Even though Soh Lay Kuan, 59, lost her husband to cancer and is battling the illness herself, thanksgiving is never far from her lips. Photo by Gracia Lee.

"Every step of the way, I see His hand at every turn," says Soh Lay Kuan, despite losing her husband to cancer and battling the illness herself. Photo by Gracia Lee.

In the past seven and a half years, Soh Lay Kuan has been through more than 40 cycles of chemo and immunotherapy. 

The 59-year-old almost feels at home at the clinic she visits every one to three weeks for tests, and jokes: “I even know where they hide their toilet rolls!” 

“I strongly believe that I am one of the most blessed cancer patients to walk this Earth!”

Cancer has afflicted many, but few are as well-acquainted with it as Soh, who first watched her husband fight a losing battle with it, and later found herself in a prolonged duel with the illness too. 

Yet in a trial she still does not understand, never once does she utter a grievance against the Lord. Instead, it is gratitude that pulses through the words that she speaks.

“God has blessed me richly,” she said. “I strongly believe that I am one of the most blessed cancer patients to walk this Earth!”

Blow after blow

Her words are not easily said, given the tumultuous journey she has been on.

Back in the early 2000s, it seemed like she had it all.

Soh was happily married to a man whom she gushes was “terribly handsome, wildly romantic and the perfect husband”. He had a well-paying job as a Navy officer while she was rising through the ranks as a teacher. Their two teenage children were doing well in school.

Soh was even featured in the news in 2003 for her work. The article highlighted her heavy workload and the boundless energy she seemed to have. Photo courtesy of Soh Lay Kuan.

Soh was even featured in the news in 2003 for her work. The article highlighted her heavy workload and the boundless energy she seemed to have. Photo courtesy of Soh Lay Kuan.

In July 2008, however, things came crumbling down.

Her husband, Lim Gee, began losing weight and subsequently struggled to eat and sleep well, which was unusual for the fit sportsman. After a month of tests, he was found to have Stage 4 lymphoma, a cancer which affects the infection-fighting cells of the immune system.

Soh was devastated. “A death sentence has been passed on us,” she penned on her blog, which she had set up to keep friends and family updated on Lim’s condition.

“Everywhere I look in the house only brings back memories that refuse to fade … Life is so lonely without you.”

They spent their days in and out of hospital, and Soh struggled to keep up with the “steep learning curve” of becoming his caregiver. “Lim Gee had always been my support in all aspects of our life together, but now there was a reversal of roles,” she said.

Despite treatment and their doctors’ best efforts, less than two years later in May 2010, Soh lost her husband of 25 years.

Her blog chronicles the pain she dealt with in the aftermath of his death.

She wrote: “I wake up now… and everything is still exactly the same. But the reality that hits me is that you, my darling, are no longer here. Everywhere I look in the house only brings back memories that refuse to fade.

“Life is gradually returning to normalcy, but sometimes when I allow myself to pause, the unbearable yearning, the sudden lump that appears in my mouth, that refuses to go away, and the sudden flooding of my eyes tells me that our farewell is real. Life is so lonely without you.”

Today, she still cannot bear to look at photos of his funeral.

Soh with her husband, Lim Gee, before he passed away in 2010. Photo courtesy of Soh Lay Kuan.

“When I allow myself to pause … the sudden flooding of my eyes tells me that our farewell is real,” penned Soh in her blog after her husband, Lim Gee, passed away in 2010. Photo courtesy of Soh Lay Kuan.

Two years after Lim’s death, just as Soh was a little steadied by the balm of time, she was dealt another blow.

She awoke one night in June 2012 with her bedsheets soaked in blood. As she hurriedly made her way to the bathroom, globules of blood clots followed in her wake.

It was Stage 3 endometrium cancer, which affects the lining of the uterus. 

She remembers sitting in the doctor’s room, her body cold and reeling from the shock of the news. 

A doctor had once told her that being struck with cancer was just “pure bad luck”. “How could our family be doubly bad-lucked?” she lamented.

Friends and family quickly rallied around her in prayer and support, but it was a verse of encouragement sent by her pastor that offered her the most comfort. 

It was from Deuteronomy 31:8: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.”

“It seemed to me a timely word from God to reassure me that He will not forsake me,” she said.

By God’s grace, after going through a hysterectomy to remove her uterus and undergoing chemotherapy, she was declared to be in remission. 

But little did she know that her tussle with cancer had only just begun.

Peace that surpasses all understanding

In August 2013, a year after her first remission, she suffered a relapse.

And again in November 2015.

And in June 2016.

And in April 2018.

And in May 2019.

Today, she is still receiving treatment for her latest relapse and has to go for chemotherapy once a week.

“Why, God?” is a recurring question that Soh has struggled with for many years. Just like Job’s friends, she initially wondered if she had done something to deserve her suffering.

“But you know, it’s nothing that you have done,” she now acknowledges.

