“My wailing was unrecognisable”: A father’s grief when his 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer
by Gracia Lee // March 7, 2023, 1:03 pm
When his firstborn was diagnosed with cancer at 16, Gordon Ng often found himself grieving alone in his car. Yet, he never once felt truly alone. All photos courtesy of Gordon Ng.
When Gordon Ng’s 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, he was forced to come face to face with a kind of grief he had not known before.
In February 2020, they had found a 1-cm lump in Deborah’s neck. After months of treating it as an infection to no avail, they received the devastating news that it was Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which affects the lymphatic system, right before she was to sit for her ‘O’ level examinations.
In the weeks following the diagnosis, waves of uncontrollable grief would overwhelm Gordon at random times of the day, knocking him off his feet.
“It was a deep sadness that was manifested in this wailing that was unrecognisable. It was scary to me that it was coming out of my mouth uncontrollably,” recalled the 50-year-old, who is in market research.
This was compounded by dark and intrusive thoughts that would pop into his mind uninvited, like watching himself share a eulogy at his firstborn’s funeral.
“The mind plays the most wicked tricks on you … Those were really, really heavy days,” said Gordon, whose younger daughter, Phoebe, is 16 this year.
His sorrow was difficult to share with his wife, Mien Woon, who was grappling with her own grief as well. He also could not share it with his daughters, whom he knew were looking to him for direction and comfort.
So, he grieved by himself – often alone in his car.
A sick daughter’s grit and grace
Looking back, however, Gordon said that he felt far from alone.
“Never once did it cross my mind to give God up because of anger, or because of resentment.”
“Never once did I feel that God had abandoned me. I was at my wit’s end as to how to deal with it, but I never felt like I was alone to fend for myself,” he said, choking up with emotion.
“For me, I never asked God why this had happened. Never once did it cross my mind to give God up because of anger, or because of resentment,” he added, stressing that this was more a result of God holding on to him and his faith than him being a “super-Christian”.
From the time the lump was detected, Gordon keenly felt God’s presence throughout the gruelling trial.
Most significantly, he found His grace in the way Deborah bravely tackled her illness head-on.
When he and his wife first broke the news to her, “there was no flailing of arms or dramatic crying”, Gordon recalled. In fact, she cried for “a maximum of four minutes”.
While her parents worried about how she would feel when her hair started to fall because of the chemotherapy, Deborah was the one who resolutely decided to shave it all off, before expressing that it was not as traumatic as she had expected it to be.
She was also determined to sit for her ‘O’ level examinations and continued chugging along in her preparation, even bringing her notes with her for chemotherapy sessions. She eventually received four ‘A’s in the exams.
Throughout the 12 doses of chemotherapy she had to endure, along with their painful side effects, Deborah also maintained what Gordon described as “a very, very real ability to gauge proportion”.
Even when she was in pain so physically debilitating that she was curled up in a foetal position and could not speak, she would rate the pain – on a scale of one to 10 – no greater than five.
“I think this was where God’s grace was sufficient for me, that we had a daughter who was able to ‘just do it’. She made it less rough for us,” he said proudly.
God’s fingerprints in the valley
This was not the only place Gordon spotted God’s fingerprints.
“This was where God’s grace was sufficient for me, that we had a daughter who was able to ‘just do it’. She made it less rough.”
As they navigated the uncertainty and sorrow as a family, he also saw how God enabled him and Mien Woon to work together seamlessly and seize valuable opportunities to draw their family closer to God.
When Deborah first received the news, and in the months that followed, he made it a point to pray with her every night. He was particularly grateful that his daughter, who had grown up in church but had stopped attending regularly in her teenage years, allowed him to do so.
“We thought it was important for her to feel comforted, hopeful and held together by the fact that we are holding on to the mercies of God,” said Gordon.
Another big way he saw the presence of God was through the body of Christ, who rallied around his family in support by sending them food, praying for them and checking in on them.
When he could not share his grief with his family, his brothers-in-Christ were a firm pillar of support. After confiding in them, they would pray for him and the dark thoughts would miraculously leave.
“It was their love that sustained us,” he said. “I cannot imagine, nor can I try to figure out what else it could possibly have been. It was only the prayers of the body of Christ.”
The sure-win prayer
All these blessings were answers to the very first prayer that Gordon and Mien Woon had uttered in tears when they first received their daughter’s diagnosis in September 2020.
“May You be most glorified, and the name of Jesus most magnified … whatever the outcome.”
Apart from pleading with God to grant Deborah healing and a long life, they had also humbly submitted: “May You be most glorified, and the name of Jesus most magnified, even in the midst of everything that is happening, whatever the outcome.”
Asked what prompted him to say such a prayer, Gordon said: “This is the sure-win prayer. Bet on this sure win and you’ll never come out a loser.
“God will always be glorified. The only thing that can change is that I may not be in the equation. So I said, ‘Let us be a part of it. Let us be witnesses to Your magnificence, Your beauty. Even if things don’t go the way we had hoped, You will comfort us with glory.'”
In March 2021, after seven months of treatment, doctors declared Deborah to be in full remission. Now 19 and preparing to enter local university, she has been cancer-free for two years – something that Gordon is extremely thankful for.
“I feel we were given the easier answer – and thank God for that. The alternative would have been unbearable,” said Gordon.
Yet he knows that Deborah’s story, along with that of his family’s, is yet to be complete.
This is why his “sure-win prayer” remains steadfastly on his lips as he grapples with the anxiety of a possible relapse, as well as the other uncertainties of life.
Come what may, he is holding fast to the good God that he has learnt to trust since he was a youth.
He said: “If God is God, that quality or aspect of who He is doesn’t change because something awful has happened in my life.”
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