Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Grave Concern

A Prayer for Healing Cancer

Heavenly Father, I come before you with a solemn heart and in need of your intercession. I pray that the cancer that has come into my father's life soon fades into a quick remission.

I believe in your capacity for miracles, and ask for this on his behalf. As we grow older, I know we become closer to the day you accept us back into your kingdom. I ask that you delay that holy union if it be your will. In your name I pray,


July 3, 2013 was a day to remember. Just the night before, dad made a crucial phone call to my brother, Daniel as he needed to see a doctor as soon as possible. Dad had never in his life agreed to see a doctor; other than having his routing check-up for hypertension at a local physician's; he did not believe that going to the doctor is of any good if one had good eating habit and exercise. He believed in self-medication, so a flu does not warrant a visit to a doctor. However, that day was different. He had bad stomach discomfort that night; he had constipation a few days, so Dan sent him to the hospital. The doctor ordered an endoscopy, which could only be done the following day. Nevertheless, he was given a solution to be drunk so that his bowels could be emptied prior to the scope.

Dad exercises regularly, doing his regular brisk walks each morning, and he watches his diet though he loves drinking sweet stuff. He said it was fine as he was on medication, and he controls his food intake. He gives advise to anyone who falls ill like he's a medical officer himself. No one could blame him for that as he is a very well-read person, and his knowledge in medical stuff is quite impressive. To keep his mind sane, he tends to his garden, plays Sudoku on his favourite rattan chair. He is not afraid to speak his mind at meetings though he knows that sometimes it's futile. Nevertheless, he managed to get some things done, much to the appreciation of the community. Dad has a good reputation, and when it comes to religious rites, even the elders would approach him for advice. He exudes that authority as he had been through a lot in the past seven decades of his life. Whether or not we, his children, are able to keep up to his reputation is left to be seen.

On that morning, at the hospital, the blood test was administered first. At about 12:30PM that day, Dan sent me a text message to inform me that a blood test was done and that dad would be going through the CT scan soon. The diagnosis would be known after lunch at about 2:30PM. I waited at work, but my mobile phone was eerily silent. All the way to work, on the bus, I had flashback of what dad had done for me, and what could happen if something went terribly wrong. I was teary that afternoon. It was the longest an hour-and-a-half bus ride ever. I couldn't wait any longer, so I picked up the phone and called my younger brother.

Dan said in a rather normal tone, “You cannot wait for me to text you, huh?

So, how's it?” I replied his rhetorical question.

Daniel's voice became even softer, “Very bad. Cancer... fourth stage already.”

I was dumbfounded; I just couldn't believe it was cancer, and worse still, there is still no cure for it. Daniel gave me the details, and I was even sadder to find out that the cancer was metastatic – it had spread to the lungs and the bones. The doctor didn't encourage chemotherapy as it would aggravate his pain and suffering, so he was discreetly telling us that my dad has to live with it without any treatment besides popping in pain killers. I was horrified. All of us were. We didn't know how much time we had left to be with him before he departs this cruel cancerous world. It didn't take me long to decide to go home that weekend rather than to wait, as anything could happen. Never mind if I had to arrive home close to midnight. Never mind if I had to take a pay cut. Family comes first.

Dad was calm, as if in anticipation of the prognosis. Maybe he didn't know but he had accepted his fate as a result of his religious beliefs. He was positive about it and even joked with the doctor that it was a bonus to live up till seventy-four while many of his friends and relatives had passed on. He was mentally strong and prepared for any eventualities.

An endoscopy was done the next day to find out if there was any growth in the stomach. Thank goodness, other than a benign “growth” which the doctor assured was not harmful, his stomach was clear. We were elated to hear that piece of good news; it was a consolation at least. The thought of our dad having cancer bugged us the next 48 hours; it was like a nightmare. We have to wake up from this nightmare, and move on.

