Since Pastor Debbie Ng of 3:16 Church was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she has seen so many signs of God's divine provision in her life. All photos courtesy of Ps Debbie.

“Am I going to die?”

When Pastor Debbie Ng first got her biopsy results on her tumour, that was the biggest question on her mind. Stunned by her cancer diagnosis, the then 41-year-old did not even cry.

However, her thoughts were on the future of her husband and three young children if her life was prematurely cut short. 

While there was not much her doctor could tell her until further tests were done, strangely there was no anxiety.

In fact, Ps Debbie was the one who suggested taking a selfie to update those who had been praying for them.

On the other hand, her husband, Norman Ng, Senior Pastor of 3:16 Church, was visibly saddened.

“I saw how much he loved me. The thought of the rough journey that I would have go through broke his heart,” she recollected.

“We sat at the reception area for quite long, telling people that the results were out but we didn’t have full clarity yet.”

“Unfortunately, it is cancer.” 

On the car ride back, the mood was sombre – completely the opposite of how the couple felt on the way to the doctor’s. 

After all, Ps Debbie had only gone to see a breast specialist because her husband had taken the initiative to book the appointment for her.

“In many ways, he saved my life,” she said.

“I probably had the lump for a good four to five months, but I brushed it off thinking it was hardened tissue or fat because I felt lumps that just went away before. There was no pain or anything.”

From the initial ultrasound scans, it did not seem like the lump was a cause for concern. But a biopsy was ordered for a clearer picture.

That is why she will never forget these words that hit her like a bolt out of the blue on March 30, 2023.

“Unfortunately, it is cancer.” 

“God knew that you needed this”

Driving home with heavy hearts, the couple did not expect that they would see the first sign of God’s hand so soon. Entering their carpark, they spotted their church friend who had come to pass them a book.

Ps Debbie said: “Two days ago, Kevin met the author of the book, a friend whom he had not met for a long time. When she asked him if he had anyone to give the book to, my name came to his mind.”

Recounting the story with awe, she shared that the book was written by a Christian cancer survivor and titled So Much Life Left to Live.

“The prompting was so strong that Kevin even got the author to write my name on the book. But it would have been terribly awkward if he passed the book to me and I had a negative result.”

Right from the start of Ps Debbie’s journey with cancer, God used small reminders such as this timely gift to remind her that He was there.

Explaining why receiving the book was one of the most pivotal points of her journey, Ps Debbie added: “Even before I knew I had cancer, God orchestrated Kevin’s meeting, knowing that the book needed to get into my hands.

“The words he said were, ‘God knew that you needed this. God is right there with you.’ The moment I heard that, I cried.

“It was a confirmation that God was with me and that I would be okay. God was going to see me through it however difficult the journey might be.”

Ps Debbie spent the day poring over the diary-like book, which was a very easy read.

“She had photos of herself going through chemotherapy,” she said. “She also wrote in a very cute way, something like, ‘Finished doctor’s appointment and celebrated with famous chendol (a local dessert).’

Pointing out how it would be rare for anyone to have a book on cancer unless they had gone through a similar experience, Ps Debbie said: “It was like a preparation from God to know what to expect. It allowed me to have a glimpse of what was going to come.

“It was only the first day, yet the amount that the Lord spoke was amazing. God reminded me that He was there through small things.”

“This is not a death sentence.”

The next morning (Friday), the day that Ps Debbie was going for her PET/MRI scans to determine the spread of her cancer, her daughter woke up and found an old book that had been buried deep within their cupboard.

“The title of the book was Faith Gets Us Through. It was not even on our book shelves,” she marvelled. “Mama, can you read this book for me?” the four-year-old had asked. 

Still unaware of her mother’s sickness at that time, Kate had divinely chosen a story about three bears who were stuck in a cave but eventually made it out.

Surprised by how God was using her child to speak to her, Ps Debbie felt assured that just like the bears, she just needed to hold on to faith.

More encouragement came on the weekend, when a pastor from another church was praying over both husband and wife upon hearing the news.

“This is not a death sentence. The Lord has a lot more for you,” he had declared, sparking hope in the couple. 

Even when the news of her cancer had barely sunk in, God sent many people to encourage Ps Debbie through their prayers.

That afternoon in church, two more people came up to Ps Debbie and shared pictures they had received from God during prayer. Neither of them knew about her diagnosis.