“We know deep inside that our days, the things that we have to go through in our lives, are ordained long before we are born (Psalm 139:16). I know that God has a plan for me, only that I’m not clever enough to know what it is!”

Hers is a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

“As to why He allowed it, I really cannot answer that question … But why think about an answer God is not ready to reveal yet?”

“As to why He allowed it, I really cannot answer that question. I think no one can. But I won’t allow that to bother me because it’s futile. Why should I keep thinking about a question whose answer God is not ready to reveal yet? Why should I hurry? We know that God’s wisdom is different from ours.

“I might as well live every day as it is and be a blessing to others if I can.” 

Yet of this she is sure — that God is near. 

Soh sees Him in the love and support of her close-knit family, especially her three sisters who graciously set aside their inheritance money for her medical treatment.

“I might as well live every day as it is and be a blessing to others if I can.” 

She sees Him in the many friends who readily availed of themselves to keep her company (“I had to give each of them a queue number!”), and in the gifts of encouragement she received just when she needed them.

“Every step of the way, I see His hand at every turn,” she said.

Plastered on her bedroom door and kitchen walls are verses from the Bible, which she jots down each time the Lord answers her cries and questions through His Word. 

“God really answers,” she said. “When He speaks, I’m so scared that I will forget, so I paste them everywhere!”

To remind herself of God's Word and promises, Soh jots down verses that speak to her and sticks them all over her house. Photo by Gracia Lee.

To remind herself of God’s Word and promises, Soh jots down verses that speak to her and sticks them all over her house. Photo by Gracia Lee.

One from 2 Corinthians 12:8-12 reads: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong’.”

This was given to her when she suspected that her cancer had returned for the third time. The verses were a confirmation of her worst fears, yet also an assurance that His grace would be enough for her. 

“When you get such answers, you feel very close to God. And although you are going through this tough time, you feel He’s very near. He’s not going to abandon me.”

A heart of gratitude

Despite her affliction, gratitude is never far from her lips.

She thanks God that her children, now 27 and 32, are grown up and independent. She thanks God for the overwhelming support she has from friends and family, and that her financial needs are well taken care of.

“He obviously cares a lot about me because he bothered to take such good care of me, from my career to finances to well-being.” 

She thanks God that He has sustained her for seven-and-a-half years, a duration that has even impressed her doctors. She thanks God that in spite of the side effects of chemotherapy, she is still able to carry out an active lifestyle, which she enjoys.

She said: “He loves me and obviously cares a lot about me because he bothered to take such good care of me, from my career to finances to well-being.”

Her gratitude overflows into a zeal for life that seems to be unquenchable. Despite her family’s advice to rest and take it easy, she cannot seem to sit still. 

Soh (fifth from left) with her extended family members at the wedding of her son, Wilson, last year. Soh counts her family one of her strongest sources of support. Photo courtesy of Soh Lay Kuan.

Soh (fifth from right) with her extended family members at the wedding of her son, Wilson, last year. Soh counts her family as one of her strongest sources of support. Photo courtesy of Soh Lay Kuan.

Right after a session of chemotherapy, she darts off to a line dance studio where she grooves along energetically to upbeat music — she even has a video to prove it. “The chemo’s side effects don’t take place straightaway, it only happens over the next few days. So cannot waste time, must go!” she declared.

She also faithfully attends cell group meetings and leads a weekly walking group called Walk with Jesus, where members get together to walk and journey with one another.

And every Sunday, no matter how fatigued she feels, she always turns up for church.

Walking with Jesus, the support group that Soh leads, takes members on walks in and out of the country as they journey with each other in life. Photo courtesy or Soh Lay Kuan.

Walking with Jesus, the support group that Soh leads, takes members on walks in and out of the country as they journey with each other in life. Photo courtesy or Soh Lay Kuan.

Refined by fire

Her faith today stands stronger than it ever has, having been refined by the fire of her trials.

Prior to her husband’s cancer diagnosis, she recalls being just a “Sunday Christian” after being baptised in the early 2000s.

“We should not place our confidence and faith in circumstances … but in the goodness and greatness of God!”

“I was very busy with the business of life — juggling my demanding teaching job, looking after the family and fulfilling the multiple roles I played as daughter, mother, daughter-in-law, wife, sister and friend,” she said.

“God was important, but not the most important. We treated him like a Santa Claus, like ‘Help me get a parking lot’ or ‘Please make sure my son passes his CA1’,” she said with a laugh.

Today, He is her rock and refuge (Psalm 18:2), her sustainer (Isaiah 41:10) and the source of her strength and joy (Nehemiah 8:10).

“God is with me in every moment. I try to be in constant communion with Him if I can, and almost every decision, significant or otherwise, is made in consultation with God.”

Of this she is now sure: “We should not place our confidence and faith in circumstances, abilities or resources, but in the goodness and greatness of God!”

God’s gift of friends along a cancer-ridden way

“The miracle we wanted was her healing, but the miracle God gave was changing people’s lives”

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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