No one knew how it all happened. Being one of the silent killer diseases, cancer doesn't come knocking at your door. My dad doesn't smoke or drink alcohol. The doctor suspected that it originated from the lung, so my guess is that it happened way back. Dad loved going outdoors and is an active person. He was a sportsman during his school days. He was a scout. Could it be the accumulated smog in his weak lungs as a result of long exposures to outdoor activities over the decades have caused cancer? The recent haze even made it worse. Last year in 2012, he travelled to China with mom, and it was an excruciatingly painful experience for him, as he had to be wheeled out of the plane when he arrived at the airport. His health went sliding down after that, and took quite a long time to recover. Was that the initial sign of cancer which no one saw? I have no answer, no one has.

Saturday 7 June. I took the night bus home straight from work. It was a four-hour ride, and I almost got left behind at the immigration checkpoint. My sister, Kath, had warned me days earlier that dad looked different. I wondered how much different he could be. I saw dad for the first time after the prognosis, sitting on his chair with the television watching him. Kath and mom greeted me outside. My cousin picked me up from a bus stop as she knew it would be hard to get a taxi at around midnight. I guess they were all waiting up for me to arrive. No red carpet needed. Dad had been sleeping early the past two days but today, dad was wide awake.

Indeed, dad looked – different. It was like his hair had greyed so much, and what had happened to his eyebrow? I saw paleness all over his face. He was more gaunt than before, but not ghostly. The first thing I asked dad was, “Are you ok?” - I got the silent treatment. Obviously it was a stupid question to ask no matter how noble my intention was then. When Kath and my niece were in bed, dad, mom and I talked.

Dad's voice wasn't as commanding as before; it was coarse, feeble but he could talk. At least he could still eat albeit a loss of appetite. I discovered that he had been on a painkiller and also on medication to help him sleep. That can't be good at all. He couldn't sit long as he would feel discomfort after a while. When he woke up each time, his back would hurt and mom had to apply ointment. Dad and mom urged me to be more responsible and caring especially to my siblings. How was I uncaring toward them, I couldn't figure out. My nature is such that I would avoid any kind of confrontation the minute I smell it a mile away, if I could. Accuse me for being uncaring, I shall not rebel anymore; time will tell eventually. When there was a pause as we were watching television, dad told me.

I want you to tell you something. Now, listen carefully. When I die, I want to be cremated, and the ashes thrown into the sea. I've called Thomas, and he will handle everything. So you don't have to worry about coming back to clean the grave on Cheng Beng (All Souls Day), or go to the temple to pray; if you want to remember me, do so in your heart. I've already told Kath and Daniel about this and they're agreeable to it.

My sister cried buckets when she heard dad's wish, I was told. I suppose she wanted something tangible to remember him. Mom then asked if I were agreeable to that dad's wish. That was a dying man's wish for goodness sakes, so how could I disagree? Besides, I was, in a way, glad that dad could foresee our inability to fulfil the responsibility of being diligently praying and cleaning at the tombstone each year like what he had been doing for my late grandparents. He said that times were different now; my late grandfather, apparently wanted the same, but in those days, cremation was hardly ever considered. So, dad was prepared for anything, for he had summoned the cousin who knows the Chinese traditions and funeral rites to make all funeral arrangements when he eventually departs.

My aunt and uncle came from Kuala Lumpur the following day. They brought with them the snake grass plant – not the commercial ones sold in some orchards or shops. This plant, my aunt claimed, could help reduce the cancer markers, and testified that one of her friends had the number of cells reduced from 14,000 to only 500. In fact, another of my aunt also gave the same remedy although it had been packed into a powder form. I honestly do not know if this plant could help lung metastases, or advanced stage cancer, but since there is no modern wonder drug to help besides going through the painful chemotherapy, dad had nothing to lose. We shall all wait in anticipation to see if traditional medication works.

I surfed the Net to find out if there was any latest treatment for cancer, though I didn't expect to see any cure in the next hundred years. Sadly, there isn't any besides chemotherapy, and exposure to radiation which destroys the good cells. I thought that being in Singapore might be helpful as the country excels in providing medical care. An ex-nurse then told me of a breakthrough drug called Oxynorm. My excitement was temporary; my heart sank as this drug is what I term as the terminal drug – it's just one level below morphine. It is merely a sedative for very severe pain. I didn't want my dad to be too sedated; he would then be a “live” vegetable. I would rather have him move about – although slow – so that he didn't feel helpless, and mom thought the same, too. I've also checked out websites on the life span of cancer patients. It was rather disheartening to find out that on average, Stage 4 patients die in 8 months, though there were cases of such people living a few years more. It depends on a variety of factors, mainly age and overall health condition.

