Watch: Denise’s testimony
Denise recounts all the blessings she has experienced after being struck with cancer not just once, but twice. She shares about her journey, life lessons and inner healing. Praise God!
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I can say, quite confidently, that post-cancer, even with all the side-effects and damages, that I have access to true joy, peace, and love.
Hi. I’m Denise, and I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, in a Christian family,
I was that kind of girl that appeared to have everything together, surrounded by friends and just really like a happy-go-lucky girl. But deep down, I was really searching to be loved, to experience genuine love. And it’s not to say that I wasn’t loved, but rather, I was insecure and likely never really allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to be loved.
If I look back, it was really like a coping mechanism to surviving a home life where parents fought all the time.
My sister and I were essentially walking on eggshells, not knowing when the next blow-up would be.
It was in my teenage years where that led me to chronic dating and my search for validation and love, but also never allowing myself to truly risk to love or to be loved. And that eventually turned to dabbling in alcohol and recreational drugs to just numb myself from all of the emotions.
I had clearly walked away from the Lord, but God chased me down to make my heart whole again.
I gave my life to Christ at the age of 12, but His work on the cross at Calvary didn’t just end at my salvation because, you know, God is not just concerned about my eternal life. He’s equally interested in my life on this side of heaven.
Looking back at my days in darkness, I see His hand of protection and loving patience over me. No matter how many times I disappointed and denied Him, His love never left me and if anything, His pursuit of me intensified.
It was in December 2009 that God really shook me up with a cancer diagnosis.
I was living overseas at that time, exploring another crazy world of partying in an unknown city. And it was during a visit to my parents and a routine blood-work that my GP announced I have cancer. The final diagnosis was an advanced stage four cancer of the lymph nodes that had spread to my blood, my bone marrow, and my world just turned upside down and inside out overnight.
From late night parties and HIIT workouts to being a cancer patient at 26 years young. Cancer treatment also meant leaving my friends and my boyfriend, and moving back in with my parents, whom I was not particularly close with.
My friends and whatever guy I was dating had always been my crutches in life. My boyfriend then struggled with me being sick and so, we very quickly broke up.
All my life, God blessed me with amazing friends but it was my attachment to them that made it unhealthy.
God stripped me of everything I found security in, in order to show me that everything I needed is just truly found in Him.
So fast forward, after having gone through many rounds of chemo, I found myself in remission and was so happy to start living life again. I was ready to be a normal girl again, to dream again, to plan for trips and dates — but just less than one year after being in remission, the cancer returned with a vengeance. I was rushed to emergency one afternoon with a resting heart rate of 170. Water had filled my lungs and abdomen, and I was admitted with an oxygen mask and a tube inserted into my lungs to draw out the excess fluid.
During that time, I stayed in the hospital for two months to be stabilised.
It was that time lying in the hospital bed that I would be asking God, “Why? Why the second time? Why while I’m walking with You?”
I could reason my first diagnosis to be what God used to bring me back to Him. But I really couldn’t work out in my head and heart how this second diagnosis could be allowed by my God, who is so kind and so good.
During this time, I also befriended a roommate, a young girl from another city in Asia, also in her twenties, battling cancer. She was all alone, having just married a boy from India who was waiting for her to finish her contract to join him again in India.
During this time, my church community was just a huge part of my healing journey.
They prayed with me when I couldn’t pray, sitting with me in my pain, celebrating the highs, and encouraging me in the lows. As they walked alongside my family and I, very naturally, they also began walking with my roommate, bringing her her favourite spicy dumplings and hot sauces to pair with our very boring and bland hospital food.
In time, she and her parents accepted Christ, along with her husband and his brother from India, who also accepted the Lord as their Saviour.
And I think that’s just beautiful, because I didn’t have to get on a plane to do missions. I didn’t even have to be healthy, let alone mobile.
