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    DIS-allow the DIS to be stuck to your Courage

 

All of us have courage to face our trials and tribulations for a short period of time. But if they continued for a long while we get discouraged. What happens is that we allow the Devil to Instill fear and Insecurity into our Spirit, and we soon get DIS-couraged.

 

All the passages below are taken from David Ong’s book “Talking The Walk,” published in 2008.

    

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 NIV)

 

DAVID'S ENCOUNTERS WITH DEATH

David, the Psalmist, knew about death. Here in Psalm 23, he was speaking about the valley of the shadow of death. It was a valley where dangers lurk. There could be lions and bears waiting just beyond the bend. They were so hungry and vicious that they could destroy David's entire flock.

We are told in the Bible that David literally fought with lions and bears! Even his life was sought after by King Saul who tried to kill him out of jealousy over his overwhelming success and favour with people. Yet David said, "Though it is inevitable for me to go through that valley, I will not be afraid at all, for Thou art with me. I will not be afraid at all, for YOU, Lord art with me:'

"You, Lord, art with me!" That is a comforting thing for every child of God." The LORD will go through that valley with every child of His. That was especially comforting to me! For without the abiding presence of the Lord, I don't think I could ever walk through every single phase of this valley experience.

 

TREATMENT WITH THALIDOMIDE AND BISPHOSPHONATE THERAPY

The treatment of my cancer started with an oral immunomodulatory drug called Thalidomide and Bisphosphonate therapy for several months.

Thalidomide is not considered a form of cytotoxic chemotherapy but clinical trials have shown that it is active against myeloma by boosting the body's immune system as well as by blocking the blood supply of the cancerous cells. As myeloma causes bone disease resulting in the thinning and weakening of the bones (Osteoporosis) and pain, I was treated with a group of intravenous drugs called bisphosphonates (Zometa) in combination with steroids and calcium tablets to prevent further bone damage, reduce the risk of fractures as well as to heal the bones.

By God's grace, my tolerance to these drugs was fairly tolerable, except for the intolerance to a particular steroid (Dexamethasone) which caused very bad hiccups every 3-4 seconds for about nine days continuously. Although the hiccups could not be relieved by the medicine prescribed (Maxolon, Largartil), I am amazed at how God gave me the strength to endure.

 

INSERTION OF CENTRAL VENOUS CATHETER

By the grace of God, I was really blessed that the myeloma cancer cells were quickly reduced to about 5 percent and a peripheral blood stem cell transplant (PBSCT) was scheduled in June 2005.

In order to prepare me for the bone marrow (Stem cell) transplant on 1 June 2005, a catheter or a small, silicone tube was inserted through a large vein via the chest under local anaesthetic. The insertion of the Central Venous Catheter (CVC) is actually a very simple procedure. Many patients had it inserted without much pain or problem. However, apparently due to my unique anatomical structures near my collar bone, the doctor encountered great difficulty in putting the line in for me despite many painful and uncomfortable attempts. Eventually, it had to be inserted by the radiologist using guided radiology.

The CVC line was so high on the neck. Not only was it awfully uncomfortable, it was extremely painful. It was really quite an ordeal. I had wondered how I was going to pull through. I could not help but feel very anxious as I thought of all the worst to come.

Nonetheless, I thank God for sending a close friend, John who came to visit me that evening. Together with the emotional and prayer support of my wife, John's presence made us feel we were not alone in this. There was nothing much that could be done apart from the anagelsics given to relieve the pain. And of course, prayer.

We desperately turned to the Lord in prayer. We cried unto the Lord for quick relief from the agony and great discomfort. We prayed for endurance as I was already thinking of giving up when the treatment had not even begun.

Prayer helped me pray. Prayer helped me practice to get into the presence of the Lord. Prayer helped me focus on the Person who was able to help me instead of focusing on the problem. Prayer helped me clear the very first hurdle and it made all my suffering and grief easier to bear! Prayer brought God's presence nearer as I poured out my heart to Him. Prayer built up my faith and instilled confidence to know that Jesus was walking with me. It allayed all my fears and anxieties of the unknown.

Following this insertion, I received my first dose of Cytotoxic Chemotherapy in May 2005. Thank God that the much-talked about side-effects of the chemotherapy such as diarrhoea, loss of appetite, vomiting and loss of my hair were minimal and bearable. Following the first conventional chemotherapy, the CVC line was removed. It was such a relief?