Mom reminded me to pray each time I called home; I have done that, and will continue to do so. In fact, I took a step further by seeking prayers for cancer healing online. The prayer on the top of this page bears testimony to my effort. I've also mentioned my dad's condition to a Christian website called YMI Blogging; they responded, and I believe they prayed too. I've also posted a request for prayer on another website for the online community to pray for my ailing dad, if they wish to do so. I had literally got the cyberworld involved in this special prayer. God listens, and miracles do happen. After all, has He not healed the sick? I had to be realistic as well, for not all prayers are answered in the way we wanted it to. Dad would still die before my next trip home, if God chooses to and if it were for our good. So I wouldn't expect anything except continue praying especially for my own strength to move on.

On the following day, July 8, the three siblings sat down to discuss the next course of action. I had expected some squabbles as I was the only eldest, and by the Chinese tradition, the male has to be more responsible, yet I chose to leave home to earn a living in Singapore, about a 4-hour ride by bus. I had no choice as I needed to service two large loans monthly. I had expected my fiery younger sister to insist that I return to Malaysia to work and take care of mother when dad eventually passes on. After all, Kath did tell Dan about it, and the latter sent me an SMS to inform me of their wish. Thankfully, there wasn't any argument about my status. The discussion focused on whom to pay the utility bills and how to help ease the old folks' burden. So we decided that we would share the bills – medical and utility. Dan would also get a wheelchair for dad (and I guess that's for mom too some day). I'll be pumping in more money monthly for household expenses via overseas transaction. Thank God for the Internet. Mom was appreciative of our effort, especially our mutual decision to keep the house no matter what, and treat it as a home where gathering takes place once a year on Chinese New Year. At least we have a place to stay, not in a posh hotel.

I went back to Malacca (home) again on 21 July. This time, I did not take leave. I decided to try making a quick visit then travel back to Singapore in time for work on Tuesday. Dad's condition was not much better. He appeared to be worse; he was more breathless and spend more time in the room due to extreme discomfort on the back. The traditional Chinese medication (TCM) which he took caused him to go to the toilet more often. Apparently that was expected, as it meant his body had lots of toxic. So it was a detoxifying process. That explained his weakness. He would continue on TCM – he had nothing to lose. I felt really sad when I saw his condition; he was as grumpy as before, and gets agitated easily (I would if I were in pain), and poor mom had to keep attending to his every need. I was there too to render any assistance I could. Things like pouring water for him to drink, checking if he's alright once a while, answering phone calls, and I even shaved his stubbles for him when mom suggested that dad should shave. I did so carefully, though I wasn't too sure how to get it done from where dad sat. He was seated on the low plastic chair, so I had to manipulate my hand, squat and whatever to get it done carefully – yup, mom certainly didn't expect ME to do that as she's always thought that I'm the uncaring one. Not bad at all, he's quite cleanly shaved.

On 23 July, I returned to Singapore.

I spent a few more days there until I got a message on 26 July, Friday evening from my cousin May (she works in SG), telling me that I had to call home urgently . My sister had tried in vain to get in touch with me, but she eventually did. I found out that dad has been hospitalised at a private medical centre, as he had bad stomach pain, and he could hardly move. Later, I was told that his blood pressure had also dropped so low that he was in a shock; dad almost died at home if not for the timely presence of my cousin Alex, a doctor, who was actually supposed to be out of town already but somehow stayed back in Malacca a little longer. With his help, dad was admitted to hospital alive but barely awake. The ambulance took a good 50 minutes to arrive!! Talking about inefficiency. The telephone operator had asked dozens of questions when one of our relatives called for the ambulance. Hopeless! I had to take leave again, but thankfully, the Human Resources Manager assisted me in getting replacements. I took a two-day leave (pay will be deducted as usual).

