Thanksgiving: Mei's Testimony
Topic: Uncategorized Passage: 2 Corinthians 12:9
The Testimonial of Mei Wong
November 23, 2014
Dear Family and Friends:
What an honor it is to be able to be here and personally thank you for your prayers for me and Eric, for your friendship and for your support this past year. I have missed worshiping with you and I am glad to be back. I am so blessed to able to be here in person to share with my testimony with you today so that you can be encouraged to have joy in all circumstances. And so, we can join together to give praise and glory to God.
In order for you to know the reason for my joy even in illness, I must first share an earlier chapter of my life – of how I came to find joy in Christ and know that we belong to a great and Sovereign God.
In Hong Kong, before I came to the United States, I was Muslim, following the religion of my first husband. I had many Christian friends, but I was not a Christian. I was faithful to the Muslim religion, thinking that Allah is the God of Abraham and that this is the same God of the Christian faith, so whether through Mohammed or Jesus, we worshiped the same God. Only when I witnessed first-hand, the true love of Jesus through His church of believers, I realize that this God is different because our God is a triune God. Allah is not a triune God. Salvation can only come through Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. And when my heart was softened by the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit, the truth of Jesus Christ saved my spiritual and physical life.
My life in Hong Kong was ideal according to most standards. My husband then, was the regional Director of a large international technology company. I was regional manager of a chain of spas. Life in Hong Kong was fast-paced and materialistic.
In 1999 we emigrated from Hong Kong to Milwaukee. I was an executive house wife with a seemingly perfect lifestyle. However, by the end of 2001, I discovered that my husband had been having an affair and he had brought the mistress to the U.S. also. I was devastated, and fell to the depths of despair. The traumatic experience led to severe depression, suicide attempts and visits to the psych ward.
I was not a Christian then, but I owned a Chinese Bible and ironically brought it with me when I immigrated here, even though I was Muslim. But when I found out about my husband’s mistress, I went back to Hong Kong to open my own spa. I started going to church because of my Christians friends there, even though I had not yet accepted the gospel.
In 2003, because of SARS, I came back to the U.S. – to Florida because my estranged husband was there at the time and we were trying to work things out. But he finally left me, and to the care of a Chinese church in Coral Springs. Some of you who came to my wedding have met some of the brothers and sisters from that church. Looking at me now, you cannot imagine how I was during that time. I was literally a wreck. I had depression, anxiety issues and panic attacks: even in public. I had no identity, no security and no hope. My husband at the time was my idol. When he left me, my world collapsed. I ended up in a mental ward of Cleveland Clinic. I did not belong there. But because no one came to claim responsibility for me, the hospital would not release me. It was then, that my Pastor Linus, a sister and a nurse who were from Chinese Baptist Church of Coral Springs signed for me into their care. After that, the church became my family and my home.
On October 19, 2003, I accepted Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. It was a very meaningful day – because it was also my birthday: I got to celebrate the day celebrating my birth in this world, and it was also the day of my spiritual rebirth. I came to taste God and know that He is good. I was no longer alone and abandoned. I was adopted into the family of the great King. God made me a part of a huge family to love me no matter where I go: whether in Coral Springs, Hong Kong, Jacksonville or Tampa. His family is big, and I can find brothers and sisters everywhere. God had to take away everything so that I would have nothing to hang onto, so that I would hang onto Him. And what He gave me was much richer, purer and more joyful than what I had before. The old had passed away, and the new life had come – one lived for His will and purpose.
Around 2005, God gave me a gift named Eric. My friends decided I should date again before I get too old. So they convinced and helped me to put my information on E-Harmony. All my girlfriends interviewed him online, screened and met him even before our first official date! With their blessing, Eric and I dated for 7 years and engaged for 5 of those 7 years.
Yes, God gave me a patient man! Some of my friends were worried because Eric has a muscular condition, but you can see the irony of God’s wisdom over man’s wisdom. Who, except God can see into our futures? Who knew that Eric would end up caring for me and that I would be a burden to him? God was also working on Eric, helping him to be grounded on the Word, to find a family here at LifeBridge and perhaps, even preparing him for these trials that we would face together.
