Family, Health, School

A dad’s grief when his teen daughter was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer: “My wailing was unrecognisable”

By Gracia Lee , 4 April 2023

Right before Deborah Ng’s ‘O’ level exams in 2020, her family was told that the 1-cm lump in her neck was Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They were devastated. 

In the weeks after, her dad Gordon Ng, 50, was overwhelmed by waves of uncontrollable grief that struck him at random times of the day.

Gordon was also plagued by dark, intrusive thoughts – such as watching himself share a eulogy at his firstborn’s funeral. 

His sorrow overflowed as “wailing that was unrecognisable”. 

“It was scary that it was coming out of my mouth uncontrollably,” said Gordon, who works in market research. 

Gordon was also plagued by dark, intrusive thoughts – such as watching himself share a eulogy at his firstborn’s funeral. 

“The mind plays the most wicked tricks on you … Those were really, really heavy days,” he said. 

Gordon and his wife, Mien Woon, with their daughters Deborah (right, 19 this year) and Phoebe (16 this year) on a family holiday in December 2022.

It was hard to share his sorrow with his wife, Mien Woon, who was grappling with her own grief. Gordon also felt he couldn’t share it with his daughters, who looked to him for direction and comfort.

So, Gordon grieved by himself, often alone in his car.

A sick daughter’s grit 

The small mysterious lump on Deborah’s neck, found months earlier in February, was initially thought to be an infection. 

When Gordon and his wife informed their 16-year-old daughter about the cancer diagnosis, there was no “dramatic crying”.

“She cried for a maximum of four minutes,” recalled Gordon.

Gordon thanks God for Deborah’s determination to just get on with things, which made the situation “less rough” on her parents. 

Gordon and his wife feared how Deborah would react when her hair began falling out after chemotherapy. But Deborah chose to shave off her locks and said it wasn’t as traumatic as she thought it would be.

Deborah was also determined to take her ‘O’ level exams and brought her study notes to her chemotherapy sessions.

Deborah studying for her ‘O’ levels during a chemotherapy session. She scored four A’s in the exams.

Throughout the 12 chemotherapy sessions and their painful side effects, Deborah never rated the pain higher than a five on a scale of one to 10 – even when it was so intense that she curled into a fetal position and couldn’t speak.

Sustained by love

Since receiving the diagnosis, Gordon made it a point to pray with Deborah every night. He was grateful that Deborah, who had stopped going to church regularly in her teen years, allowed him to do this.

“We thought it was important for her to feel comforted, hopeful and held together by the fact that we are holding on to God,” said Gordon.

This prayerful process helped draw the family closer to God – and to each other. That, says Gordon, is a miracle in itself.

After being declared to be in remission, Deborah underwent surgery in March 2021 to remove the implanted port-a-cath (a device used to draw blood and give treatment) from her chest.

Gordon also saw God’s presence when Christian friends rallied around the family – sending them food, praying for them, and checking in on them.

While Gordon couldn’t talk about his grief with his family, he was able to with his male Christian friends. They prayed for him, and the dark thoughts miraculously left him.

People who stood by the Ng family’s side during their trial included friends from Kum Yan Methodist Church and family members.

“It was their love and prayers that sustained us,” he said.

“I cannot imagine, nor can I try to figure out what else it could possibly have been.”

The sure-win prayer

These blessings were answers to the first prayer Gordon and Mien Woon had cried out when their daughter was diagnosed with cancer in September 2020.

“Bet on this sure-win and you’ll never come out a loser.”

They had pleaded with God to grant Deborah healing and a long life

But they also told God that they would continue to glorify and praise Jesus’ name, no matter what the outcome.

What prompted such a prayer?

“This is the sure-win prayer. Bet on this sure-win and you’ll never come out a loser,” said Gordon, who believes that “even if things don’t go the way we hope, God will comfort us”.

The easier answer

Gordon’s grief gave way to relief once Deborah’s treatment was underway. 

“My confidence and resolve to fight this cancer grew with every dose of chemotherapy that Deborah went through and at every PET scan where we saw those cancer cells disappear from sight.”

After seven months of treatment, doctors finally declared Deborah to be in full remission in March 2021.

Deborah and her parents with nurses after she was declared to be in remission in March 2021.

“Every three months when we see the oncologist and get the all-clear, we are reminded about how good God is,” said a grateful Gordon.

Deborah, now 19, has been cancer-free for two years. She is currently getting ready to attend a local university.

“With every passing year that Deborah is in remission, relief has been replaced with elation, and a compulsive need to celebrate,” said Gordon.

“I feel we were given the easier answer – and thank God for that. The alternative would have been unbearable.” 

Never alone

Yet Gordon knows that Deborah’s and the family’s story is not yet finished.

This is why he clings to his “sure-win prayer” as he grapples with the anxiety of a possible relapse, as well as other uncertainties of life.

No matter what happens, Gordon says is holding fast to the God he has trusted since his youth.

How he feels stems more from God holding onto him rather than him being a “super-Christian”. 

“If God is God, that quality or aspect of who He is doesn’t change because something awful has happened in my life,” he explained.

Looking back, Gordon says he never felt alone since receiving the terrible news. How he feels stems more from God holding onto him rather than him being a “super-Christian”. 

“Never once did I feel that God abandoned me.

“I was at my wits’ end as to how to deal with it, but I never felt like I was alone to fend for myself,” he said, choking up with emotion.

“I never asked God why all of this happened.

“Never did it cross my mind to give God up because of anger, or because of resentment,” he said.

This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Salt&Light.

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