“I don’t want my life to be a sob story. I want it to be a story that brings Him glory,

“I don’t want my life to be a sob story. I want it to be a story that brings Him glory," said Dr Shanti Mugunen, who lives with a chronic illness. All photos courtesy of Shanti Mugunen.

Dr Shanti Mugunen is familiar with hospitals, but not in the way one would expect.

“As a toddler, I was admitted several times a year for asthma. When I was nine years old, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D),” said the Malaysian doctor.

The T1D diagnosis was life-changing for her as a child. At the time, it was not common in Asia and general awareness of the condition was low.

All Shanti understood was that she needed multiple injections daily and that she could not take sugar for the rest of her life.

“I felt like this alien, abnormal, broken person. I was made to feel that what I had was shameful. So I tried my hardest to be normal and perfect,” she said.

A childhood of secrets and shame

Needing multiple injections a day to keep her blood sugar levels under control, Shanti drew attention from others wherever she went.

“There is value in everything He allows us to go through.”

“Growing up with low self-esteem, you don’t want pity or negative attention. So I always tried to hide my condition by going to public restrooms (not ideal due to its often unhygienic state) for the injections,” she recalled.

When out in public, she would not control her diet and even skip injections.

These resulted in frequent hyperglycemic and hypoglycemic attacks, where blood sugar becomes too high and too low respectively, causing her to collapse on the floor or experience seizures.

“I felt so ashamed, being studied like a specimen.

“So over time, I withdrew into my shell, not leaving the house and refusing to hang out with friends,” she said.

From patient to doctor

Though she struggled with her health, Shanti did well in school and pursued her dream of becoming a doctor.

The journey was not easy as she was often seen as an inconvenience due to her health needs.

Shanti (centre) with her parents and siblings, who walked with her through the various health struggles she faced since childhood.

At times, her superiors would refuse to give her time to eat – a necessity to keep her blood sugar levels stable. She once blacked out on the floor and woke up in a hospital bed two days later.

“I had a lecturer say, ‘Anyone with a chronic illness shouldn’t be a doctor’,” Shanti recalled. “I was in and out of depression many times.”

Despite these challenges, Shanti kept her focus and obtained her medical licence. She was then posted to Kuantan, Pahang, for her housemanship.

There, she found Jesus.

Searching for the Truth

In Kuantan, a couple, who has since become parental figures in her life, introduced her to Christianity.

Having been raised in a different faith, this was the first time that she had heard about the love of Jesus, His sacrifice for her on the cross and the concept of salvation.

Flanked by her parents, siblings and spiritual parents (Joel and Ruth), Shanti celebrated finishing her Master’s in Public Health last year.

“There was no dramatic encounter, just a lot of curiosity. I started attending church, listening and learning. Everyone was teaching from the Bible, but how do we know the Bible is true?” she wondered.

For several years, she studied Christianity as a religion.

“Through the years, I started listening to and reading more apologetics, studying the history of the Bible, manuscripts and translations. Through learning, I became convinced that the Bible is legitimate and real, not just a nice story,” she said.

In 2017, Shanti gave her life to Jesus.

Plunged into a deep valley

Life after that was smooth-sailing for a while.

But in 2020, Shanti began experiencing severe pain in her body and discovered that she had spondyloarthropathy, a type of chronic joint disease. For a time, her body failed to respond to any treatment.

“You see your body deteriorating and nothing working. I was not able to work. I went to a very dark place, because the only thing I knew how to do was to be a doctor. But I was in pain 24/7. Sleeping, eating, everything just equalled pain,” she said.

Her mobility was so affected that walking became too painful and she had to use a wheelchair.

In 2020, Shanti discovered she had spondyloarthropathy. For a time, walking became too painful and she had to use a wheelchair.

To make matters worse, Shanti also experienced a heart-wrenching betrayal and abandonment by someone dear to her in the midst of her health crisis.

Taking hit after hit, a fog of depression settled around her and she struggled to understand the meaning of her life.

