Christina T. Lee, December, 2004
It is exactly a year ago this Labor Day weekend since I finished my first 96 hour dose of chemotherapy. For a worrier like me, it was God’s grace and mercy that I did not faint when the doctor told me that I had multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that affects antibody-producing cells in the bone marrow. In addition to receiving the 4 cycles of induction chemotherapy (3 different drugs infused over 4 days) and two stem cell transplants, each preceded by a large dose of single drug chemotherapy, I also endured three major infections in the past year. During that period of time, I did not dare to look beyond one day at a time. Each day proved to be a miracle as the cycles of chemotherapy administered intravenously did not ruin my organs or kill me. Most of the drugs I received have serious potential side effects that could cause damage to the liver, stomach, kidneys and heart. I believe that I was a walking miracle each day.
The diagnosis of my sickness was so sudden and unexpected that my family and I were caught by surprise. I had my bank accounts rearranged and put away all my valuables to the safety box. I watered all my hundred plus houseplants at home so they would not be thirsty. The Lord softly reminded me that if I, a sinful person, would care for the plants when I did not know what would happen to me, so much more was His love for me. “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you. O you of little faith.”Matt 6: 30. The Lord comforted me through His Holy Spirit and reminded me of His precious words. “When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust, I will not be afraid.”Psalm 56: 3-4. He urged me clearly to look to Him and not my sickness.“My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” Psalm 25:15. He encouraged and admonished me through sisters in Christ to be positive. “We take captive every thought to make it obedience to Christ” II Cor l0:5. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”Phil 4:8. All my fears and worry came from my mind and only God’s precious words were my hope and encouragement to battle the temptation to worry: “May Your unfailing love come to me O Lord. Your salvation according to Your promise . . . for I trust in Your word . . . remember Your words to your servant for You have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this Your promise preserves my life . . . I remember Your ancient laws O Lord and I find comfort in them” Psalm ll9:4l-52.
I was uplifted by God’s words of love, hope, peace, His presence and His deliverance. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Roman 15: 13. “Save me and I will be saved. Heal me and I will be healed for you are the one I praise”Jeremiah 17:14. He was the anchor of my soul and my good shepherd. He carried me through the first cycle of chemotherapy with love and prayer support from many brothers and sisters in Christ. Through an email from one of the elders of my church, He reminded me that I was not alone. Another elder said that the church followed closely my condition and treatment.
The love of God was manifested through the sacrificial action of so many brothers and sisters who went out of their way to cook and deliver food after a long day’s work. One couple received a traffic ticket because they rushed to deliver food to me. One brother drove more than 20 miles to our house to walk with me while he himself was waiting for surgery. Two came to help us remove our broken refrigerator; others did grocery shopping for us. One dear sister, whose own child went through an allogenic bone marrow transplant about 5 years ago, cooked for me and made many beautiful hats for me to keep my bald head warm, in spite of her extremely busy schedule. Others sent CDs of hymns and cards or called from different parts of the world to encourage and pray for us.
God strengthened me and carried me through the implantation of an intravenous port, placement of intravenous catheter to the heart (the doctor did not use the ultrasound to guide him; therefore, there was even greater chance for him to accidentally get to the lung and puncture it), daily needle sticks for blood tests, as well as shots (my husband who was one of the caregivers gave me the shots twice a day for 10 days) for stem cell mobilization and collection. I experienced cold chills and hot flashes, violent vomiting, frequent diarrhea, severe cramps and much more. Only patients who have undergone such procedures and their care giving family members truly understand the indescribable discomfort. Praise and thanks be to God that He enabled scientists to discover ways to reduce these sufferings.
