Monday, July 24, 2017

A health update - one year more to year 5!

Cancer patients look forward to the day when they reach their fifth year of remission.  Generally, the medical community deems that if the cancer patient manages to attain a clean bill of health for five consecutive years post transplant or operation, without any sign of return of the illness, it can be taken to mean that he has a good chance of a total remission. 

Each year, July 25 is the day I look forward to.  It's my second birthday, so to speak.  It was on this day back in 2013 that I received the precious life-saving stem cells from my lifesaver Peter Mui who gave me what I needed to reset my cancer ridden blood cells.  Tomorrow marks the fourth year since my transplant, and it is only with God’s tremendous grace that I had come so far, especially when I had seen quite a few fellow transplant patients who, due to different complications and infections, succumbed to their malady.  Thinking of this and how far I have come only makes me more and more grateful for each day’s grace of life and experiences of God’s love.

I have always held the belief that our lives are most meaningfully lived when we live with gratitude in our hearts.  Gratitude makes us humble, and humility is the mother of all virtues.  The problem with so many of us is that we are often taking for granted the many different blessings that fill our lives.  Living that way tends to foster a certain sense of entitlement that causes us to not only be prideful, but also prevents us from nurturing a grateful heart.

When one is given the experience of having a serious medical condition like a cancer, one is also given a golden opportunity to allow it to shape and mould the heart.  I do agree that not every one comes to see this in such a positive light.  It is definitely a grace.  Ever since my transplant adventure and slow recovery, I have had countless people approaching me and asking me what the secret to such a positive attitude to life is.  I have no secret.  It is only a secret insofar as one is unwilling to allow one’s given situation in life to be one’s teacher rather than to be the one who holds the controls in life. 

Living this way requires most fundamentally faith.  For a person who doesn’t have faith, my reflections will easily be deemed drivel and dismissed as hogwash.  Life, to those without faith, is meant to be lived such that the marrow is always sucked out of the bone.  But willingness to be led by one’s situation in life requires also a willingness to be led by a force and power that is higher than the self.  Jesus speaks of this when he tells the beloved disciple at the end of John’s gospel that “when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go”.

We all have these places that we would rather not go.  Examples of these are legion.  But it is in these places, often, that we also grow in depth and in virtue, and as a result, in holiness as well.  All near-death experiences are such places.

Would I be living just as gratefully if I had not reached my fourth year post-transplant with such smoothness?  While that would be conjecturing, I daresay that it would not change much.  After all, the deepest foundation of my gratitude is that I have been saved by my Lord Jesus Christ.  My gratitude for anything else that I have been given in life are but shades of this fundamental gracious act of a most merciful God - a bit like add-ons in life.  Living this way then makes it possible to still be grateful in life for any negative experiences in life, because they do not take away the promises of an eternity lived in God’s kingdom. 

When life is approached from this perspective of faith, it makes living with a joy that is unshakeable possible.  Indeed, the world around us can be literally fall apart, but there will still be an inner integrity that defies disintegration.  Moreover, it gives us the ability to see that failures, physical weaknesses and even our inferiorities as things that can build up our souls.  As Christopher de Vinck said in The Power of the Powerless:  A Brother’s Legacy of Love, that soul comes from inferiority.  He writes poignantly about how his older brother, Oliver, though born blind and with severe brain damage, became a tremendous blessing to their entire family.  That is the belt that is tied round our waist to bring us where we would rather not go. 

I believe that it is when we reach that place that we will realise that though it was a place we would have rather not gone, that turns out to be a place that we really needed to go. 

Here’s to the next 365 days, and whatever comes with it! 


  1. I am simply awestruck at how God included me in His plans for your life. All praise and glory to our sovereign, loving and merciful God alone!

  2. Fr Luke, many years ago I read your blog and somehow I had no recollection why I stopped reading. This morning when I was feeling very down and as I was using the pen knife to open the mails, I had thoughts of what it was like to slash my wrists. Also as I was crossing the road, what will it be like if a car knocks me and my life ends there.
    I am going through a difficult time at work for the longest time and trials of facing an unforgiving catholic superior and toxic colleagues who are bullies.
    I had no idea why your name suddenly popped up in my mind and I did a google search only to find your blog. The below just popped up and I believe there is a reason why but I will only realize in God's time.
    "I have always held the belief that our lives are most meaningfully lived when we live with gratitude in our hearts. Gratitude makes us humble, and humility is the mother of all virtues."