In February this year, Sarah Goh quit her job as a planning engineer and signed up for City Harvest Church’s School of Theology. In March, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but made the courageous decision to carry on with Bible School. She is one of the nominees of this year’s SOT Courage Award.
Sarah Goh is a lively, positive 55-year-old. If you met her today you would not guess that she is undergoing chemotherapy. In fact, you would probably be amazed to find out that this weekend, Sarah will be graduating as part of the 2018 intake of SOT.
Sarah’s journey began when she went on a mission trip with her husband to Bacolod in the Philippines last year in May. “During the few weeks of fasting and preparation before the trip, I realized that I was not equipped enough, and I pondered about whether to go to SOT to get myself better prepared.”
SOT for any working adult is a challenge. The course runs for seven months from March through September, with a prep course in February. Lessons are conducted in the mornings, and there is a rigorous schedule of readings, assignments, practicum and mission work. For many, it requires taking a sabbatical from a job. In the case of a lucky few, working for an understanding company. “A few years ago [when I was thinking about going to SOT], I spoke to my company’s human resource department but they would not allow me to work half-days for seven months,” recalls Sarah. “So, I put the thought aside and prayed for God’s timing.”
Last year in August, however, Sarah’s part time job paid off, allowing her to plan for her retirement. “At the same time, many things were happening at my work place due to cost-cutting and re-structuring, so after praying and seeking God for direction, I decided to resign and end my 27-year career as a planning engineer. My last day was Feb 2, 2018.”
The time seemed perfect to fulfil her dream of attending SOT. “I spoke to my two sons Clement and Ryan, both of whom had gone to SOT in 2012 and 2017 respectively,” says Sarah. “Both of them strongly suggested I enrol in SOT, and they said that I will experience God’s tangible presence every day during praise and worship in SOT.”
“After getting the assurance from God that He will be my provider and that my part-time pay will keep coming while I am in SOT, I decided to sign up for SOT, trusting in His promises in Phil 4:19 and Matt 6:33.”
AN UNEXPECTED TURN OF EVENTS
Sarah had begun attending the SOT prep course at the end of February when she felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to go for her bi-annual mammogram.
“On March 5, I went for a mammogram and ultrasound,” she recollects. “And the doctor discovered there was 1.4cm lump in one of my breasts. To check for cancer, a biopsy was done. I desperately sought prayers from some SOT friends as they were fasting. However, the biopsy results came back positive for cancer. My heart sank. My doctor said I would need to make decisions about the type of surgery I wanted, and he also said I would have to go through chemotherapy and/or radiation.”
In her despair, God showed himself faithful. “A friend I had not met for 15 years appeared at the same clinic,” says Sarah. “She had just gone through a surgery, but she was so joyful and positive. She also prayed for me, that I would experience God’s love and strength as I surrendered my sickness to God.
This was really a divine appointment and I kept bumping into her subsequently, without ever making plans to meet. God was showing up and assuring me that He was with me all the way.”
Still, a cancer diagnosis was understandably a crushing setback for Sarah. “I asked God ‘Why has this happened and how did it happened?’ I had been eating healthily after losing 17 kg through a tummy flattening program in 2014. I had been trekking regularly up Bukit Timah Hill since 2015. And my husband and me climbed four mountains in 2016—one of which is Mount Fansipan, which peaks at 3343m above sea level. In 2017, I was healthy with no signs of any major conditions.”
“Initially I was in a state of denial,” she admits. “’Oh God, there must be a mistake in the diagnosis! Please show the doctor that it’s not cancer!’ I found it so hard to believe as I did not feel any pain. As the deadline drew near for me to decide on which surgery to opt for, I prayed that God would perform a supernatural healing so that I wouldn’t have to go for surgery or chemo.”
What caused additional stress to Sarah was what looked like really bad timing. “If I had discovered it in January, while I was still working, all my medical costs and hospital leave would have been paid for by my company,” she says. “But now that I had left the company, I would have to pay for it myself. Many fears and doubts overwhelmed me.”
The biggest struggle for her was the need to make decisions, given so many complex options and armed with so little knowledge. “I had fear at every milestone of this journey: what if I made a wrong decision that turned out to be irreversible?”