In 2010, God started to prepare me for my cancer and liver transplant with a diagnosis of a tumor on my ovary. The tumor was about the size of a grapefruit, but it was benign. I had surgery to remove it. I was so scared of needles, surgery and tumors, but God showed me that He was with me, and His grace was enough for me. I had a very good doctor and my surgery went smoothly and recovery was relatively quick. God showed me that He is trustworthy not because he would answer my prayers the way I wanted, but he showed me that He would be with me no matter where I was on my life journey. I learned to have peace and joy even in the difficult times.
It seems that each trial I went through strengthened me for the next. God did not just dump all my trials at once, nor did He overwhelm me. I kept telling God that I was tired, and that I didn’t want any more trials, but God did not take them away from me. Piece by piece he took me apart, and piece by piece He replaced them with parts that centered on Him, so that I would be desperately dependent on Him. This resulted in a deeper and truer intimacy with God.
In June of 2013, I tried to downgrade my term life insurance because I felt that I didn’t need so much coverage since I had no children dependent on me. To my surprise, the insurance company rejected me because they said that my liver enzymes were too high. I was very afraid and didn’t want to deal with it, but my co-workers at Macy’s pushed me to follow up the lab with more tests. The doctors found a mass about the size of the golf ball in the area of my bile duct. They only performed an ERCP procedure to send a scope to look at the location and maybe get an idea of the mass. Along with this procedure, I also took MRI and CT scans that showed that the location of the tumor was inoperable because it was in the intersection of left and right duct.
By the location of the tumor, the doctors estimated that it was a rare bile duct cancer. The specialists that saw me told me they could not help me, nor would they recommend a biopsy because of the aggressive nature of the tumor. They were afraid that any needles or biopsies would spread the cancer cells to the rest of my body. He said that there was no cure and that the outcome was 1-2 year lifespan with this cancer. Even if they operated and removed the liver, this cancer was known to come back in 80% of the cases. And if they did chemo or radiation therapy, sometimes, the cancer shrinks or goes away, but it comes back again, and becomes even more aggressive. My doctor said it was good that we found the tumor early. Usually it is diagnosed in older patients because when the symptoms show, it is already too late. Since I was younger and relatively healthier, and was not showing any symptoms at the time, the best chance of survival I had was to seek help at Mayo Clinic. They were conducting a medical study on this type of cancer and developed a protocol that seemed to help some of the patients. By using both chemo and radiation treatments and combining with a liver transplant, they would contain the cancer and then take the liver out and transplant a new one before the cancer cells would regroup, grow and spread again. By God’s grace, there was a Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville that had the services and program I needed.
When I received the news I was calm. My friend, Cafee, Eric and my pastor’s wife, Bonnie were there. I did not cry. I was not scared. I only thought to myself, it’s me, again? Okay God if you want to take me, I am yours. I turned to each of my companions, and asked, “Should I fight?” They said “yes”. I asked them if they would fight with me. They answered, “yes”. Then I prayed, “Lord, if You want me to walk through this, I will obey. But I have three requests to ask of You. First, You MUST walk with me. I can’t do this without Your presence around me. Second, please Lord, don’t let me feel pain. I am scared of pain. Third, let me walk through this in beauty and grace. Yes, I love beauty, and beautiful things. But more than pretty scars, I didn’t want to lose hair, or gain hair in the wrong places from the radiation and chemo treatments. More than that, I did want to be that heap of pitiful, crying uselessness I once was when Pastor Linus first found me. I was God’s daughter, full of grace and inner beauty and I wanted to walk through this trial with His grace revealed in me.
Here is a photo taken with some friends from Hong Kong who happened to be visiting when we received the diagnosis. Interesting: this is the same couple who walked with me through the initial depression and shared the gospel with me in Hong Kong when I was a mess. They witnessed a totally different me, one who was secure in the salvation of Christ and who had hope beyond this world.
The cost of having a liver transplant is approx. $480k. God had already prepared me for this day. While I was still in Hong Kong, healthy and young - about 10 years before coming to America, I had a friend selling a catastrophic life insurance plan, who I wanted to support. Without thinking about it, I bought the plan from her. I didn’t think about the plan again, but when I sent a message to my friends in Hong Kong to pray for me, she reminded me about this policy and said that I was eligible for it.
