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The picture-perfect family was a pipe dream when Jen Wang was diagnosed with advanced cancer while pregnant with her second child. But knowing that her two children, Jill and Josh, were God-ordained, gave Jen "the fight to live". All photos courtesy of Jen Wang.

February 22, 2016. I was 5½ weeks pregnant with my second child.

Having experienced severe morning sickness during my first pregnancy, when I threw up an average of 10 times a day throughout the first and second trimesters, I felt confident I would be able to face the challenge of possibly another difficult pregnancy.

But I was wrong.

This time round I could not eat, drink, nor even swallow my saliva. The thought, smell or sight of food, even light and noise, would send me running to the toilet gagging. I was constantly dizzy and vomited on average 30 to 40 times a day.

As a result the skin in my throat tore and I vomited blood. I lost 9% of my body weight within three weeks and was weak and emaciated.

My family and friends were worried for my health and the health of my baby. It seemed like with each passing day, I was getting worse and worse.

I spent every day locked up in my room in darkness waiting for time to pass. I was terribly lonely and time seemed to stand still.

My gynaecologist diagnosed me with HG – Hyperemesis Gravidarum – the most severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. The condition could lead to ketosis and weight loss of more than 5% of pre-pregnancy weight, and in some cases even death.

I was sent to the hospital for IV fluids several times.

Inexplicable pain

In the 14th week of my pregnancy, I started having pains in my right flank. At first it was a persistent, achy sort of pain, which I wrote off as yet another woe of pregnancy.

Then came stabbing pains that caused me to convulse and collapse to the floor.

I was rushed to the A&E three times, but they could not figure out why I was exhibiting such symptoms. Blood and urine tests showed I had ketones in my urine and that I was malnourished.

I tried to find answers that would allay my fears but to no avail. I felt desperate.

But what was with that stabbing pain? No answers.

The pain became worse each day until I could barely walk. I even had trouble breathing. My husband suggested I see a urologist; he had a hunch it was kidney stones. Taking his heed, I made an appointment to see one.

The urologist did an MRI (note: MRIs or any scans should be avoided during pregnancy, but I went ahead without contrast injected into my veins). He found, not a kidney stone, but a 4cm by 3cm tumour pressing onto my ureter.

My right kidney was swollen and couldn’t drain out urine due to the blockage. This was causing the stabbing pains.

I was advised to remove the tumour via surgery.

That night, I could not sleep. I Googled like a fanatic. I repeatedly typed in my symptoms and tried to find answers that would allay my fears but to no avail.

The fear was palpable. I felt desperate. My family and I came together to pray to God for help and direction.

Two surgeries

The first procedure I underwent was to place a stent into my ureter to drain out the urine from my right kidney. To protect my baby from the harm of exposure, the doctors ruled out X-rays and instead used ultrasound technology, which had a 70% success rate.

I was wheeled out of the operating theatre after 2½ hours and told I could be discharged the next day. But I still suffered the stabbing pains. It was unbearable.

Perplexed, my urologist and gynaecologist discussed at length the next step for me. They both felt it best to remove the tumour before I entered my third trimester.

My husband told me: “It has been found that you have cancer, and it is very aggressive.”

Hence, the second surgery. The objective was to remove the tumour that was resting on my ureter. The operation was to last 2½ hours.

My family and close friends ended up waiting in my ward for six hours. They were very worried.

The doctors finally assembled them all and informed that only two-thirds of the tumour could be removed. The rest of it was too gummed down to my ureter, common iliac, nerves and psoas muscle. They also went on to say that the tumour had been tested and was malignant.

Through pathology reports, they understood that this tumour was not the origin of the cancer. The cancer had spread from elsewhere in my body and was already at an advanced stage. I would have to be put through various tests to find its primary location.

My family kept the news from me that night as they wept in secret.

The next day, they gathered around my bed and my husband told me: “They only managed to remove part of the tumour. It has been found that you have cancer, and it is very aggressive.”

Death at my door

I was strangely calm. 

A deep realisation beset my heart; I was convinced that I had been prepared by God for this trial.

Prior to becoming a stay-home mother after my son was born, I was a Public Education Executive at the Singapore Cancer Society. The topic of cancer was not taboo to me.

A deep realisation beset my heart; I was convinced that I had been prepared by God for this trial.

I did, however, think a lot about death from that point and what I should be doing in preparation for it so that I could ease the transition for my family – things like writing a will, filing our documents, approaching extended family members to get their assurance that they’d help raise my children with my husband.