 

PREPARATION FOR TRANSPLANT

At the end of May, I was re-admitted as scheduled, for a Non-Myeloablative Peripheral Stem Cell Transplant (NMPSCT) that uses low doses of chemotherapy and total body radiation (TBI) to condition my body for the transplant.

At the same time, my sister, Angie, who was my donor, had to harvest her stem cells for the transplant. I remembered very clearly that many of my family members and close friends were there to render me support in every way. Their loving presence and limitless prayers brought so much assurance that God was there walking alongside us to face all our fears of the unknown.

 

NOT AGAIN!

As a result of the difficulty in inserting the CVC line before, I had the line reinserted this time directly at the operating theatre by a Senior Consultant in the department of Radiology.

At first, I was not apprehensive at all as I believed all would be smooth and easier this round. However, again due to an unknown cause, I became breathless during the procedure.

It was very dramatic inside the room as I helplessly watched all the medical staff trying to monitor my vital signs. Though the parameters were stable except for the shortness of breath, the doctor could not ascertain the cause of my breathlessness.

I felt as if I was going to die, wondering whether I would ever get out to see my family ever again.

In my desperation for deliverance, I cried my heart out to the Lord and called upon His name for mercy and help. In order not to focus on the whole situation, I worshipped Him. I even confessed all my sins all over again! How strange! What strange things we do to get right when we realized that that could be the last breath of our lives!

 

NOT TIME YET!

In my distress, He answered my prayer and provided relief for my agony. As I leaned upon Him through silent worship and thankfulness in my heart, I experienced the silent companionship of my Shepherd telling me, "I had not and will not abandon you!"

With these words of His abiding presence, God gave me his peace to sleep very well in His arms of love like a little baby in spite of the residual pain. And I thank God for yet another hurdle cleared, for things could have turned out for the worst. But it wasn't time yet, for I knew God wasn't finished with me yet.

 

STEM CELL TRANSPLANT---1 JUNE 2005

Today, I felt as if I was given a new lease of life through the bone marrow transplant (using the harvested stem cells from my sister.)

Although the risk of a higher mortality was higher, my heart was highly filled with hope and thankfulness that God used medical science to provide a possible cure for my condition where conventional, standard therapies would not have been effective. However, beyond what medical science could do, we continued to trust and confess that God is my ultimate Healer.

 

UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE

Following the transplant, there were no major complications except for some reactions inside my body that made the experience during the first few nights extremely trying and unforgettable. I called it "Confusion"! Not Confucius!

Receiving the new stem cells caused a big stir in my body that was very difficult to describe. All I knew was there was something strange and confusing going on inside my body physiologically.

It was a terrifying and horrifying experience. It was likened to having something inside you that you wished you could put your hand inside to dig it out completely but you can't. I prayed and prayed but in vain. There was no relief at all. In fact, it became even more unbearable. In my anguish and restlessness, I kept SMS-ing many family members and close friends anxiously to pray for me. I was desperate for quick deliverance and relief.

Seeing me in that plight, my poor wife, Whee Ling stood by me in the hospital room helplessly but prayerfully, interceding for me throughout those few nights.

 

WHERE ARE YOU, LORD?

During those times, there were moments when I felt God was not there as my prayers were unanswered. I felt forsaken and abandoned. I thought I was going crazy as I could not stand it anymore. And I murmured, "Where are you, Lord? Why didn't you answer my prayers?"

But I was wrong. God was and is always listening. He always hears when we cry unto Him. Like the Psalmist said of the Lord, "He does not ignore the cries of the afflicted:" (Psalm 9:12b). Indeed, He didn't ignore my cries. One night, when I was desperate for the Lord's presence, a Christian nurse came in to pray for me when she saw me restless and in agony. Later, I managed to doze off, comforted in the knowledge that the Lord had specially sent her to remind me that He had not left me alone.

 

HIS ABIDING PRESENCE

Even though I felt forsaken and forgotten, the fact of the matter was, God was there with me. Even though He may not take away the suffering, He definitely had not "abandoned me to the grave" (Psalm 16:10). He allayed all my anxieties, worries and fears of the unknown.

By calling upon His name, it caused me to feel His presence even closer than ever. For He "counsels me, even at night my heart instructs me:" (Psalm 16:7).

In the midst of all the discomfort, I found comfort and rejoiced in my soul knowing that my body will rest secure. It was a quiet assurance that only the presence of the living word could give.

By the grace of God, I merely stayed three weeks in the isolated room during the period of my transplant. That revealed so much of the goodness of God and His amazing grace. There were many whom I had spoken to that had to stay much longer as a result of severe post-transplant complications. I felt so blessed to be spared from major complications except for Graft Versus Host Disease after the crucial initial one hundred days.