2 Corinthians 12:9
With this verse in mind, I began the fight of my life. With the uncertainty of my survival, I had a thought: I wanted to get married. I shared this thought with pastor’s wife, Bonnie and my friend Cathy. They agreed. Bonnie shared with Eric my wish, and he said, “I accept” but went on his knee and proposed anyway. Plans were quickly underway. Within a month, a wedding was planned and became a joyful testimony to many friends and even to some non-believers. All could not help but give praise to God, and this brings sweetness to my heart every time I recall the memories.
Then after the wedding, Eric and I enjoyed a honeymoon in Jacksonville, at Mayo Clinic!
God indeed was faithful and answered yes to my prayers. Even though the treatments left me weak and tired; even though my appetite changed and I lost a lot of weight (average 97 lbs.) and even though I was nauseous often, I felt no pain. The only painful moments were the needles and the average of 10 vials of blood they took from me each visit. I didn’t lose my hair and without knowing me, most people couldn’t tell I was sick. God gave me many reminders that He was with me. From the beauty of Mayo clinic, and the professional and competent staff there, to the wonderful performances by volunteers playing piano, or singing songs from Phantom of the Opera! God paved each step of the way, providing for all of my needs whether, physical, emotional or spiritual. He even took care of the difficulty of finding me an affordable place to stay while I was getting treatment at Mayo Clinic. On the outskirts of the hospital campus, there is a place called “Gabriel House” who provide community housing for patients who are either getting cancer treatments or waiting for transplants. In my case, I qualified for both. Even the fact that I was able to be treated by the doctors, was a blessing provided by God. You know, I had to go through an interview process. Mayo Clinic has very strict rules for which bile duct patients they would take. They have turned away many patients with bile duct cancers because they had needle biopsies done, and part of the requirement was that my tumor was untouched so that Mayo would have a clean field for research.
God continued to remind me of His presence through the love and care by prayers from brothers and sisters all around the world – believers from Hong Kong, England, Germany, South America, Canada… I even had a surprise birthday visit from Coral Springs sisters who treated me to a mini holiday on Jacksonville Beach. Then they surprised me at the hotel with a hot pot to cheer me p. And they celebrated my last radiation treatment with me. How good God is!
For a short while I was tumor free and eventually returned home (after staying with Eric in Tampa for a while) to wait for a new liver to replace the now damaged and failing liver. I was not able to eat very much because I could not digest very well. My bile duct kept clogging up with thickened bile that became infected. The doctors had put stents put into my bile duct through an endoscopic procedure called ERCP to keep the bile flowing, but somehow it kept clogging up and would cause me to jaundice after a while. I needed to stay on chemotherapy treatments that were like pest control so that the aggressive cancer would be kept at bay. My weight continued to fall and would reach an all-time low of 87 lbs. (from my original 120 lbs.) To clear me for a place on the transplant list, I had a procedure to remove my lymph nodes for biopsy. After that surgery, I started to have constant fevers, indicating some sort of infection or inflammation.
Just before Easter, on a Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Mayo Clinic telling me that a liver was available for me. A sister, who was with me at the time, knew I was having a fever of 103, and double checked with them. They were not able to take me. Instead I was sent to the ER to have my fever attended. It was not God’s timing yet for me to be healed, but this was dry run and a rehearsal so I would know what to do when my real liver was ready. He was preparing me for my new liver.
On April 27th, a Sunday, I was attending Sunday school at CBCCS. I started having the chills again. Brothers and sisters helped me get hot water and cover me with sweaters. Then the sweating came. The stents in my bile duct were infected and I was nauseous and dizzy, and my body temperature climbed to 104. I was rushed to the hospital at Westside Regional Center. My prayer was that the cancer would not return. You see, my weight had been dropping so much with the continued chemotherapy, I could not eat because of nausea. I could not gain weight. My oncologist at Mayo decided to stop the treatment to see if I would be able to hold my food down and gain weight. The condition for getting a liver transplant and being on the waiting list was that I had to be cancer free. If cancer returned at any point, I would be deemed inoperable and I would not receive a liver transplant. Then it would be just a matter of time.
At the hospital, once again, I had my conversation with my heavenly Father. Throughout this entire journey, His Word and my moment-to-moment conversations with the Father sustained me. I let go and I surrendered to His will. Whatever He wanted from me was okay.
