SL5-Ber&Ver@hospital

"This photo was taken during one of Verena’s chemotherapy sessions," said Bernard Gan, whose wife Verena discovered a cancerous tumour after Bernard had recovered from his own cancer. "Sharing the biscuit together, we also shared a common journey of pain and witnessing together God’s faithfulness to us and how He had blessed us with a double portion of His grace." All photos courtesy of Bernard Gan.

It was in the beginning of 2011 that I felt a divine prompting from God telling me that something was about to happen.

Life was as normal as it could be. I didn’t know what God was trying to tell me. I was still serving faithfully in church. Could it be that He wanted me to change ministry? I went on praying and asking God to lead me but there was no clear answer.

Bernard posted this photo on Facebook one day before he had a biopsy that revealed he had stage 2 nose cancer.

It was only later in July that year that I realised what an exciting journey God has prepared not only for me but also for my wife Verena.

Frozen with extreme fear

On Friday, July 1, 2011, I felt a small lump on the right side of my neck. It was neither an obvious nor a visible lump as I could only feel it when I pressed hard. It was a swelling of the lymph node, a normal bodily response to its fight against infections.

Strangely disturbed, I went to see my family GP that day. He gave me some medicine to take for a week. However, a week later, this small lump was still around.

The thoughts of dying and leaving this earth, not being able to see my family anymore completely overwhelmed me.

Feeling paranoid, I went back to him on Thursday, July 7, 2011, and was immediately referred to an ENT specialist for a biopsy. I left the clinic feeling worried and anxious. I just knew that something was not right.

The result came back the following day. I remember very clearly that moment when the doctor broke the news to me that I was diagnosed with stage 2 nose cancer. I was standing there right in front of him, frozen with extreme fear.

The thoughts of dying and leaving this earth, not being able to see my family anymore completely overwhelmed me. 

When the doctor was sharing the general statistics of survival rates of cancer, I rebuked him (in my mind) because I believed strongly that God is the only One who knows how much time I have on earth. He is above all, including cancer.

I was also thankful that God had spared me from a late detection and a later stage of cancer as nose cancer is difficult to detect. I did not know why God had allowed this storm but I was convinced that He was with me, going through this storm in my life.

Fiery arrows

That night, I couldn’t really sleep as there were just too many things running through my mind. I tried to “wake up” from this dream but I couldn’t. The reality of being diagnosed with cancer began to sink in. Everything happened so suddenly.

At about 2am, I felt led to get out of bed into my living room to pray. As I was praying, I felt suddenly that I was in the middle of a huge battlefield. There were fiery arrows firing at me from all directions. I couldn’t see where they were fired from but I knew I had to take cover.

Bernard underwent three chemotherapy sessions, each lasting about three hours. After each session, he experienced intense weakness and tiredness.

I looked around and all I could find was a shield which I later realised was the shield of faith. With the shield blocking the fiery arrows coming at me, I continued praying and calling out to God to rescue and protect me.

It was about 4am when the fiery arrows subsided and I went back to my bed and rested.

Re-calibration

One of my brothers-in-Christ, who had been praying for me, texted me with: “Just FYI. You have a potentially very curable disease.”

During Bernard’s 33 days of radiotherapy treatment, his face “was locked down in position as my body was moved into the tunnel”.

I called him immediately and found out that he was actually an oncologist who could help me with the chemotherapy treatment. Soon after, another dentist brother-in-Christ also connected with me to help me check the condition of my teeth prior to radiotherapy treatment.

“I saw the humbling of an arrogant man who lived to eat, now struggling to eat to live, and then hating to eat.”

Within a week, I started my cancer treatments of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy, and completed all treatments in three months.

During these three months, help in many forms also poured in. Some of my friends offered to fetch my kids to school and some offered financial support during the treatment period as I was the sole breadwinner in the family.

Although it was only three months of treatment, it was the most challenging and darkest moment in my life. I was totally drained physically, mentally and emotionally.

