Li-Bin Mok—Vancouver, Canada
Traversing the Valley of Death with peace in heart,
In God’s will and plan I trust.
With grace and manna am I daily blessed,
Praise and gratitude for God unceasingly flow.
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord that I may share this testimony with you. As a servant of God, I cannot steal His glory. Jesus healed ten lepers (Lk 17:11–19), but only one returned to thank Him and give praise to the Lord. I emulate this leper. Although these events happened within a few months, they demonstrate God’s almightiness and His grace shown to me.
Records of God’s Grace
In August 2018, I started experiencing dull pain at the base of my neck. It was bothersome but bearable. As it got more severe, I had it checked by my family doctor, or general practitioner (GP), who felt it was either a sports injury, a pulled muscle, or a neck and back strain from poor sleeping positions. The GP suggested massage or physiotherapy and referred me for a series of scans and tests.
The results from the tests and scans did not raise any red flags to the doctors and radiologists who reviewed the results. However, by the end of the year, my neck had become so stiff that I had difficulty turning my head. Through it all, I felt intensifying pains gradually spreading to different parts of my spine and ribs.
During one of the tests with a neuromuscular specialist, she concluded that the pains were not a result of neuromuscular injury. Immediately after her appointment, she had me admitted to the hospital’s emergency room (ER).
It was a rather strange day in the ER. The place was overwhelmed with cases of drug overdose, traumatic accidents, and major injuries from fights. As cases in the ER are triaged according to urgency, all these cases took priority above mine.
Time flew by as I sat on my bed and watched the different dramas unfold in front of me. It had been over eight hours since I was admitted, yet no doctor was available to attend to me. While waiting, I underwent a series of tests to help the ER doctors ascertain the problem.
By 10:00 p.m., I noticed some doctors from the 11:00 p.m. shift arriving early to help handle the backlog. A doctor came rushing in, changed clothes, and went over to the wall of clipboards. He picked one at random and started reviewing the file.
After a few minutes, he introduced himself as the doctor overseeing my case before he hurried off again. I noticed he was a fellow—a physician who has completed a residency and is doing a fellowship within a sub-specialty—not a regular resident doctor. From my hospital bed, I could see him reviewing my medical records. Over the next few hours, he put me through more tests and scans.
By the next morning, a diagnosis had been made, and he needed to talk to me privately. That is when the distraught doctor announced that I had Stage 4 cancer, hence the pains in different parts of my skeletal structure. Such advanced cancer is incurable and usually terminal. From this point on, the strategy and treatment plan would be to slow down the cancer’s progression and prolong life.
For most people, such a diagnosis would likely be followed by devastation, disbelief, confusion, or even anger. I was surprised to find that I was relatively calm and at peace. At least now, what ails me has a name! With a diagnosis, the doctors and I could tackle the problem. Otherwise, I would have died within a few months without knowing the cause.
Because of the seriousness of the condition and its aggressive nature, the doctor gave me a stack of requisitions for more tests and scans in different hospitals. They all had the word “URGENT” stamped in red to expedite the diagnostic process.
I believe it was God’s hand that guided this fellow to choose my file that night in the ER. His experience allowed him to accurately diagnose my condition's severity and know the necessary follow-up protocols. His seniority and sense of urgency also meant I received the immediate treatment that terminal cancer requires. In my prayers, I asked God to prepare me for the journey ahead, with a mix of trepidation, excitement, and a deep understanding that important lessons would be imparted along the way.
Over the next few weeks, I would undergo the required tests and scans. Even though I was physically weaker by the day and could only move in slow motion due to the pains, God gave me enough energy and mental strength to endure the rigors of all the tests.
During a check-up with a senior oncologist, the doctor asked how many painkillers I was taking daily to gauge the intensity of pain I was suffering. I replied that while my bones were aching, it did not bother me enough to take painkillers. She shook her head in disbelief, saying, “You’re a toughie. Anyone in the same shoes would be taking handfuls of painkillers daily, and you are not taking any?” As she kept mumbling under her breath, under mine were the words, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, praise the Lord.” This is the abundant grace God gives to His children.