How many of you have ridden in a private Lear jet before?
According to Cathy, (photo of Lear jet) was similar to the one I rode with her to Mayo clinic. Yes, God called up the taxi service when Mayo Clinic learned of my fever and treatment at Westside Regional. They asserted their charge over my medical case and wanted me back at Mayo clinic for treatment. So, loaded up with anxiety medication, I had a peaceful ambulatory transport back to Jacksonville. That was God’s answer to me from my prayer at Westside.
Back at Mayo, I had an ERCP procedure done again, with a clearing of massive infection in the stent area. The duct was severely clogged, with bits of protein and cholesterol jamming the stent. It was an extended plumbing session with antibiotic treatments. Then when I had recovered from the first procedure, the doctors did not see my bilirubin score come down, and in fact escalated along with my liver enzymes and fever. So, they brought me back in and did a second procedure. Finally after the second ERCP within 8 hours and a double-stent later, my bilirubin score came down significantly. And finally, after 3 sleepless nights of constant prodding and poking with needles, lines and drips, I was discharged and sent to Gabriel House to wait for a liver. This time I would remain in Jacksonville until God would provide me with a liver.
Even though my bilirubin score went down, it was still escalated above normal. I was still jaundiced, struggling with food, and struggling with my weight. From that point, you, my brothers & sisters surrounded me, and took turns to fill in for Eric when he had to work, days and weeks at a time, and you would come to stay with me because the rule at Gabriel House was that I was not allowed to be by myself. So, thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your love!
On Friday June 20, at 11:38 pm, we got the call. God was ready with my new liver. Feng’s daughter, Florence was staying with me at the time and helped me get ready and back to Mayo. Joe Xiong and Cathy were driving up to meet us. Eric was coming from Tampa. They all arrived with time to spare. We prayed and we waited and then it was time. It was surreal, was this suffering finally coming to an end? The surgery was successful and my new liver has been compatible thus far.
The doctors came in and said everything was looking great and that I would be up and about in a few days, in fact, I would need to get up and start getting vertical. Bonnie Simo came to visit and brought Meesum who came to share the responsibilities with Eric as caregiver.
Cathy and the doctors gave me marching orders after the 3rd day and I was able to get up and use the rest room and start on congee. On the third day, I felt some discomfort in my stomach and needed to use the rest room. I was also feeling dizzy and nauseous. After several attempts, the dizziness was getting stronger, and Cathy helped me back into bed. We explained the symptoms to the attending nurse, and the next thing I know, the room was flooded with the transplant team, as well as a team of urgent care doctors. I could feel that I was passing out, my blood pressure was dropping rapidly and the nurses could not
find a pulse. I could feel the doctors making an incision into my neck, but I did not feel the pain. It was at this moment that I again, stated my utter submission to His will. My thought was, “If your will is for me to go, I will stop fighting.” I had utter peace and calm as I lost consciousness.
Meanwhile I learn afterwards that one of the arteries in my abdomen had become “untied” or ruptured. I had internal bleeding and had to be rushed back into the OR. According to Cathy, both God and the surgeon had granted me my plea: to have a pretty scar so I can show it off as part of my testimony. But because of my anxiety, in the newness of my surgery I was not able to look at myself for those first 3 days. However in the OR, they had to recut the sutures and the flesh that already started healing so they could stop the bleeding, and this is what it ended up looking like.
Cathy teases me that the original scar was so beautiful and because I couldn’t appreciate it the first time, He took it away and gave me this one! But on the more serious side, the second also had its complications. Even after stopping the internal bleeding, there was a bleeding out of the residual bad blood, as well as waiting for the inside to heal up and stop bleeding on its own. So for the days following, I had Tupperware attached to my side to catch all the residual blood leaking out of me.
God is faithful and in His Time, He makes all things new. My bleeding, finally stopped, but my weight was 87 lbs. I had been fighting against getting a feeding tube, but because of inability to eat during the earlier part of my illness, my body wasn’t able to take in much nutrition at a time. So finally, the nurses and doctors convinced me to consent to a feeding tube that allowed me to gain 10 lbs. in a matter of weeks. God helped me to survive, not just the surgery, but even the everyday little things such as the fatigue, and careless moments with my caregivers, regular bowel movements! How true Paul’s declaration that God’s grace is sufficient for me… His power made perfect in my weakness… for when I am weak then I am strong!