 

GRAFT VERSUS HOST DISEASE

Except for an expected acute Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD), the first one hundred days after my transplant were rather stable. My transplant physician was generally quite happy as blood results (VNTR) showed the new stem cells had been very well grafted into my body. That was a great piece of good news!

GVHD is a complication that is usually seen soon after the transplanted cells begin to appear in the recipient or the host. This reaction occurs when the transplanted marrow from the donor (the graft) starts to function as part of the immune system. When the immune system tries to fight off foreign invaders, the transplanted cells attack the host's reading them as foreign.

The GVHD that I experienced manifested mainly as rashes and darkening of the skin which appeared on my face and the trunk of my body. I looked so dark and skinny so much that I looked so much like ET! The only difference was I was taller!

Subsequently, the GVHD became quite aggressive in the mouth and throat with multiple ulcers all over (Mucositis). Our son, Josh said I had "Tiger breath" because tigers smell bad as they do not brush their teeth. I smelled bad because it was so difficult and painful to brush my teeth due to the tears inflicted on the inside walls of the mouth.

 

MORE CHEMOTHERAPY AND RADIATION

Apart from the GVHD, there was also pain on my back that radiated to the right rib cage. Afterwards, Dr William Hwang sent me for a MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of the whole body. The MRI findings revealed that there were still some active cancer cells remaining in the bones. It also revealed that there were pathological fractures on the spine (Spinal decompression). Since the cancerous cells were still residual, I was further treated a new type of anti-cancer drug known as Velcade and body radiation to wipe out all lingering myeloma cells.

Generally, most of the side effects of Velcade were mild except for one. The major side effect that Velcade causes is peripheral neuropathy, a nerve problem that produces numbness, tingling or pain in the extremities. It was quite manageable initially but later the neurological effects became stronger. At the same time, I also began to develop low tolerance to residual effects of Thalidomide which had the same side-effect as Velcade. (Peripheral Neuropathy)

 

LIKE A DRUG ADDICT

In order to manage the pain on my ribs and spine, I was treated with the mentioned radiation and was also placed on a morphine patch for several weeks till the pain subsided. It felt so good to have the pain reduced but when this strong and potent analgesic was eventually taken off, I encountered what drug addicts go through. I had morphine withdrawal.

It was like "hell" to me if I may put it! It was really a torture and a torment for me. That gives me an idea, only a little glimpse of what hell might be like! Anyway, I kept walking restlessly in and out of every corner in my home. Or another moment, I would be curling up like a baby in agony while Whee Ling watched prayerfully but helplessly over my plight.

In my powerlessness, I wished I could just bang myself against the wall as the affliction was so intolerable. I asked God, "Why don't you just simply blow me away with your power like dynamite and spare me this suffering?"

Once again, God's grace always abounds in every situation. Once again, He placed me in the fine hands of Dr William Hwang, who lovingly responded beyond the call of his duty to my cry for help. That night, he had me quickly admitted to the hospital, gave detailed instructions to the medical doctors in the emergency department and cared for me all the way till I was stabilized in the ward.

God did not blow me up but brought deliverance to me. His grace is always sufficient. He gave me another measure of grace to go pull through.

 

WAIT, WAIT, WAIT AND WAIT!

I am eternally thankful to God for His divine strength and presence that carried me through so many obstacles. In my heart, I had always believed that God reigns. But humanly speaking, after a while, I was slowly getting weak and weary psychologically for the prolonged illness was taking a toll on me.

I was beginning to let my emotions reign over me. It was so easy to dip and wallow in self-pity. Many negative thoughts kept haunting my mind, particularly thoughts of giving up. I knew I was beginning to lose hope and perspective as I thought to myself, "It's enough, I don't think I can go on anymore!" I was really getting very tired of just waiting while trying to cope and bear with all the GVHD, side effects of drugs, pain and even psychological struggles.

When these emotions began to overrule my heart, it became so easy to succumb to subjectivity. With no mood for anything, I would shut myself from the world around me and hide behind the curtains of the hospital bed and brood.

In my mind, I knew I had to hold these negative thoughts captive. In my spirit, I had no strength to hang on continuously. It is one thing to rejoice in the Lord when things are calm and easy. It is another to try and remain objective in the midst of waiting during times of adversity. In waiting, sometimes the process can appear to be more painful than death itself! Well, I think only the dead will be able to tell!