Saturday, July 27. It was the day when my dad was warded in the Mahkota Medical Centre hospital. He was scanned a few times; he had also lost lots of blood (no thanks to the TCM's so-called detoxifying process). He had loss blood through his stool. Dr Francis also found that his duodenum had a small perforation. In addition, he informed me that that TCM contains steroids, is acidic and could possibly cause damage to the stomach. It was unbelievable, and horrifying. When I saw dad in the hospital, he was extremely weak and in excruciating pain. I spent that night with dad in the two-bedded hospital ward. I hadn't had any rest since 7:00AM as I went to the hospital directly from Singapore. I decided that I should spend another night, so I was with him on both Saturday and Sunday.

I hardly slept on both nights as I kept vigil over dad, to see if he needed anything. In the two days with dad, I saw how much he had suffered in pain. At a few instances, he had indicated that he wanted to die. On my first night with him, he said: “You people are useless; cannot do anything for me.” - an initial sign that he was ready to leave this world. The second night was even more nightmarish for me. His breathing was much heavier, but the machine showed that his vital signs were normal. I know because I observed and I inquired each time the nurse came to check on him.

At one point, dad told me to help him turn (knowing it's painful), and when he did turn, his hand tried to reach for the machine to pull the out the tubes. I immediately summoned the nurses who came running in. They tried to talk to my dad; he said in a loud voice, exasperated: “My time is not up yet” - the nurses told him to calm down and not say anything rash. Dad stared at me and gestured that he wanted a lethal injection to end his pain – and life. I conveyed his intention to the nurses. After some words of comfort by the nurses, dad quietened, and the nurses left the room.

Dad was in such a pain on the second night that I felt so helpless, and scared – so scared that I tried to hide behind the curtain that separated the two beds (the other bed was vacant). I couldn't sleep at all, I wanted to make sure dad was still alive. He survived another day.

Monday came. Dad's condition wasn't getting any better despite being pumped in with Oxynorm, a strong painkiller. He spent far less time talking and used gestures instead. He could still feel the pain, and it had made him very drowsy. Surprisingly, he was aware of his surroundings. He gathered his strength and told me to get in touch with a few people; he also gestured that he wanted someone to pray for him daily. We did what he had wanted. That night, it was Dan's turn to keep a night watch on dad. Mom, Kath and I were at the hospital first that evening. Both Mom and Kath were at his flanks. Sensing their presence, dad pulled Mom's hand to his chest, then he took Kath's hands as well and pulled them closer. It was a final non-verbal message from him to advise both Mom and Kath to be good to each other, as he knew that both of them are always at loggerheads. It was a touching moment. We comforted him, we told him it was alright if he left us, and he could go in peace. Dan came in later, missing the drama. The four of us gathered – little did we know that it was our last meeting with dad. I touched dad's hand and talked to him; I cried like crazy as I told him how great he was, and asked for forgiveness as I couldn't help him during my two-day night watch; I cried so hard that my sister had to tell me to stop. They, surprisingly, didn't cry that much. Before we left for home, I said a little prayer to him. I choked as I prayed: “Heavenly Father, please take good care of him. I know that he will be in good hands. In Jesus name, Amen!” - I felt like a kid after being caned by his mother. With those words, the three of us left the hospital at approximately 10:00PM.

Tuesday, 30 July. It was a quiet night. We were fast asleep when my phone rang in the wee hours of the morning; it was just 2:30AM. My brother called, and said in a solemn voice: “Papa has slipped away.” I was speechless for a moment. I was the first to know, and I woke Mom up. She was shocked that he went so quickly when the doctor said he could last a few days. Dad was pronounced dead at 2:11AM. My brother wasn't even aware until he opened his eyes in the room and saw the nurses with the heart recovery machine. Dad had stopped breathing. I was supposed to leave for Singapore that same morning, so I had to cancel my plan, and extended my leave to two weeks.

We were glad we said what we had to say; we asked for forgiveness. I kissed his forehead hours before he passed on, and I wonder now if I did say that I loved him, or was it just an imagination. I couldn't recall as everything went by so quickly.