“I felt like I’d lost everything, that I was robbed of the life that I had. I felt like I had nothing and no one,” she said quietly.

Enveloped by hopelessness, she considered ending her life.

Receiving healing in her heart

A lifeline came in the form of her church community.

At that time, Shanti could not drive herself to church. But her church friends stepped up, taking turns to provide transport for her every week.

Shanti with her connect group. Church has been an integral part of Shanti’s story; when she was unable to drive herself to church, members would take turns to pick her up.

God also surrounded her with people who spoke words of life to her, held her hand and walked her through the most difficult season of her life thus far.

“Whenever I stepped into church, I would be bawling my eyes out. So much was going on inside. But after a time, it began to feel like home and that’s when things began to change on the inside,” she said.

Fuelled by a hunger for God, she began to pursue not His healing, but God Himself.

“I started to pursue God intentionally, and not focus on just asking for healing or a change in the circumstances I was going through. It started gradually, but then I kept getting hungrier for God, for who He is. I began to see how He has blessed and provided for me, how much I have to be thankful for,” she said with radiant eyes.

In the midst of a very painful year, God sent Shanti a strong support system in her leaders from church. “They prayed with me and journeyed with me through my stormiest times,” she said.

Pursuing God changed her life, said Shanti. He gave her hope.

“It’s so difficult to imagine having joy amid so much pain – physical, mental and emotional, but God made it possible,” she said.

“Healing starts with hope”

Through her ordeal, Shanti learned that while God’s heart is always to heal, His healing comes in different forms.

“It’s not only what’s on your medical report,” she said. “Healing starts with hope. What changed for me was my perspective, to see God’s hand in everything, to find things to be thankful for.”

She challenges believers to let go of the belief that having a chronic illness means that God is not going to heal you, or does not want to heal you. Needing medication or assistance also does not mean God is not healing you, she added.

In physiotherapy, Shanti would use an anti-gravity treadmill at times to decrease the pressure and pain on her joints.

“See healing through a much wider, broader point of view. God’s healing comes in many forms. Begin to see what He’s doing in your life, beyond the physical body,” she suggested gently.

“To go through financial struggles, betrayal, chronic illness and still have joy – the only answer is God. Jesus is my anchor.”

Seeing life through a new lens brought divine joy and peace back into her heart.

Last year, her body began responding to treatment for her spondyloarthropathy.

“Oh, the things I’m able to do today! My recent blood results have been amazing. My inflammation levels are the lowest they’ve been in the past three years. Where human skill ends, God is working,” she said.

One night last year, she chose to attend the prayer meeting in her church despite being in incredible pain. Within a few minutes, she was out of her wheelchair and dancing.

These days, the pain has been manageable and Shanti has since put the wheelchair away. She still uses her mobility aid – a single crutch – to get around, but is not as reliant on it as before.

She has also just completed her Master’s degree in Public Health and is pursuing her PhD in the same field.

A life that brings Him glory

“People always ask me, ‘How do you shine with so much joy?’ To go through financial struggles, betrayal, chronic illness and still have joy – the only answer is God. Jesus is my anchor,” Shanti said.

Letting go of the lie that God doesn’t want to heal has also been freeing, she added.

“When we see God’s healing from a broader point of view, we begin to really see what He is doing in our lives. There is value in everything He allows us to go through.”

Today, Shanti has put the wheelchair away. She has a single crutch she still uses at times, but in general is able to get around without any mobility aids.

Once a young girl with low self-esteem, Shanti is learning to see herself through the eyes of her Heavenly Father.

She now accepts that her life is different from others, but that joy and peace can coexist with suffering.

“Nobody wants to suffer, but now that it’s here, how can we live a life that glorifies God through this suffering? What does He want to teach us that can only be learned through pain, loss or grief?” she asked.

“I don’t want my life to be a sob story. I want it to be a story that brings Him glory.”


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About the author

Michelle Chun

Michelle believes in the power of the pen (or keyboard) to inspire conversation, influence change and impact people. She believes that everyone has a story, and her prayer is for every heart to discover the joy of knowing God.