“Pastor Debs, I have this word for you, but it is very strange,” said the first. “I see the word ‘death threats’ and I am praying for you and rebuking them.”

Separately, another person later told her: “Pastor Debs, you are someone who defends others and I see chains breaking.

“You are robed in an armour, but it is a very special armour that is suited for your style. It is not made of metal but leather. Many people will be blessed through you.”

Incredulous at how God was using people who did not know what she was grappling with to encourage her, Ps Debbie commented: “Can you imagine? They did not even know what was happening.

“If you know that God is speaking through other people, your confidence must also rise lah.” 

Recognising that these had to be from the Lord, she said: “Within the first week of knowing I had cancer, these encouragements kept on coming.

“I felt the Lord show me that cancer found me, but Christ found me first.” 

“My destination is not different”

The next week, Ps Debbie was struck with another blow: The scans had shown that it was Stage 3 cancer.

While it was a large tumour (7cm), the good news was that it had not spread from the breast to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. It was also considered the least aggressive type of breast cancer.

Nonetheless, because of the size of the lump, a mastectomy was unavoidable. 

“In my case, because the tumour was so big, they had to take out everything, so I also had to wrestle with womanhood and identity.”

Likening the removal of one part of her body to an “amputation”, she had questions such as: Am I any less of a woman? Am I less attractive to my husband? Am I less of a wife?

But Ps Debbie credited her husband for being such a strong support right from the get-go. 

“From day one, he took every moment to tell me, ‘You are very beautiful. You are very special. You are a great wife. I am not going to love you any less. In fact I love you more when I see how strong you are.’

“All his reassurance made so much of a difference. Without that, I know I could see myself a lot less,” she shared.

“On nights when I laid in bed, wrestling with doubt and fear, he would also sit by my side late into the night. Sometimes he would ask me questions to help me process what I was feeling. He prayed with and for me every single day.”

While Ps Debbie was getting treatment, Ps Norman took a back seat in leading the church so that he could care for his wife.

Ps Debbie also revealed how she had originally typed these words in her diary the day before her surgery, but was immediately convicted in her spirit otherwise.

She had written: Today is the last day I will be a full woman.

“I felt the Lord say that it was a lie, so I deleted it and replaced it with how my identity would always be in Him.” 

In fact, it was uncanny how as a champion of women and the issue of life, Ps Debbie had been told by several people that her illness seemed like an attack on womanhood and the work she was doing.

Ps Debbie and her husband are co-founders of the Heartbeat Project, a ministry that supports vulnerable women and children including those facing unplanned pregnancies and those hurting from abortion.

Steeling herself to fight this battle with cancer, there was a confidence in what God could do through this crisis.

“I told God, ‘The enemy can mean this for evil, but I will not stand for it,'” she said.

Prior to her diagnosis, Ps Debbie led a fairly healthy lifestyle, which included regular exercise.

Remembering how much peace she had received despite not knowing what her cancer would lead to, Ps Debbie said that very early on in her Quiet Time, God had settled the question she had posed to her doctor when she first heard the news.

“I realised that it was a rhetorical question in some sense because all of us are going to die. Why are we so afraid of death?” she asked.

“Have I not cherished every day that I needed a crisis like this to remind me that life is precious? The reality is that all of us are counting down every day.”

Quoting from Psalm 90:12, Ps Debbie pointed out that the Bible has already told us to “number our days”.

“Make me count. Make me understand Your plans more.”

“That helped to change my perspective. My destination is not different. I was just being confronted that we needed to live every day to the best that we can.”

Choosing to focus on the journey that God was taking her on, she said: “Maybe I have been cruising through life that it took something like this to stop and go, ‘Okay, God is going to travel with me.'”

“And if God wanted to bring me on this journey where there are more ups and downs, more humps and bumps, maybe this is the more scenic route.

“We are on the roller coaster, but He is on the roller coaster with me and my family.”

Thankful that she did not struggle with questions of “why me?”, Ps Debbie prayed instead: “Make me count. Make me understand Your plans more. Make me see You in a way that I have never seen you before.'”

“I am not saying there was no fear,” she clarified. “But there was a confidence to know that the Lord was there.”

The power of prayer

Given her type of cancer, Ps Debbie qualified for a test where samples from the lump that was removed would be sent to the US to determine if chemotherapy would be necessary.