I felt sad for my parents. As a young parent myself, I could finally understand how intensely they loved me. I wondered how much they were suffering, seeing me in pain and knowing I had cancer.

“The cancer was already at an advanced stage,” Jen’s family and friends were told. A weakened Jen relied on their strength and support during this time.

I felt sorry for my husband as well as my parents-in-law. We had been married for merely three years. Being presented with this news must have been so difficult for them.

I felt the anguish of my siblings and their spouses as they cried out to God for help. I knew how passionately they loved and were protective of me.

I felt grateful for my friends and the friendships we had shared through the years and was sorry that I might not share in more moments with them.

Lastly, I felt great sadness for my children – Joshua, my firstborn, and Jill, my unborn child. Imagining them having to fend for themselves without a mother just broke my heart.

So many nights I cried myself to sleep.

Sent: An oncologist

By this time, I was very emotionally attached to my team of surgeons. They were so committed to my well-being and were also praying for a miracle. Now I had to find a suitable oncologist to add to their number.

Despite being in immense pain, I consulted two, and learnt that being pregnant with advanced cancer was rare. There was no data to help in making decisions on a treatment plan. Even trying to tap on worldwide case studies was futile as those documented were not similar.

God had placed it emphatically on my heart: “Do not lay a hand on this child.”

According to the scans, we were dealing with two malignant tumours – the primary tumour in my colon and the secondary, in my peritoneum. I was given three months to two years to live.

My doctors all respected my wanting to keep my baby although, medically, it was most sound to abort and seek treatment immediately. It was of great concern to me that my treatment plan would be fully tailored towards my baby’s well-being, as God had placed it emphatically on my heart: “Do not lay a hand on this child.”

Before I could even select an oncologist, I was readmitted into the hospital for excruciating stabbing pains in the back.

Blood was taken and a second MRI showed that the tumour had grown back in size just days after the surgery. It was yet again attacking my nerves and muscles.

That same day I was introduced to a third oncologist. He told me that as a doctor he had the duty to advise me to abort my baby for the best chance of survival. He teared when he saw my baby through the MRI. I could tell that he was broken. He had a lot of compassion, but he gave me the brutal information without mincing his words.

I knew in my heart that God had selected this doctor to journey with me.

Messengers from God

All the choices offered to me were metaphorically a cup of poison:

  1. To remove the tumour again to buy time through radical surgery might result in the loss of my baby; or both of us could die.
  2. Chemotherapy was not guaranteed to reduce or halt the tumour’s growth. The chemo drugs could potentially kill or deform my baby.
  3. I could choose to wait till my baby was born before embarking on treatment.

The third option was the worst, as the cancer was so aggressive that it was now threatening to bridge my womb.

I broke down and cried out for mercy. I asked God to tell me what to do and I would do it. I asked Him for clarity. Amidst all the well-meaning advice, what was most important to me was what He wanted me to do.

“Rock flower”: God sent word that Jen’s baby would thrive despite the harsh conditions she would be put through.

In my dilemma God sent a prayer warrior from my church, whom I did not know personally, to give His instructions. She came to visit me in the hospital with two messages. Her first was a command from the Lord:

I set about to trust and obey, and just face each day with faith and hope, leaning on His instruction and Word.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Her second was a revelation. God had told her to tell me that my baby would be like a “rock flower” and would thrive despite the harsh conditions she would be put through.

I decided to go through chemotherapy.

The next day, God sent another stranger to encourage and reassure me. A God-fearing sister-in-Christ, accompanied by her sister, visited me. She shared that she was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer whilst pregnant eight years before, and that she had undergone chemotherapy.

She showed me a picture of her son who had grown into a healthy and energetic eight-year-old. It took my breath away to realise how God, in His providence, was leading me step by step so meticulously.

I set about to trust and obey and just face each day with faith and hope, leaning on His instruction and Word.

What would happen to Jen and how will her baby respond to her chemotherapy? Read Part 2 of Jen Wang’s story on Salt&Light tomorrow.

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“God worked a great miracle for Freddy”: How prayer helped heal son of former Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo

“My soul was shattered”: A widower’s journey of grief, strength and hope

“Many go through suffering to find God. But God found me first to prepare me for suffering”: He testified till his last breath

About the author

Jen Wang

Jen is down-to-earth and treasures relationships. In her free time she relishes sharing a chuckle and great conversation with friends and family. She has been serving at home as a full-time homemaker to her devoted husband and two adorable children for the past nine years. To God be the glory!