Finally, the full extent of the damage done by the ravages of cancer was presented to me. I was informed that a team of oncologists would be assigned to my case immediately to start the treatment process. As cancer treatments are also triaged, along with the whole expedited diagnosis process, I waited three days until the first slot was available to start chemotherapy—three weeks after I had been diagnosed in the ER.
By then, I felt almost drained of all life. On the first day of chemo, I was so weak that I could not stop myself from falling when I turned to get out of bed. I hit the base of my skull on the bedpost, sending an intense jolt of pain through my body.
The pain lingered as I tried to continue with my day. Any slight movement would send excruciating jolts of pain throughout my body, but I was determined to make it to my first chemo session. When I returned from chemo in the afternoon, I was so tired and in such pain that I sat by the bed for a rest before attempting to haul myself up onto the bed.
It was at this moment I witnessed a vision of the masses at Jesus’ crucifixion in Golgotha, an area outside the city walls of Jerusalem. As I was immobilized by the intense and excruciating pain in my bones, God let me understand that it was such intense pain, and so much more, that Jesus had endured when he suffered on the cross for us. From my vantage point, I could clearly see the fleshly pains of Jesus. I could utterly relate to His cry on the Mount of Olives: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Lk 22:42). To follow in His example, I mustered the courage to tell God I would go wherever He leads. I then prayed for God to give me the strength to complete this journey and the faith to know that this was part of His perfect plan.
The pains persisted with the same intensity the following morning. Since I was going to have my next chemo session later that day, I went into the ER to have it checked. The pains were so intense that it took at least seven ER nurses to move and position me for the different scans and tests. That is when they found that I had a cracked cervical vertebra from when I fell out of bed the day before.
The immediate course of action was to perform surgery to stabilize my neck with titanium plates. This would prevent the vertebrae from collapsing, which would result in paralysis. But I protested, so instead, a collar was given to support my head, and arrangements were made for me to see the spinal surgeon within forty-eight hours. I also signed papers to absolve the hospital of liability should I become paralyzed because of my decisions.
Still in pain, I was determined to go for my next chemo session, so I was discharged. With the collar on, I made it to my appointment very slowly and cautiously.
The following day, I consulted the spinal surgeon. After a series of tests and assessments of my mobility levels, she concluded that titanium plates would be too drastic a measure at the time. She kindly decided to give medications and radiation a chance before putting me under the knife.
By the time I saw the radiation oncologist a couple of weeks later, I was not wearing the collar. I walked into the clinic, sat, and waited for him. A resident doctor came in and was so astounded to see me sitting there that he actually exclaimed, “You are sitting!” I answered, “Yes, I’m sitting.” He then left hastily, bringing another resident doctor to witness the sight. During the consultation, I was told that patients with similar injuries are generally wheeled in, either in a wheelchair or on a stretcher. And here I was, sitting and walking without assistance.
These are just some of the miracles and grace God has showered upon me. Since then, I have undergone more rounds of treatment. But most importantly, I continued with life the best way I know how. Although I have no idea what God has planned, at least I know that whatever comes my way—be it a lesson to learn, a task to complete, or a journey for betterment—I would be able to rise to the challenge because God walks with me.
If a broken body is the cross I have to bear in this lifetime, then so be it, for I know with certainty that when one journeys with God, there is always something to look forward to. On this perilous trek, I have thanked God for every forward step I managed to take, however exhausting each one was. Hymns of praise constantly accompanied me, enveloping me with a sense of optimism and peace as I went along.
I believe these experiences are the talents I received from the Lord our God. Not sharing them is equivalent to hiding the talents in the ground (Mt 25:14–30) and diminishing the glory of God. God’s glory is the lamp that should be put on a stand and not under a bowl or bed, for “there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light” (Mk 4:21–25). Amen.