One of my twin daughters who was working in New York city quit her promising and successful job to come back and be my caregiver to reduce my husband’s burden and stress. She and my husband performed all the tedious care-giving tasks along with the chores. These included flushing my IV line every day, changing my sterile dressings twice a week, adjusting water/room temperatures and staying with me during each shower. They sterilized all my utensils and warmed my food even in the middle of night. They stayed with me overnight and slept in a hospital sofa during each of my treatments. They gave up the freedom to do their own things and be with their peers. They also had to watch me suffer. However, God alone turned evil to good. For in the process, we all experienced and saw the wonder of God. He protected and shielded me, provided me with more than I have asked. He heard our prayers and delivered me. He is loving and faithful. Frequently, I would have waves of fear and uncertainty during my 4 cycles of chemotherapy. I had emotional ups and downs: “Why should He heal me? Do I have the right to pray for healing?” I also had many dark and eerie dreams: seeing vultures, cliffs, being chased and trying to dodge danger or hiding from the danger. I did not know how I would respond to the chemo. I had many “what ifs” on my mind before going in for the first 96 hours cycle of chemotherapy: “How could I endure the poison? What if I went into a coma?”
God in the process transformed my mind to focus on Him, “to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self created to be like God in the righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:23. A dear sister who brought congee to me in the hospital, encouraged me that in her prayer for me God helped her to see that Christ’s all sufficient blood could cleanse my blood. What an encouragement!
The process of learning to trust in God was ongoing during my treatment. At times I thought I had learned to completely trust in Him and not to worry. By His grace, I grew, learned, and proved that, “No one whose hope is in the Lord will ever be disappointed” Psalm 25:3. However, Satan is like a brawling lion ready to devour me. My mind was up and down like the tide. Oh my long suffering Lord, His patience towards His child who had little faith. He reminded me He loved me and upheld me. “I sought the Lord and He answered me. He delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4. “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9:24. God brought me to remember how He healed King Hazekiah, Namaan, and the woman who bled for 12 years. Praisethe Lord for there is nothing impossible in Him. Through His Holy Spirit, He gently, patiently and surely transformed me – my whole being.
Several days before the third cycle of my chemotherapy, I came down with high fever. My husband told me that I was repeating “no need to be afraid, no need to be afraid” in my sleep before I was admitted to the hospital. I believe that God was comforting me in my sleep through the words in a hymn that we had sang the past Sunday,“He is in control, I will not be afraid.” The Lord indeed carried me through the valley and shadow of death. Although the tests could not pinpoint what kind of infection I had, I immediately responded to the empirical antibiotic treatment aimed at unusual infections that usually affects patients with compromised immune systems. “You brought me up from the grave. You spared me from going down into the pit” Psalm 30:3.
In December 2003, shortly after completion of my last cycle of the induction chemotherapy, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article regarding a six year French study which noted the benefits of back-to-back stem cell transplants for myeloma patients. The treatment requires a very large dose of single drug, followed by a stem cell transplant the next day. My husband and I had been seeking the Lord’s guidance to determine whether and where to undergo stem cell transplant since I was diagnosed.
My diet was a very important consideration during my treatment. Two components of my diet included high nutrition and cleanliness. The high toxicity of my treatment took a toll on my immune system. This left me extremely susceptible to common infections that an average healthy person would have no problems with. As a result, I could not interact
It would be more difficult to have friends prepare nutritious Chinese food for me if I were to go to another state for treatment. She strongly advised me to weigh the pros and cons of going out of state for treatment. After much investigation and prayer, God in His grace led me to Houston. God led a loving couple who have been our friends for over 30 years to take an early retirement in Houston in January of 2003. She was a gourmet cook who knew my childhood favorites and cravings because she came from the same province. In addition, she was a nurse. Both she and her husband were patient and caring, thoughtful and always there for us. During the first week after I was discharged from the hospital following my first transplant, I over-exerted myself and vomited really badly. I immediately called our friend that afternoon for my favorite dishes. Without any hesitation, she cheerfully cooked and sterilized the food for me. In addition to that couple, God also provided me a college friend who worshipped at the church where our former pastor from St. Louis currently preaches. The church was 15 minutes away from the hospital. She and her husband picked us up on Sundays so that we could go and worship. This college friend also helped cook for me during my second transplant while my nurse friend was on vacation. Houston was notoriously hot and humid in July. Although she could not stand the heat, she lovingly and gladly offered to shop groceries for us, cooked and delivered food to my hotel that was located nearly 40 minutes away from her house. Knowing that I would be confined to the hospital for several weeks after the first transplant, my college friend and her husband invited us to their lakeside house to enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery God provided. ”Many O Lord my God are the wonder You have done. The things You planned for us, no one can recount to You, if I were to speak and tell of them, there will be too many to declare.” Psalm 40:5
Prior to the transplant, I had to sign a release form that I dreaded to read because it spelled out all the potential complications (including death) associated with this treatment. It was especially frightening since the chemotherapy I was scheduled to receive was 30% more than the dose received by patients in the French study. Praise be to the Lord “ though I walk through the valley and the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” Psalm23:4.