Meanwhile, in my heart, I knew only God is able to help me endure because the verse 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminded me that God is faithful,

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it”

 

What a word of assurance to know that God knows how much one is able to bear. When it gets unbearable, He will come to make it easier for me to go through. In all my life, I had numerous encounters of how God would come to my rescue just when I almost fell down the edge of the cliff. Without a shadow of doubt, I am totally confident that He will do the same for me as He had never failed me. Instead of giving up, I continued looking up!

 

DAVID'S CRY FOR DELIVERANCE

In Psalm 6, David ventilated his emotions to God:

"Be merciful to me, 0 LORD, for I am faint.

Heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, 0 Lord, how long?

Turn, 0 LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.” (Psalm 6:2-7 NIV)

 

Like David, I grew emotionally tired of waiting. The enemies of my soul made my heart faint and I felt very discouraged.

There's something I learned about the word, `Discourage'. Take away the `DIS' and you see only the word courage. Discouragement is courage that's taken away from you. Satan uses DIS---Deception, Insecurities and Spiritual attacks to cause me to be dispirited, disheartened, dejected and despondent.

The words David used clearly described the signs and symptoms of a heart that was discouraged. That was exactly what happened to my soul and my spirit---diminished courage to face what was ahead. Fear was all I was feeling inside. Fear of all the complications. Fear of the future. Fear of the dying process. Fear of the unknown. Fear, of fear itself.

 

LESSONS ON "WAITING"

One day, I casually asked josh this question, "Do you know what's so difficult about waiting?"

"To be patient," Josh answered.

I thought it was so profound coming from my little precious one.

Learning to wait upon God to heal me was not easy at all. We live in a culture where we want everything fast and quick like instant noodles. Everything must be nippy, failing which one may lose his patience.

God used Josh to tell me that I needed to be patient, to be more persevering in waiting upon Him for complete healing. God brought to remembrance what I believe to be the key word for us in this journey. It's taken from Psalm 27:13-14. That in order to see His goodness, we need to wait and not become weary but to be strong; be brave; to have courage and not lose heart.

It was a call to wait, to hope in the Lord with expectation and to have complete confidence in the Lord whom David described as the stronghold of his life in this beautiful Psalm. David had this confidence. Where did he find it? He found it by waiting upon God, by seeking after God's presence, by beholding the beauty and attributes of who God really is.

I learned the secret to overcome all my fears through David's own milestones in his spiritual journey. He conquered all his fears in the day of trouble by finding his confidence in the companionship of the Lord.

 

PAIN, PAIN, WHAT'S YOUR GAIN?

God uses pain. I always believed God does not inflict pain. That's really deep stuff. Too theological for me. I choose to think that He is a good Father who will not want to hurt or deliberately cause pain to any of His children like any earthly father won't. I do not believe God is a harsh God that comes down upon his children with a rod or cane.

But I do believe that He disciplines or chastises or trains by allowing pain in our lives---to draw our attention to His love and to share in His holiness as the book of Hebrews described.

Pain has a way of getting us to call on His name. When one is desperate for answers, relief or help, he will most likely turn to God. Sadly, all too often we go to Him only as a last resort. We go to God only after trying all failed human ways. Sadly, this is how many of us, including myself, regard God!

Pain caused me to depend on God. In my pain, I often called out, "Lord, please have mercy upon me. Give me more of your grace to endure, more strength to forbear."

David later testified in the same Psalm that God accepted and answered his prayer. From David's life, I learned to linger in the presence of God each day. It is in His presence that I began to focus more on His promises instead of my pain. I focused on His presence instead of all my problems.

I could go on and on to relate every incident or detail of my pain and suffering. However, it is not my plan to share with you every single detail. My key purpose is to share passionately with you how my good Shepherd was always present to provide me the grace, the patience and the faith to walk through.

Through every twist and turn in the valley, He was there to walk the distance with me. That's why I am now able to talk the walk. Yes, through it all, Jesus was always there to hold my feeble hands! He made me realize that He had not failed me. He had not forgotten me. He had not abandoned or forsaken this child of His. Indeed, He had never left me.

Yes, He had been my constant companion who was there to conquer every fear of evil and to meet every need. [21-29]

 

[David Ong is a pastor and was diagnosed in September 2004 with Stage 3A multiple myeloma (Salmon Durie Staging). Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the bone marrow plasma cells in the blood that is not curable by conventional chemotherapy. The myeloma cells primary affect the bones in the body---causing many lytic lesions or ‘holes’ in the bones.]

 

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