As if all that wasn’t enough, Sarah experienced doubts about herself. “The devil also put doubts in my mind, making me feel ashamed and condemned, causing me to wonder if God was punishing me,” she added.
The path taken by every breast cancer patient is different. For Sarah, she had to make the choice between a mastectomy (removal of all the breast tissue) or a lumpectomy (the removal of the cancer mass and a margin of tissue around the mass). At her doctor’s advice, she went for a lumpectomy in March. Unfortunately, it turned out that there were calcifications (a sign of cancer) outside the area that was removed. So, in May, Sarah had to go for a second surgery, this time a mastectomy followed by a pedicled TRAM-Flap reconstruction of the breast.
As if it wasn’t hard enough, two of the lymph nodes the doctor removed to test for cancer spread had been affected. This meant that although Sarah had very early stage cancer, she still needed chemotherapy and radiation.
“I cried buckets on that day. I asked myself, ‘Does God still love me? Why didn’t He help me to get a mastectomy in the first place so I wouldn’t have go through two surgeries?’” she recalls. “But in those times of distress, I could still hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit saying to me, ‘Peace, be still, I go before you and make a way for you in the desert. This is just a passing storm—a short period to endure. Soon, the sun will shine and God’s glory and majesty will be revealed. Just as Christ went through the suffering on the cross and finally he is resurrected and glorified.’”
CHOOSING TO CARRY ON
Sarah turned to the vice-dean of SOT, Pastor Tan Kim Hock, who himself survived cancer. “He prayed for me and encouraged me to continue SOT,” she remembers. “He said that the praise and worship and the Word of God in SOT will help me to stay positive and build my faith and trust in God for complete healing and restoration of my health.” Special arrangements were made for Sarah to accommodate her need to go for surgery and chemotherapy, and the required rest periods.
Sarah also found support within her new teammates. “Before SOT began, I was praying for a good SOT team and team leaders, and God really answered my prayers. My two leaders were such tremendous pillars of encouragement and support,” she says.
“Both my team leaders prayed for me. Malcolm [Tay] gave me a book A Clean Breast by breast cancer survivor Theresa Tan, which I read within two days. It gave me an overview of the whole process of going through breast cancer, and addressed many of my questions towards God. After reading this book, I saw a positive outcome and hope for a healthy future awaiting me. It helped to pick me out of my self-pity and denial.
“Lawrence [Lai] connected me to a relative who was also a breast cancer survivor and she prayed for me and visited me. She also shared many details about the process she went through, and gave me a book Grace For Each Hour by Mary J Nelson who was also a breast cancer survivor.”
“Thankfully, through the lessons in SOT, I was constantly reminded of God’s love and healing power and cling on to His promises that all things will eventually work together for good (Rom 8:28) and that God has a hope and future for me (Jer 29:11).
“Finally, I decide to move one step at a time and trust in God’s guidiance and peace to keep me calm and not anxious, as Isaiah 26:3 and Phil 4:6,7 say.”
A few months after her second surgery, Sarah started chemotherapy, first twice-weekly, then weekly. As we write this, she is still undergoing chemotherapy. After chemotherapy, she will have to undergo six weeks of radiotherapy.
Sarah is thankful that she was surrounded by loved ones, such as her two sisters and her parents, as she took each difficult step. Her husband Isaac was her pillar through it all. “He has stayed strong throughout these months, being my punching bag whenever I felt discouraged or when I was in pain. He never shed a tear in front of me—though I am not sure if he sheds his tears in his prayer times. It’s funny because he is usually first to be in tears when we watch Korean dramas or church dramas, but in when it came to this real-life problem he didn’t shed any tears! He keeps me company at every visit to the clinic, and he does juicing and makes detox soup for me. He also bought supplements for me to protect my immune system and—praise God—it’s amazing that since March, I have not been affected by any cough, flu or fever even though people around me are sick!”
Her sons have been her greatest prayer warriors. “I am thankful that both my sons assure me that their faith in God is steadfast and that God will never fail us,” says Sarah. “They took turns to pray with me whenever I felt anxious or fearful of the next milestone. My sons had the opportunity to feed me after my surgery—that felt good!”