In preparation for my transplant, I had to go through a series of pre-transplant tests. The doctor had to remove my old infusion port and place a new large, double lumen intravenous catheter that was used for stem cell collection and infusion of chemotherapy. Shortly after the insertion of the new line, I started to ooze around the catheter due to my low platelet counts. I had to go to the emergency room twice in the middle of the night and early morning to stop the bleeding. I felt so bad for my husband and daughter since they had to take me to the emergency room and were not able to sleep. They were worn out physically having to take care of my every need around the clock and I cried out to the Lord to give them some rest and give the doctors/nurses wisdom to stop the bleeding. God listened to my prayer and after trying for several hours, one of the nurses finally was able to stop the oozing and I was able to keep the newly placed catheter. Later, my first transplant had to be delayed because16 transplant patients came down with the same viral infection on the floor I was supposed to be admitted. God provided this extra time for me to rest and build strength. “My soul found rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him” Psalm 62:l.
Before going in for the first transplant, I dreamed that I faced the misty lofty Mattahorn. The Lord, in His power and love, gave me clearly His words from Isaiah 41:10-12, “So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”He indeed carried me. It was hard and yet not hard, as if He lifted me away during difficult times. He fulfilled His promises. He was with me, carried me and strengthened me. I was able to walk around the floor and did exercises. Even during my weakest time God still upheld me to be able to walk once. Up to that stage of my sickness God proved true to this section of His promise and I trust that He will fulfill the rest of the promise in me: “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced, those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Amen”. The nurse to whom I told my dream said,”now you are over the Alps”. Praise the Lord.
On the day of chemotherapy preceding the first transplant, I needed to stuff my mouth with ice to constrict the blood vessels and to reduce the inflow of toxic drug so that I would not develop extensive mouth sores. I have sensitive gums. Any cold and sweet things can give me pain. I drank only warm things. The Lord miraculously shielded me from pain when I had to fill my mouth continuously with ice for 1 ? hrs. I did develop some mouth sores because despite my gentle brushing, the chemo brush was still able to tear the gum. God enabled me to tolerate the pain while rinsing my mouth with water and antibacterial mouthwash after each meal or every 4 hours. However, for the second transplant the Lord helped me to learn from the first experience. He protected me and enabled me to keep the ice cubes in my mouth for 2 straight hours without interruption (30 minutes longer than usual because the pharmacy delayed bringing my chemotherapy drug for half an hour). The nurses were amazed that I was able to keep the ice for such a long time. They were even more astonished to see that I did not develop any mouth sores after the second transplant. It is almost unheard of that patient does not have mouth sore after receiving such a high dose of chemotherapy!
During my hospitalization, some of the nurses and phlebotomists were not vigilant in using aseptic technique. However, God protected me from getting infected. He enabled the toxic drugs to destroy the cancerous cells and spare the good ones just like He destroyed all the Egyptians but shielded the Israelite firstborns by the blood of a perfect lamb. By their act of faith and obedience, they were shielded. All through my treatments, my nausea was minimal. I did not need Zofran, which was the most effective treatment for nausea. Cancer patients call it a friend. While I have had stomach problems since elementary school, chemotherapy can even cause gastric irritation in patients with no history of stomach problems. Praise the Lord He miraculously shielded me.
