Family members and friends have enquired so perhaps it is helpful to explain what I understand about my medical condition.
I have an unusual and excessive growth of lipomas. These are fatty deposits. I think my body doesn’t know where to channel or how to process fatty acids so it gets dumped in random parts of my body. Some people have one or two lumps but I have a lot more. Having multiple lipomas is called Dercum’s Disease. According to NORD, “Dercum’s disease is an extremely rare disorder characterized by multiple, painful growths consisting of fatty tissue (lipomas). These growths mainly occur on the trunk, the upper arms and upper legs and are found just below the skin (subcutaneously).”
This is an uncommon condition, so rare that there is no known cause and no known cure. I am just thankful there is also no known danger. Apparently, these folks are most prone to Dercum’s Disease: older obese menopausal women. I fit none of the above four categories. None in my bloodline have it too. So I trust God for having a purpose in my pain.
Well, I need to remove these thorns in my flesh because they cause pain and discomfort. Some lipomas grow over nerves so it is painful when pressure is applied — like when Eden steps on me, or I get tackled during football, etc. Some lipomas grow in inconvenient places so it becomes uncomfortable — like on my wrist so it affects typing/writing, and on my back so I can’t lean against a hard surface (like a chair) for too long.
Yesterday’s surgery was my third. The first in 2007 was under LA, removed three lipomas. The second in 2010 under GA removed 25. This time, also under GA, another 20+ were removed. It is obvious that the lumps have increased with my weight gain; I’ve put on about 10 kilograms in the last decade. Most of the lipomas are on my arms, trunk, thighs and groin. I’m thankful that it’s not on my face, neck, palms, feet or on any joints. By God’s grace all these lumps are benign. The truth is, because this is not a life-threatening condition, it doesn’t scare me into a drastic change of lifestyle.
Unfortunately, I only bought my insurance after my first surgery so I can’t make claims for this treating pre-existing condition (the proper name treatment is called excision and biopsy of multiple lipomas). But God is good. He’s always provided for every operation and I trust him to continue to provide for my needs. For example, this time, the Lord’s providence came in the form of the surgeon, who is my church friend, and he has helped me defray the surgery costs and ensured that I have good care. I am grateful to God for him. Pray along with me that the group hospitalisation plan that the church purchased for pastors would be able to pay for this surgery.
The two to three-week recovery phase is always the most challenging because my mobility is significantly affected. Simple activities like sleeping and sitting (where I put weight on the wounds) and showering (potentially wetting it) or even using the bathroom can become troublesome. But the most arduous task is changing the dressing. Each dressing costs $2.50 (sigh) and I may have to change some wounds twice a day. There are also some wounds (on my back) that are beyond my reach so I need others to help me change it. So sometimes changing dressing and applying scar-reducing cream can take up to an hour.
I am grateful for family members and friends who have uplifted me in their prayers — thank you for raising your shield of faith for me. Every prayer counts. I am also believing that God my healer will one day heal me completely of this condition. Perhaps there’s a miracle waiting to happen with my body and I look forward to it. I have faith in God and I trust in His plans. For now, I shall look forward to my two weeks of rest and recovery, and I believe by faith that this surgery will be the last of my lipoma-related condition. Amen. God is good!
And yes, I’m going to make some lifestyle changes…
I’ve got another confession to make and tonight this confession turns into a testimony of God’s faithfulness and goodness in my life. My spirit has truly been lifted up!
At the beginning of March, after the REAL 2010 graduation ceremony, I plunged into what I’d call, “Ministry Depression” for a couple of weeks. I remember telling RY, LK and HY how disappointed I was with my beloved REAL 2010 alumni. No, it wasn’t because they weren’t outstanding because they are, but very humanly speaking, I was deeply sad that after two months of investing my life into theirs, I received nothing in return except for handshakes, verbal appreciations and SMS encouragements.
Now, I’m being extremely honest here and I choose to spill my heart because there’s a an important lesson behind it. To be frank, I was expecting more from them; I know I’m not supposed to expect anything – after all, that’s what I’ve been teaching them the last two months – but I am being really human here; I remember telling myself, “You mean, that’s it? This is all I’m getting from the 16 of you after I poured my life into you? Wow. Thanks a lot”. Then I reclused into my own melancholic orbit and I convinced myself to quickly move on from this disappointment. I even wanted to harden my heart to them so that I will not allow myself to be hurt like that again. I’ve always openly declared that I’m a secret melancholy and this perpetuated it. My REAL champs may not have realised it because (I think) I’ve camouflaged it well, but I remember responding to them in a curt and cold manner that was very uncharacteristic of me. Some of my youths think that I’m superhuman because that’s the facade that I project but truth be told, I’m really just an ordinary human being with normal affection and affirmation needs as well.
There was little I could do really, except to talk to God and to let Him deal with me. I retreated into my own prayer closet and I came clean with God. I told Him exactly how I felt about how REAL ended and I asked Him to help me to overcome this disappointment by His grace. (This was before I spoke to my mentor, best friend and girlfriend.) I was rebelliously stubborn and I mentally rejected the scriptures that the Holy Spirit brought to my mind. I didn’t want to hear any “holy-moley-sunday-school-ten-year-series” consolation. And I shut my emotions away. But the more I dissected my heart before God, the more painful it was. A pruning process isn’t pleasant indeed. At the end of my emotional and spiritual tussle, the Holy Spirit led me to two scriptures, in this order:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” – Colossians 3:23
I am convinced that when the Lord ministers to you, you will be comforted. God is faithful and before He rebuked me, He gently let me know that it was all right to think like that and to feel that way, through Psalm 51:17. I just wanted to bare my heart before the Lord and I found great assurance in His divine embrace.