I struggled through every day with the side-effects of the treatment, the severe hurting throat, the extreme body weakness, bloated stomach, the lack of appetite and the ultimate loss of taste.

“Yet through the pain, I felt God’s presence so real and close when I was down.”

I saw the humbling of an arrogant man who lived to eat, now struggling to eat to live and then hating to eat. Eating became meaningless and painful when I lost my taste. I had to ask my wife to blend the porridge into liquid in a cup so that I could drink it.

Yet through the pain, I felt God’s presence so real and close when I was down.

I was also thankful that God had provided all that I needed, the doctors, the financial aid and the community of prayers, support and encouragement. God’s intention for this storm is not to bring me down but to re-calibrate me, and bring me back to Him.

Power of His love

Just when I “graduated” from my five years of storm in early 2016, I was faced with another storm through my wife at the end of the same year.

Our family was preparing and looking forward to Christmas in December 2016 when Verena had a prolonged constipation that lasted for a few days, resulting in a bloated stomach.

“It was a God-moment for Verena, assuring her of His presence, peace and the power of His love.”

Slightly past midnight on Tuesday, Dec 20, 2016, I was woken up by Verena needing to go to the hospital because the pain in the stomach was unbearable for her.

At NUH A&E, she was immediately attended to by Dr Sharon Koh Zhiling (colorectal surgery consultant) who discovered a tumour blocking her colon through CT scan. She had to perform an emergency surgery to insert a stent to unblock the colon, which may otherwise burst due to the blockage.

God not only brought Verena to the hospital just in time and provided the right doctor on duty, He also sent an angel nurse to encourage and assure Verena of His presence.

When she was waiting in the A&E for the emergency surgery, she heard a song playing in the background. It was “Power Of His Love”. She couldn’t believe her ears.

While she was still in the state of disbelief, a nurse with pink spectacles walked past her singing that same song. It was a God-moment for Verena, assuring her of His presence, peace and the power of His love.

Stop your mourning and fight

I remember the day Verena was warded in NUH after the emergency surgery. The doctor had prepared me mentally that the tumour in her colon would probably be cancerous.

“God told me to stop my mourning – He wanted me to put on the armour of God, stand up and fight.”

My mind was just filled with the thoughts of losing Verena. I broke down and spent that whole day crying uncontrollably.

The following morning on Wednesday, December 21, 2016, God woke me up at 6am and told me clearly to remove my sackcloth and stop my mourning and that He wanted me to put on the armour of God, stand up and fight.

The fight lasted about six months, with Verena undergoing major surgery on January 3, 2017, to remove the stent and the stage 3 colon cancer tumour, followed by eight cycles of chemotherapy treatment.

“This family portrait was taken after Verena’s first chemotherapy session,” said Bernard. “She looked so normal that no one could ever imagine that she had just undergone treatment.”

This time it was my turn to be the caregiver to Verena. The fight was challenging and difficult – I suffered three episodes of vertigo during that year, one of which happened on the morning I was to bring Verena for her chemotherapy session.

But God had given us peace throughout those months. Every time we were at NUH, we could always hear the song “Give Thanks” playing throughout the ward, reminding us to give thanks in the midst of pain.

A double portion of grace

God never promised us a life without storms. But He promised to go through the storms with us so that our faith in Him can be tested and we can witness His power at work. (Mark 4:35-41)

As I looked at the family portrait in my living room recently, I was immediately reminded of God’s grace and mercy upon our family. Both Verena and I could have been missing from the picture, and my kids could have been made orphans.

“We found this cushion that says what we are asking God – if He is willing, that we can grow old together” said Bernard.

We are eternally grateful that God has given us a double portion of His grace and preserved both of us. And we cannot but tell of His amazing stories in our lives … all for His glory!

“And we know that God causes everything to work together​ ​for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

About the author

Bernard Gan

Bernard Gan is a man who is always hungry. Just a cup of teh tarik and a plate of wanton mee will make his day. But, seriously, his greatest joy is knowing God. He and his wife, Verena, attend Covenant Evangelical Free Church and have two beautiful children.