“If the cancer had spread, I would definitely have to do chemotherapy. But I fell into the category where there was a chance I did not have to,” she explained.

However, they would only know for sure after the surgery.

Recalling how her parents were there when the oncologist shared the news with them, Ps Debbie said: “When my dad heard that, he said, ‘That is what we are going to pray for – no chemo.'”

“Chemotherapy was one of my biggest fears,” she confessed.

Highlighting the tension that she faced, Ps Debbie said that even though they were all praying against chemotherapy, she felt she still had to prepare for the possibility.

“The effects of chemotherapy are very visible, so I did not want the children to be afraid,” she said.

“I was wondering how I was going to tell the children and prepare them for it if that came. So I was praying, ‘Show us when and how to tell them.'”

At different times in her cancer journey, God used these three books to show Ps Debbie that he was looking out for her.

Amazed at how she saw God’s hand at work again while waiting for the results to be out, Ps Debbie remembered how she had brought the kids to the library one Friday evening and quickly picked out a stash of books to bring home. 

That night, after telling Kate to pick two books for their bedtime reading, one of them ended up being a story called SuperDaisy

“Mama, she is like you. She also has cancer,” one of her children blurted out midway through.

Astonished at how a “random” book she had borrowed could open up a light-hearted conversation with her kids on chemotherapy, she exclaimed: “I took it because it was pink and sparkly! I thought my daughter would love it.

“It was a bright purple-coloured book with a girl on the cover who had neon pink hair and a superhero mask.”

It turned out that the book was written for children going through cancer, and Daisy’s pink hair was actually a wig.

Underscoring that it had to be God’s leading, Ps Debbie said: “There are a hundred thousand books in the library. I did not even know when I picked it up because I did not even read the back page of the book.” 

“We had a beautiful conversation on such a scary topic,” she added.

“I told them that my results were not out yet and I did not know if I was going for chemotherapy, but we could pray.”

After her surgery, Ps Debbie’s mobility on one side was affected for awhile. But she was eventually able to stretch and lift her arm.

By God’s grace, three weeks after Ps Debbie’s surgery, the family received the good news that they had been hoping for – chemotherapy would not be beneficial in her case.

“We were all so happy. Norm and I hugged each other and wept tears of joy. It was an answered prayer – that was one of the biggest blessings,” she said.

Instead, Ps Debbie had to undergo radiation therapy for three-and-a-half weeks.

More miraculously, by end-May – just merely two months from diagnosis – Ps Debbie had completed all her treatments and was well enough to return to work. 

In fact, she recalls only missing one week of church after her surgery.

“For about three weeks, I had two tubes and bottles attached to me because they had to drain out all the blood and fluid,” described Ps Debbie.

“But I still went to church with my tubes and bottles. I just wore a baggy shirt and put the bottles inside my tote bag.”

Although Ps Debbie has to take daily oral medication for five years and have monthly injections and six-monthly infusions, she is thankful for God’s goodness and mercy in her life.

“Not everyone goes through the same journey as me where I am so fortunate to be able to skip chemo,” she noted. “I am just extra grateful.” 

Faith in the fire

Reflecting on how this time of trial had not only strengthened her faith, Ps Debbie is thankful that it has also led to a greater dependence on God for her whole family.

“I reached a point where no one could help me. My life was literally in God’s hands – and I think my children caught that,” she said.

“The reality of how far the cancer had spread, how much treatment was needed or even if my life was going to be shortened – it was all God.”

From the moment the couple broke the news to their kids, prayer was the one thing they kept emphasising.

“My kids understood that we only have God to depend on. It was that understanding of, ‘We may feel afraid, but we will pray and we will trust,'” said Ps Debbie.

Having witnessed God’s power at work, the children eventually saw that “prayer makes a difference”.

With Ps Debbie receiving so much love from their church friends and the wider Christian community, her kids also realised how “family” goes beyond their four walls.

“So many people would send food, gifts and flowers. Many were not even from our church,” she added.

“The kids also saw what it means to be loved by people, and it has helped them to love others now.” 

Ps Debbie’s family celebrating Christmas in church last year. For the first time, the children’s ministry – which is led by Ps Debbie – ran the entire Christmas service for the whole church.

Cancer, too, has deepened the 23-year-long relationship she shares with her husband. 

“Norm is a person who does not normally cry, but he cried so much with me in this journey. He was as pained as I was because we were one,” said Ps Debbie.