Today I am still recuperating from the surgery. Every day, I am reminded of God working inside of me through the new liver He has granted me. Every day I am reminded by the mark I bear, of God’s charge on my life. Every day I am reminded as I see your faces and build my relationships with all of you, that I am never alone. That God walks with me when I am quietly meditating upon His Word, when we have our conversations throughout the day, when I fellowship with my friends prayer and through the caring that we share with one another. God is everywhere. His people are everywhere and therefore His love can be shown everywhere.
That was a photo of the pastor and some brothers and sisters from the Jacksonville Chinese Baptist Church. Through a visit and conversation between Yvonne and their Cantonese fellowship, brothers and sisters learned about me, and took turns to make me soup, and meals and delivered it to Gabriel House the entire time I have been there. They provided a base of spiritual support while I was away from all of you here at CBCCS. How wonderful it is to know that we can share burdens with fellow believers where ever we go because we are united in Christ.
God has answered my 3 petitions:
One: If God would have me take this road, and that God would walk with me all the way and never let me be alone:
As you can see, I was never alone. Surrounded by circumstances that reminded me that a God who knew me and heard my specific and intimate prayers, answered them specifically and intimately. He was walking with me through all you of you! God provided just the right people at the right time at the right place with prayer, support and encouragement.
Two: I would walk this road with beauty and grace. I did not want to look like the collapsed, hopeless and helpless heap I was before I knew Christ.
When I was first diagnosed, my thought, was “as God wills” I cried a little, but nothing like the fits I had when my first husband abandoned me. As I sought God’s blessings them everywhere: in the big and little things. Dwelling on these truth and treasure allowed me to have a grateful heart and a deeper appreciation for His people. Throughout my illness, most strangers could not even tell that I was sick. I did not lose my hair like the stereotype cancer patient and I did not grow a beard or hair on my arms as has been the case for some of the patients I encountered.
Three: That I would not feel extreme physical pain: Even though I had discomfort and short periods of pain (needles and iv’s), God has helped me to tolerate all the scariness and discomforts of the journey. Even when I had internal bleeding and they cut into me without anesthesia, I felt no pain. And whatever pains I felt, I was able to tolerate.
Four: I would have the opportunity to visit my parents, honor them and bring my family to know Christ.
Without having had to return Hong Kong, God already answered my prayer, through my sharing the gospel with them over the phone, and the follow up of my Christian friends in HK and friends like Rainbow who went to minister to them. Now both my father and mother are believers. My brother believes, and my sister is very close. Alleluia! Praise the Lord!
Finally: I would have a chance to use this illness testify to His realness and His salvation. I believe this is my calling – to share the love of Christ that has been shown to me through you, and to minister to those around me.
Thank you for sharing your love with me, and for new friends who are among us today, you can also be part of this community of love that has no borders and no end. I’m not saying that if you pray that God will answer all of your prayers like Aladdin and the Genie lamp, and I’m not saying that if you place your trust in Jesus Christ that your life will prosper and you will be happy all the time. I am saying that if you seek God’s will in everything and look for His blessing every day, you will find Him, in His Word the Bible, in your relationship with Him, and in the community of believers around you. I want to share a final verse and song with you before I ask Bonnie simo to dismiss in prayer.
And I hope that you will join with me to offering Thanks to our God with the song, “Give Thanks"
I don’t know why God chose this path for me to walk, but I know that through this journey, I have learned from first-hand experience, how to truly rely on God and submit to His will, and I don’t know why He chose to spare me and make me well enough to stand before you today. But I know this: the trials of my illness put me in a place where I was completely helpless and completely dependent on God. Never have I had such a lack of control over my own body, that I am grateful for the things we take for granted: like a bowel movement. Before, I knew intellectually and often prayed and told God that I needed Him and relied on His mercies. But to experience that desperation and complete lack of control led me to complete submission of God’s will, and helped me to grow into a deeper intimacy with Him. I knew and needed Him in a way I had not experienced before.
I just want to share a comment Cathy shared with me from John Piper:
“Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8). “Perfection at one stage is perfected by suffering for the next.”