Sarah hesitated when it came to sharing about her condition beyond her closest circle, but her sons had her blessing to share the news with their zone pastors and cell group leaders, who all visited her.
“Pastor Veron [Tang] came to visit me at home and brought me bak kut teh,” she says with a smile. “She asked me ‘Why don’t you look joyful?’ I was surprised; am I supposed to be joyful after a surgery? But that reminded me of James 1:2, and I asked God to fill me with His joy and help me pass this test of faith.”
Sarah’s mastectomy and reconstruction took eight hours. Recovery for such a major surgery can take a long time. But not for her.
“The surgery was very successful and from the second day onwards, I was able to sit up and walk to the toilet, even though I had to bear with substantial pain,” she says. “By the fifth day, I was discharged. By the 14th day, I decided to restart my weekly trekking sessions. By the grace of God, I managed to complete a two-hour walk through Chestnut Park.”
It seemed there was always a bump in the road ahead. Sarah dreaded chemotherapy, having heard many horror stories about it. “I started chemo July 23, after the last session with [SOT lecturer] Pastor Mike Connell,” she says. “That was the darkest time for me as I had heard so much about chemo killing good cells—but God gave me a promise that He would be my shield and buckler.
“One of the things I murmured to God constantly was that I had no salary while going for treatment and no one would pay for my hospital leave since I had already quit from my Engineering job in January to go for SOT. Initially I did not know if my hospital plan covered everything—I paid for surgery and treatment through my credit card and wasn’t certain if they were claimable. Praise God for a good insurance agent who helped me claim reimbursement for all my expenses, except the $2,000 of deductible that were not covered.
“He also helped me filled the necessary forms to claim a lump sum of $10,000, which was approved. I received his text message during SOT lessons at 9:21am and took a photo of the slides. Pastor Bobby (Chaw, Dean of SOT) was reading Matt 6:26-33: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.’ God’s timing is perfect—not a minute late.
God provided Sarah another insurance agent to help her claim on another of her critical illness policies.
“That happened in Aug, one day before my hair texture changed such that I could no longer comb it. The Lord knew I will be very affected emotionally to lose my hair, He was so thoughtful to sent good news one day in advance. The agent informed me that my claim was approved and the cheque would be issued in two weeks. I prayed really hard for this claim to be approved as I had heard that some claims were not approved if the cancer was early stage like mine.
“Praise God it went through so smoothly! Within three weeks I received the cheque and the amount exceeded what I expected: it was enough to cover 12 months of my last drawn salary. So now I could have the peace of mind to focus on my treatment and not worry about my income.”
A LIFE-CHANGING YEAR
“This episode tested my faith in God and drew me closer to Him: I have to trust Him daily for complete healing and restoration, and hang on to him for a future of hope and a breakthrough in my walk with him,” says Sarah. “I believed that I will look better and become healthier than before my diagnosis.
What Satan meant for evil, God will turn it for my good, and the good of people around me.”
“Going through this, there has been a stretching of my faith, courage and capacity to face the unknown as I stepped out of my comfort zone and enter into uncharted territory. I developed a stronger faith and confidence that my God who created heavens and earth is well able to care for my life and my health as even the universe is held in place by Him. He will be careful to watch over me and surely, He will be my refuge and strength, my shield and buckler. I can rely on Him and rest in the everlasting arms of my Abba Father as he only gives the best to his beloved daughter.
“Through the darkest valley of my life, Psalm 23 became so real to me. His rod and staff they comfort me. He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. He has strengthened my faith in his unfailing love and faithfulness and He has enlarged my capacity to endure hardships and sufferings. I learned to be more yielded and sensitive to his leadings and directions in my life. I learned to let go and forgive those who hurt me even.
“I thank God for giving me strength and grace through these months, and I strongly encourage everyone to go to SOT and get equipped and experience God more intimately.
“It will be the best time ever in your walk with God, despite the trials that may come your way.”
If you or a loved one have questions about going through breast cancer, Sarah would like to extend her help via email: firstname.lastname@example.org