Before my second transplant, I frantically sought God’s words and promises. Satan again scared me by telling me that it was my second and last hope. Satan made me doubt that the Lord would heal me. Then the Lord reminded me and gave me the verse, “Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” Isaiah 66:9. “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in Me will not be disappointed.”Isaiah 49:23.
When I went in for the second transplant, I had shingles because my white blood cells did not come up high enough . The doctors had me to stop all the medications. It was apparent that he had not encountered patients who came down with shingles before the transplant. Because of the shingles, my second transplant had to be delayed. I was first treated with heavy doses of antiviral medication orally. However the medication did not effectively stop the virus and it spread to the corner of my left eye. Knowing that the virus could blind me, I was sent to the ophthalmologist. The Lord protected my vision. The ophthalmologist put me on three medications and I was admitted immediately to the hospital for intravenous treatment. The nurse wanted to administer pain medication because shingles usually caused excruciating pain that lasted for several months as the virus burned and blistered along the nerve. However, I told her that I did not need any pain medication because it did not hurt much at all. She thought I had a high tolerance for pain. I knew it was God’s grace and mercy that He shielded me from pain and suffering. The anesthesiologist who specialized in pain came and offered me various treatments including nerve block to minimize pain caused by shingles. She also was amazed when I told her that I did not need any pain medication. It was miracle upon miracle. Indeed His mercy and grace rested upon me.
The intravenous antiviral medication I received was known to cause damage to the kidney. The Lord enabled me to drink a lot of fluid and shielded me. He enabled the fluid to be effective. After two weeks of treatment for shingles, I received my pretransplant chemotherapy. I spent a total of 4 weeks on the hospital transplant floor. It was His grace for there were others who spent several months. The doctor, after the transplant, to my surprise, thanked me. He said that he had not encountered such a case before and went ahead with the transplant without knowing if the shingles would recur during the immediate post transplant period. He was really taking a chance since he had to stop the intravenous antiviral treatment when the stem cell transplant was initiated. Through my illness I have become aware how magnificent our immune system was made. Our normal immune system helps us fight off infections and keeps cancer from growing. After it breaks down, no drugs or treatment can perfectly take it’s place because all drugs have serious side effects. The medication may help one problem but start another. If it were not the Lord’s shielding me, I would not know what other organs the medications would damage. “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm l39:l4.“O Lord, You brought me up from the grave, You spared me from going down into the pit.” Psalm 30:3.
For patients undergoing stem cell transplants like me, the day that I received my stem cells (one day after a large dose of single chemotherapeutic agent) heralded the new beginning or what the nurses called a new birthday. All my old and bad cells were killed; my white blood cell counts were down to a negligible level and so were my platelets. Praise the Lord that I am a new being. I even have a new rosy complexion and new soft hair. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”II Cor 5:17. Physically I am and so is my spiritual condition in the Lord.
On several occasions during the past year God taught me to be strong and wait before Him, to yield and trust in Him. When flying to Houston for my second transplant, heavy storm and bad weather caused our plane to be re-routed to Lafeyette, Louisiana airport. My daughter was worried that we had to stay overnight in the airport with nothing clean for me to buy and eat. All my medications were in the checked luggage -- it was a small plane, even the carry-on bags needed to be checked in. Many businessmen, after three hours of waiting, left for car rentals and decided to drive to Houston, that was 4 hours away by car. I did not want my daughter to drive nor did I wish to have my dear friend who was waiting in the Houston airport to come and pick us up. However, the Lord gave a worrier like me a sense of inexplicable peace. He clearly spoke to me and comforted me that we would be in Houston that night. Sure enough, shortly after, we were called to board and arrived in Houston before those who had chosen to rent cars and drive.
