Lee Hwee Ling had just celebrated her 30th birthday when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. All photos courtesy of Lee Hwee Ling.

"If God has already done something so great for me as to send Jesus to the cross, then I really don't have anything to be worried about," says Hwee Ling. All photos courtesy of Lee Hwee Ling.

“Huh? But I’m only 30 years old!” Sitting in a hospital bed, Lee Hwee Ling could scarcely believe the words that had just tumbled out of her fiancé’s mouth.

She knew that cancer ran in the family – many of her paternal relatives had been stricken by the disease. It was something she always knew she had to be prepared for.

But at 30? And Stage 4?

Just an hour before, she had texted her fiancé, Bob, to tell him how much she wished she could be discharged soon. All she wanted was for everything to “go back to normal”.

But he had arrived that September morning with the gut-wrenching news – that life as she knew it would never return.

A wrench in the plans

She was supposed to be in the prime of her life, having just celebrated her 30th birthday less than a month ago.

Her wedding was just a month away. The vendors were all booked. Their resale flat was bought. Renovations were underway.

Hwee Ling and Bob after he proposed in September 2019.

Hwee Ling and Bob after he proposed to her in September 2019, after three years of courtship.

She was looking forward to building a life and a family with Bob, her best friend with whom she had been for four years. 

She was also blessed with a close-knit family and had a job as a recruitment consultant which she loved. “Life was quite smooth-sailing,” she said.

There were cancer cells in her appendix and ovaries. And they were spreading.

But not for long.

On her birthday last year – August 22 – she developed a fever and an awful stomach ache which persisted for a week.

At first, she did not think too much about it. She had tested negative for both dengue and Covid-19, and figured that her stomach ache was due to the gastrointestinal reflux disorder that she had been diagnosed with in 2015.

But when her stomach became bloated to the point that she could not walk properly, she checked herself into the accident and emergency department.

After being put through a series of tests and scans, she had hoped her condition would be resolved quickly. But the results were far from encouraging – there were cancer cells in her appendix and ovaries. And they were spreading.

Prevailing peace

After getting over the initial shock, Hwee Ling said she switched into “game mode”, focusing on gearing herself up to go through any treatment that needed to be done.

While she did grieve and ask God why she had to suffer this way, she never dwelled too long in these moments – something which surprised herself and those around her.

“I’m generally quite an emotional person. Among my four sisters, they call me the princess, like the weakest one. I think they were surprised that I handled it with less emotion than they expected me to. I was surprised too,” she said.

Hwee Ling is particularly thankful for her mother and three sisters, who have been her "pillar" through this difficult time.

The second of four sisters, Hwee Ling (back row, right) is particularly thankful for her family, who has been her “pillar” through this difficult time. Her father passed away in 2015.

She attributes this uncharacteristic strength to an inexplicable “sense of peace in me knowing that my fate is in the hands of my Maker,” she said.

Shrouded in this peace, she plunged right into chemotherapy about a week later, enduring its horrid side effects of fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and hair loss. 

Through it all she only asked God for two things: Strength to endure the pain, and peace to trust in Him.

Refined in the fire

Hwee Ling has since been through seven cycles of chemotherapy. Last November, she underwent a major 19-hour surgery to remove her appendix, womb, gallbladder and spleen.

“Cancer really teaches you that there’s nothing you can do to control your situation.”

It was “a huge success”, she said, adding that doctors managed to remove 97% to 98% of the cancer cells. She is now focusing on getting through three more cycles of chemotherapy to get rid of what is left.

“It’s been a whirlwind. Life can change so much in four months,” she said. “Cancer really teaches you that there’s nothing you can do to control your situation.”

She has had to entrust her life completely to God who, in the midst of her suffering, has proven to be “good no matter what”.

“Sometimes I do feel like, God, how can you do this to me man? But I think at the end of the day, I know that God has been there through each step of the way,” she said.

She sees Him when she counts her blessings – from her skilful team of doctors and her successful surgery to supportive friends and understanding bosses.

Hwee Ling, seen her going through chemotherapy, has had unwavering support from Bob and her sisters.

“God has surrounded me with people who really care. They have been reminding me of the Gospel and encouraging me to keep going, which is great especially on certain days when I feel super down,” she said.

Even though her physical health has deteriorated, she has never been spiritually healthier, she said.

“I believe God is refining me and I am thankful that this has also brought me closer to Him. In crying out to God for help, praying for strength and comfort, I have experienced God like never before.”

Assurance of salvation

Nevertheless, she is not sure how long more she has to live.

“In crying out to God for help, praying for strength and comfort, I have experienced God like never before.”

Given the unique factors in her case, such as her young age and the presence of a recessive gene carrying a rare blood disorder, there is not much research or data that can help to predict her life expectancy. 

There is a very real possibility that she may have to live with the cancer for the rest of her life, she said.

“Though I’ve learnt that there’s only so much I can worry about, I definitely still worry. Sometimes I think: How long more am I going to be here? Is the cancer going to come back very aggressively?”

"The assurance of salvation has never been more true and more real," said Hwee Ling, pictured here after her major 19-hour surgery last November.

“The assurance of salvation has never been more true and more real,” said Hwee Ling, pictured here after her major 19-hour surgery last November.

When these thoughts come, she turns to the hope of the Gospel. In particular, she takes comfort in Romans 8:18, which reminds her that her suffering is temporal and something greater awaits her after death.

It is a comforting truth that rang true for her too when her father passed away suddenly in 2015 from a brain haemorrhage.

“Knowing that Jesus has already won the fight for me – that has been very reassuring in moments of darkness.”

“His passing helped me to understand that while death is painful, we have so much to be thankful for, knowing that we have already been saved,” she said.

“The assurance of salvation is something that has never been more true and more real. Knowing that Jesus has already won the fight for me – that has been very reassuring in moments of darkness.”

In the meantime, she has better learnt to appreciate life, even the little things like fresh air and the sun, which she does not get to experience during long hospital stays.

“There’s so much to be thankful for, a lot of things we take for granted. Living with cancer has taught me to cherish every moment, whether it’s five years, ten years, however long I have more.”

And with that she soldiers on, entrusting the remainder of her days into the hands of a God whom she knows loves and cares for her.

“If God has already done something so great for me as to send Jesus to the cross, then I really don’t have anything to be worried about.”


What happened to Hwee Ling and Bob’s wedding? Find out here.


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About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer at Salt&Light. When she's not working, you will probably find her admiring nature or playing Monopoly Deal with her little brother.

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