“From the very first day, I could see how much he was affected by it. The weight he carried was no less than what I carried. In fact, it was even more at that moment.

“When you know someone is as burdened as you are by the news, there is a love and assurance that you can get through the storm.”

Convicted that he wanted to be fully present to care for his wife, Ps Norman took a back seat in leading the church during that season.

“He saw this as his foremost responsibility as a husband and leader, modelling a love that Jesus has for His bride,” she explained.

Noticing how intentional her husband was in demonstrating his love, Ps Debbie added: “He was there for every appointment I had. He would shift his appointments and be working when I was doing my scans.

“During my recovery, despite juggling so many responsibilities, Norm would still take care of the kids’ every need so that I could get extra rest.”

Ps Debbie shared that her husband’s steadfast presence throughout her cancer season made her feel like she was never alone.

Looking back on the entire journey, Ps Norman told Salt&Light how God gave him a front-row view to how amazing his wife’s faith was.

“I saw that if you want a peace that surpasses understanding, you have to give up your right to all understanding. That was what she had – and it was supernatural,” he perceived.

Referencing Matthew 14:27, Ps Norman said: “When you are in the storm, you do not want less control. You want more control. But she was able to give up control to the Lord because of that peace.

“When the disciples were in a storm, Jesus did not say, ‘Take control.’ He said, ‘Take courage.’ It takes courage to have peace.

“So the presence of God is not just goosebumps in worship. It is peace in times of suffering as well.”

Observing that he saw the fruit of the Spirit growing within his wife, Ps Norman added: “Despite the circumstances, joy was produced from the inside out.” 

Agreeing, Ps Debbie said she was grateful that God had allowed her to experience the gifts of joy and peace.

“It was really like what the verse says: A peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I cannot explain it,” she mused.

“It is a peace that I do not think anyone can give. As I surrendered it to the Lord, He gave me a peace that was just going to see me through.”

Just two months after her diagnosis, Ps Debbie was back to ministry. In June 2023, she spoke at The New Charis Mission and turned up with her family to support their Unlabelled Run.

Another takeaway Ps Debbie had was learning how to surrender.

“There is nothing you can control,” she said. “The only thing you can control is whether you want to surrender and trust that He is doing the best that He will do for you. 

Acknowledging how cancer had brought her closer to Christ, Ps Debbie remarked that this cross to bear had helped her to better understand the cost of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. 

“During my cancer season, I really cried out to God and asked, ‘Would you let this cup pass from me? Would you let this cancer disappear?

“But yet I also had to reach a point of surrender where I said, ‘If it is for Your glory and for Your will, I will go through it.’

“So maybe now I have a glimpse of what Christ had to go through. I understand the tension of what He felt at the Garden of Gethsemane (when He struggled to go to the cross).”

“I will use you and your ‘suffering’ to speak of my goodness and my greatness.”

Along the way, God also gave Ps Debbie insight into how He could bring about good even in a situation that seemed bad.

When watching The Chosen, the scene where a crippled Little James asked Jesus why He had not healed him yet spoke right to her heart, even though the director took creative licence with this conversation that was not mentioned in the Bible. 

In that scene, the Lord told Little James that if He healed him now, Little James would indeed have a good story to tell. But imagine the story that Little James would have if he was not healed and could still praise God. 

He also encouraged Little James to focus on more than his body – to show people that he could be patient with his suffering on earth because he would spend eternity with no suffering. 

Ps Debbie said:  “I felt the Lord say to me, ‘Why do you focus on the physical when I can do so much in the spiritual?’ I will use you and your ‘suffering’ to speak of my goodness and my greatness.”

This March, Ps Debbie’s family embarked on a celebratory trip to Bali – one year from the time she discovered her Stage 3 cancer.

Today, Ps Debbie feels like she has been given a second chance at life.

Knowing that she has to make every day count, she has also become bolder to seize every opportunity to speak of His goodness.

“I was initially hesitant to share the details of my story for fear of how others would see me. But over time I felt confidence arise because I know I am no different in the eyes of the Lord or my family,” she said.

“I do not feel like I am less of a woman. And if my story can be used to encourage and bless another, then all glory to God.”


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About the author

Gracia Chiang

Gracia used to chase bad news — now she shares Good News. Gracia's different paths in life have led her from diverse newsrooms to Living Room by Salt&Light, but her most difficult and divine calling to date is still parenting.