The second instance relates to drawing blood from my vein for lab tests. I have small rolling veins, which were a constant challenge for all phlebotomists. I found only one good phlebotomist to draw my blood. Even to her, I was challenging. One day when several patients and I were called to have our blood drawn, a few of them cut in front of me. I did not insist to line up in the order that we were called. It so happened that the Lord arranged to have the good phlebotomist to draw my blood. If I were to insist that we went in the order we were called, I would not have her as my phlebotomist. “be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord” Psalm 27:14.
I’m extremely thankful now that I have the energy to resume all of my normal activities. These include: cooking, bathing, paying bills, grocery shopping, eating some peelable fruits, and dining in restaurants. I went canoeing in the lake with my family in September on weekends till the canoe season ended. I was able to soak in His beautiful creation and smell the fresh air. God also enabled me to go to Toronto with my family to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday in October. “You turned my wailing to dancing. You removed sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Psalm 30:11.
I still need monthly blood tests in town. However, I only need to go to Houston for check ups every three months or longer. The doctor has been cautious not to pronounce remission because I still had a small amount of abnormal protein in my 24 hour urine collection when tested in Oct. But I am confident and trust that the Almighty and loving God would do just as He promised, “He restored me to health and let me live. Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered affliction” Isaiah 38:l7. “The living, the living-they praise You as I am doing today” Isaiah 38:l9. In the minds of human it is hard to believe and comprehend that remission is possible. However The Lord is God and as in Psalm 50: 21 said” you thought I was altogether like you”. “My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness.” II Cor l2:9. I expect that in my next test the doctor will be amazed. “So that the people may see and know, may consider and understand that the hand of the Lord has done this”Isaiah 4l: 20.
The Lord through this past year healed me physically and transformed me from a worried, scared person to the one who learn to trust in Him day by day and wait upon Him. Sure, there are waves of fear and anxiety that come my way at times. He bid me to trust and look to Him. Though it has been a constant spiritual warfare of the mind, I need to look to God for strength: “ put on the full armor of God.”Eph 6:11. He has given me a second chance. I am a new being by His love and power. I am waiting expectantly that others and all who know of my sickness be able to see that the hand of Lord has done this. May honor and glory be to Him. “Blessed is she who has believed what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” Luke 1:45. Without the sickness, I would not have experienced God’s love and unity through my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. May the Lord bless all these brothers and sisters who channeled His love in so many different ways. I also tested and confirmed that the Words of the Lord are precious; they were my hope and promises from Him. “My comfort in my suffering is this:Your promises preserves my life. Psalm ll9:50 and “if your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” Psalm 119:92.
My family and I learned the importance of prayer and supplication. A physician friend told me that he could not help me but would pray for me. I told him that this was the most important thing of all. Brothers and sisters in the Lord were stirred to kneel before the Lord. They were drawn close to Him in intercession and channeled God’s love. They shared in the joy and jubilation of witnessing how great God is in answering their prayers. The prayers to the Maker of heavens and the earth shielded and strengthened us and brought victory and salvation just as the Israelites won victory over the Amalekites when Mose’s hands lifted up to the Lord. I can attest to the power through my sickness. I praise and thank God for such a privilege and honor that, through Christ’s redeeming blood, we can come boldly to His throne of mercy. He alone can save.
In addition, I learned and experienced His love and power first hand. I should have known because the Lord’s unfailing love and power are always in my daily life. Even so, it took such a sickness for me to realize it. “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard that You O God are strong and You O Lord are loving.” Psalm 62:ll-l2.”As we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of the Lord Almighty, in the city of our God. God makes her secure forever.”Psalm 48:8. “My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.” Job 42: 5.
“My heart may sing to You and not be silent. O Lord my God I will give You thanks forever.” Psalm 30:12
Note: I started writing this testimony in September 2004 Labor Day weekend. It is now December that I finally finish reviewing it. Since beginning, I have had 2 blood tests in town; praise the Lord, for the results showed that no abnormal protein spike was found on immunoassay. An abnormal protein spike in the blood indicates disease of the bone marrow; its absence implies I would not have any Bence Jones protein in my urine, and hence, no more multiple myeloma. Hallelujah.