walking with Him through this time was hard work . . . I felt like He actually carried me. I’m generally a bit of a pessimist and prone to negativity, but it seemed like Jesus helped me to feel more positive and upbeat than normal. Yes, it was still challenging a lot of the time, but I always could feel Him with me, and I had an unexpected peace deep in my heart.

Having cancer has also opened up some doors for me, and given me a platform from which I can share more about God’s love. I’ve been speaking at events and blogging, and that has not only helped me to process my experience, but has also allowed me to speak life and hope to a wide array of people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

 

Cancer Is Not a Good Plan

Do these good things mean that I think cancer is God’s good plan? No. No way.

When He makes everything new, there will be no more sickness and weeping (Revelation 21:4). Cancer was not God’s plan for mankind, and it won’t reign forever—He will put an end to it. But unfortunately for now, it’s here, and it affects roughly a third of people at some point in their lives.

As I continue in my fight against cancer, I know that God isn’t sitting up in heaven telling me to toughen up. He is right here with me, weeping with me at the brokenness of my body.

I know this because Jesus has compassion on His creation. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept at the destruction and sadness—even though He knew the story had a happy ending! He knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet He was overcome to the point of weeping (John 11:35). So, I know that it hurts God to see His creation suffering and being cut up, poisoned, and irradiated.

Cancer is not God’s plan. It is a result of our fallen world. But one day, Jesus will end cancer once and for all.

 

For now though, I believe God can use even this horrible disease to do wonderful and surprising things. While we may be shocked by a diagnosis of cancer, God is not. He already knows how He is going to bring about something beautiful from it. He is the one who replaces ashes with a crown of beauty, and turns mourning into dancing (Isaiah 61:3, Psalm 30:11). So we can stop fretting and trust Him with our lives. In fact, He tells us we must do this (see Matthew 6:25-27 and Philippians 4:6-7).

I’m one year out from treatment now, and I’m doing okay. I still struggle with my health, the ongoing side effects, and the anxiety of the cancer returning. But I am so grateful for all the good God has done, and will continue to do, on this journey.

Cancer, sickness, or suffering is not God’s plan for you or for any of His precious creations. If you’re currently going through a difficult time or battling illness, will you join me in trusting Him to use even the grimmest of circumstances for good?

 

* Endocrine Therapy is a hormonal treatment used to slow or stop the growth of cancer

 

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!

Don’t Waste Your Waiting

Written By Jalen Galvez, Philippines

In 2016, my mom was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.

When I heard the news, I couldn’t help but ask God why. There were many questions in my mind, and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. It was hard for me to face the situation that my family and I were going through, because it was something that we didn’t expect. Of course, my faith was shaken too. Why did it have to be my mom?

Waiting is hard, especially when we don’t know what the outcome of our prayers would be. I struggled a lot during that time, because I desperately wanted an assurance from God Himself that there was a reason and purpose for all this. I doubted Him, because I didn’t know when and how God would answer my prayers. That’s the hardest part of waiting. But as I continually sought God through prayer and His Word, He helped me realize that He was working as we waited.

Days after we found out about my mother’s condition, I was doing my personal devotion at the school library as usual. I prayed that God would reveal Himself to me through His Word, and proceeded to read my Bible. That day I happened to be reading Luke 8:40-56, where Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter. In Luke 8:50, Jesus comforts Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

Upon reading this, I was instantly comforted. I truly felt that perhaps God would heal my mother! More importantly, I was reassured that God would work through this situation and comfort us as we keep out gaze fully focused on Him—and we needn’t be afraid of our circumstances or what might happen in the future.

 

There Is A Purpose to Our Waiting

I’ve learned that in every season of waiting, God has a purpose. Romans 5:3-5 reminds us:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Our trials require us to live and depend on the grace that God provides. Through this experience, I’ve learned that every waking hour is God’s grace to us. As I opened my heart to His Word and grew in my love for the Lord, I was assured that no matter what happens, I can hold firm to the knowledge that God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

While we wait for Him to work in our lives, it is an opportunity for us to grow our patience, stretch our hearts, and surrender our lives to God. I first surrendered my life to God in 2012, when I became a Christian and was baptized. During this difficult time, I’ve had to remind myself again and again, “Hey, you’ve surrendered your whole life to Jesus, so He’s got this one covered.” I had to consciously remind myself, whatever happened, I could still put my faith in God.

Waiting is not wasting. While we pray for our desires to be answered, let us keep our eyes open to the greatness of the Lord. God’s time table might be different from ours. His plans do not need our approval. Even if we don’t know how our prayers might be answered, let us be assured that God is working behind the scenes.

Even when we feel like we are drowning in an ocean of fears, worries, and sadness, let us be reminded that God knows what He is doing with our lives. Sometimes it is only when we go through deep waters that we can look up to the One who can save us from drowning—Jesus. All that He requires of us to wait on Him with child-like faith, trusting that He is a Father who cares deeply about our lives.

My mom is currently undergoing oral chemotherapy. This is an answer to prayer, since our family hoped that she could avoid intravenous chemotherapy. This is her last session of oral chemotherapy. While she hasn’t been declared cancer-free yet, we sincerely hope that she will be fully healed! But regardless of what happens, we trust that God is in control and will be with us every step of the way.

Your grace is the only thing
That keeps me through
And patiently,
I will wait for You.