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Steadfast through the Valley

One Friday in May 2019, my whole world came crashing down.

Everything was pointing north for me at the time — success in my business, a happy family — what else did I have ahead, but a good life? I saw it as a reward for almost half a century of hard work.

Born in 1966, I grew up in a very ordinary family. I was not the hardworking sort, so my school years were nothing to boast about. It was not until after completing National Service in 1991 that I finally found my place in graphic design at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, and took to it like a fish to water. It felt like an awakening for a 25-year-old who had until then been half a beat behind his peers!

Then came the pursuit of a career. To make up for ‘lost time’, I put in extra hours, working so hard that my girlfriend left me as I had no time for her. As a result, I was single for many years.

No loss though — God makes everything beautiful in His time. At 32, I started my own business and five years later, married my lovely wife. Business then took centre stage, and it was only after 11 years that we had our son. By the time I turned 52, life was looking good for our family.

Devastating news

One day in May 2019, I was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer. Totally unprepared for this, my wife and I were gripped by fear and uncertainty. Making our way home with those scan pictures was a horrifying experience and it felt like the longest journey we had ever taken. Combing the Internet, we found no answers, only despair. We said nothing to each other, and nothing we read brought consolation to our hearts.

My prayer wasn’t a cry for help, but of gratitude and thanksgiving. I thanked the Lord for giving me life for more than 50 years, a happy family, an adorable child and for everything. Lastly, I told God that I was willing to lay down all the heavy burdens and commit my life to Him. We understood one truth — that God is the one who gives life. And that night, we slept peacefully and securely.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32). What an experience of this promise - we were set free! God replaced my fear with His peace.

After that, things moved quickly. I underwent surgery to remove part of my colon in mid-May. During the recovery stage, we decided that my wife should go for a detailed medical checkup. Our son was only four years old, so we couldn't afford for both of us to be sick. These checkups revealed that she had a heart issue and high blood pressure; a lump in her breast and thyroid cancer. Our anxiety got worse. We consulted many doctors and ENT surgeons, but were left confused as different doctors gave different opinions.

God’s gracious provision

During this fraught period, we somehow managed to meet up with an old medical professor. I would consider this a divine appointment and God’s providence. In the midst of the chaos, God took care of me via the hand of this doctor who saw my wife. When he found out about my medical history and assessed our family’s situation, he took a special interest in my case. He felt that my health issues were urgent and warranted immediate attention. Although I had been cleared by my previous doctor of colon cancer, the professor recommended that I see an oncologist and go for further assessments. So, by the end of May, I started a six-month oral chemotherapy treatment.

The professor systematically ran through the steps and priorities of my wife’s treatment. Her blood pressure must first be lowered. The lump in her breast was removed and found to be benign. She then underwent thyroid surgery. Although the surgery could have involved removal of the entire thyroid, only half of her thyroid was removed; hence there was no need for her to take replacement hormone tablets for the rest of her life.

The doctors in my church also graciously did a lot of research for us, equipping us with lots of helpful information.

There were many worries during this period of time. However, there was no fear. As Philippians 4:6 commands, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Peace in the turmoil

Undergoing chemotherapy was a process filled with anguish and misery from the side effects of the treatment. However, those were the days when love prevailed, in the form of home-made soups and barley drinks and prayers. Church members generously continued loving me, even up till today. They organized a prayer chain and a chat group to encourage me. A medical doctor among them rendered great help, and they thoughtfully took care of my concerns. I did not have to walk alone. Supportive colleagues stood in for me so that I could rest and recuperate. All this was my first-hand experience of 1John 3:18: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

Oh, how God loves me! About 30 years ago, God saved me — I received the gospel, my Saviour Jesus Christ, the Bible. Now Christian friends and loving relationships were a pillar of strength for me – for such a time such as this. The power of God’s love came through the hands and feet of His children!

Despite the six-month chemotherapy treatment, cancer had spread to my liver, and it was diagnosed as stage 4. We were downhearted but God gave us joy in place of our sadness. We had to apply again what we have learnt in May by bringing all our anxieties before God. Our hearts were filled with thanksgiving as we managed to go on a one-week vacation in Taiwan. When we returned, I began a stronger dose of chemotherapy. However, when the treatment failed to shrink the tumour in the third month, I underwent another surgery to remove more than half of my liver. Another miracle took place during surgery. The surgeon had removed the tumour, however, he then touched the remaining part of my liver and noticed something unusual, and hence removed another portion of my liver. Just two months later, my tumour markers came down, my liver regained its original size and I was able to resume chemotherapy.

Faith in the Valley of Death

The Bible says that a cheerful heart is good medicine. So, I am determined to continue fighting this battle with a cheerful heart. In August 2020, another scan discovered that the cancer had spread to my lungs. Metastatic cancer means it was no longer operable. According to the doctor, patients typically only survive 20 to 30 months.

I felt as if I had received a death sentence. This had a huge impact on me, despite the fact that I was prepared for bad news. For a few days, I was very down but then I stepped out of it - not because I had a strong will but because I received a lot of support from prayer groups. I didn’t want to fail them. With that in mind, I determined in my heart, that as long as there is breath in me, I would testify for God.

How do I live life now? I’m glad that I’ve left all my burdens with God and I live holding fast to love, faith and hope. I choose to be positive and stay active – exercise, chemotherapy, healthy juices, and Chinese herbs have become part and parcel of my daily routine.

I have this assurance from 2 Cor 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

My story hasn’t ended but I do know its ending: I will have God’s best, both in my immediate future and for eternity. This sure hope belongs to me, my family and all my Christian brothers and sisters. We will enjoy a great reunion in eternity!

Suffering makes you see God. Without that, you don’t. When I was rendered unable, I saw the Able One.

Even as I write, my cancer marker is rising lately. Chemotherapy continues. There are days when I have blisters on my hands, feet and I can’t walk properly. Sometimes, my tongue is covered in ulcers and I can’t eat my favourite spicy foods. I have my bad days.

But living with a terminal illness doesn’t necessarily rob one of peace. I have peace – because I have God. God is with me and He fills my life with peace, hope and joy. Almost at every junction of my journey, miracles have taken place — involving people like the doctors, surgeons, and friends whom He has brought into my path. God does not change and I am certain that my unchangeable God will also be the same God for each one of us who believes in Him!

Yeo Yeok Chuan enjoys brewing and drinking tea, from Taiwan Oolongs to Wuyi Rock Tea, and from Hokkien Tieguanyin to Yun Nan Puer. They are best paired with music spinning from his little vinyl records collection.

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