In fact, it was the opposite. I was the sickest and weakest I’ve ever been. But as in 2 Corinthians 12:9, it says His power is made perfect in weakness. And when we are weak, then through Him, we are made strong. And when we are made low, He gets to be raised up.
This is when my question of why was answered. I realised that it’s not about me. It’s about His redemptive plan for all mankind.
So it was my first diagnosis that He pursued me. But it’s through my second diagnosis that He pursued His other children, redeeming what was meant to be death, in the most literal sense, to bring life and life eternal to His children.
And what’s even more beautiful is that the Holy Spirit’s work was not dependent on my abilities or even my well-being.
God didn’t need my performance or my perfection. He just wanted my surrender. And I see His redemptive work highlighted in my cancer diagnosis. He redeemed me and brought me back to Him in the first diagnosis, where I focused a lot on nutrition, on my body but it’s in the second diagnosis that Jesus started working on my heart and healing the heart wounds.
The second diagnosis was extremely difficult on all fronts — physically, mentally, emotionally. The doctors told me that my best chance of a cure was going to be a bone marrow transplant, which my sister was actually a perfect match for. But after doing some research, I actually decided against it. And so the doctor’s advice that, you know, if I wasn’t going to do the transplant, that I would need to continue with chemotherapy for another two years, and it was really just out of fear that I continued.
After about just three more rounds of chemo, my body just began breaking down.
I suffered from severe edema, first starting in my legs and eventually, I couldn’t walk. And slowly, the edema spread to my upper limbs and I couldn’t even clasp my hands together.
The breaking point was when I lost hearing in my right ear. And despite what my doctor previously told me that if I stopped chemotherapy, I would essentially be committing suicide, I knew that even if I survived cancer, I didn’t want to be living like this.
So I told my doctor I wanted to stop all the treatments. Chemotherapy was kind of like my last security that I could hold on to but my body was clearly screaming out for me to stop. And so, I left behind me the only insurance I had left. And again, I found myself having to surrender more of myself to the Lord.
And it was in this surrendering that the Lord led me down a path of inner healing; releasing fear, bitterness, unforgiveness, and anger, which then became just a crucial part of me being cancer-free now.
The built-up and hidden emotions and heart wounds led me to believe in lies about myself; that I was unworthy, unloved, forgotten, not enough. And these lies ended up becoming my belief and eventually, through my belief, it manifested into my life choices and how I lived my life, searching for validation and affirmation from others.
Thankfully, when God works, he doesn’t just work in part, He works in full and He heals in full, healing not just my body from cancer, but my mind and spirit from cancerous thoughts.
Because God didn’t just come to give us eternal life. He came to give us a life of abundance. As Jesus said in John 10:10 — and this is kind of like my life message to the world, it says in John 10:10 that the enemy has come to kill and destroy but I have come to give you life, a life of abundance. This is what the Lord has done in my life.
The enemy wanted to steal my present and my future. He wanted to keep me in a place of bondage, protecting an image that I might have built up for myself.
But God wanted to set me free from those false identities and build up a new identity, my true identity, as His beloved daughter.
Today, I still have swelling in my legs, issues with my hormones, and my hearing is still impaired. So in the world’s eyes, I may be less fortunate than my days before cancer, but I can also say, quite confidently, that post-cancer, even with all the side-effects and damages, that I have access to true joy, peace, and love.
Though life is no easier, I am living a full life, or at least that I have the keys to be fully alive in my body, mind, and spirit.
Just as Jesus came and died on the cross to secure the promise of abundant life for us, it’s the in-between that He slowly and faithfully fulfills this promise until it is fulfilled in its entirety in His return to earth.
It’s in the in-between where we surrender more and more of our hearts and lives, that we get to experience this abundance of life in the “here and now,” a beautiful glimpse of heaven on earth.
And so my prayer for you is to experience the abundance of life that He has for you in this life, on this earth as you go deeper in loving Him by surrendering and giving up your life for His.
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