Once the Lord met my emotional needs, He began to address my thinking by pointing me to Colossians 3:23. I repented before the Lord for my poor attitude and mentality that were in the wrong places and I asked Him to give me new lenses to appreciate this situation. I determined it in my heart to continue to love my young people, regardless of whether affirmation was present or not, simply because God loves them and has compelled me to do likewise; I am doing this because I love them – nothing more, nothing less; I wasn’t going to allow a lack of encouragement to stop me from fulfilling my calling to be a youth pastor. This was a test that I had to overcome and by God’s grace I knew that I would overcome it. It was important that I did not lean on my own strength.
Of course, I would never share this unless I have emerged out of the miry clay; it wasn’t wise to air my struggles to the world before the Lord had finished dealing with me. (I did reveal a glimpse of my emotions but only very briefly.) Once I had this issue resolved within me, I shared my journey with RY and asked him how he dealt with this through his years of ministry; I shared it with LK to be accountable to him; I shared it with HY because I am completely vulnerable with her. Yes, I did take a couple of weeks to recover but I was so glad to have trudged through it.
What can I say? God is faithful and sovereign. I believe He has intentionally held back the affirmation of men until I was secure in Him. A week after my lipoma operation, I received the REAL cushion from my champs. I remember telling RY how delighted I was to receive a gift from them and he smiled and rejoiced with me – I was already satisfied and if the gift had stopped there, I would have been a happy man. But my God is a God who dotes on me and goes the extra mile just to tell me that He loves me. I remember GM telling me that this was just “part one of the gifts – part two will blow your mind”. Of course that filled my heart with even more joy, but I didn’t need anything anymore because I already had God’s affirmation. I decided to be phlegmatic about this part two – if it comes, good, if it doesn’t, that’s all right.
Then it came today. And it blew my mind. So I shall let the pictures do the talking.
What can I say? I’m moved beyond words (and the 11 champs I had lunch with today saw my expression) – this incredibly-thick two-volume masterpiece was painstakingly assembled over the course of 10 weeks. The amount of work that has been put into this is immense – and I can only try to imagine its production process – conceptualising it, selecting pictures, printing photographs, pasting photographs systematically, comprehensively adding secular quotes, scriptures, their own reflections, my own quotable quotes which they remembered, cutting all these captions, meticulously sticking it into the album, decorating and designing it, investing money to make it happen…
WOW I REALLY DO NOT DESERVE THIS.
All I have done in the two months with them was just to do what God has always compelled me to do; what I’ve always enjoyed doing regardless of whether I was full-time, part-time or half-time; what Grace Assembly of God hired me to do; and what gave me the greatest satisfaction in life – believing in young people through my speech and actions. To an extent, I was really just doing my job.
AND THEN THEY GAVE ME THIS TRIBUTE.
I couldn’t help but to thank God for His unmerited favour in my life. I am stunned speechless. How can I not love them, love God, love my job and love other young people even more? I’ve said it many times and so I will say it again – there’s a reason why the REAL 2010 alumni will always remain in a special place in my heart. They reinforced it today. I can only look back and thank God for every minute spent with them.
I love you all. Thank you for blessing me. You have no idea how much this means to me. You gave me a reward the world could never give. I really love my job. Thank you, Lord, for placing me in such a privileged position. I love You so much.
I don’t really write about events because I’ve set out this blog to capture more thoughts and reflections than moments, but I think I should remember my thoughts and feelings about this particular piece of memory in my operation recovery.
Many of you would know that on Tuesday I underwent surgery to deal with Dercum’s Disease; the team of surgeons removed all 25 lumps (L arm-2, R arm-5, L leg-2, R leg-2, F torso-9, B torso-5) which I had identified on my body. There are many things which I am thankful for throughout the entire process:
- The excellent SGH team – be it nurses, assistants, anesthetists or administrators. There’s a lot that could be learnt from their care-giving; I left that evening with better idea of what it meant to show hospitality, from none other than a hospital team.
- Normal bodily motion and function – with 25 dressings all over my body, my movement is restricted, uncomfortable and painful. I believe I would never take normality for granted again; the temporal inability of doing things normally heighten my appreciation.
- Sudden and unexpected team of prayer warriors – be it from my DoYouLoveMe? cell, Shanghai MannaM@X cell, REAL2010, colleagues, family members and random friends. I must have had at least 25 people praying with and for me. God does His math properly – one for every lipoma.
- Non-reaction to General Anesthetic – I’ve had neither allergic nor nauseating reactions to GA. Seems like everyone whom I’ve spoken to (who has undergone GA) either puked or felt really giddy. My doctor said I may also get sore throats and coughs. But praise God – I’ve had zero reactions. (By the way, I managed to stay awake for all of four seconds.)
- Mummy’s unfailing storge (natural love and affection from parents) – 10th March marks her birthday and yet she spent the entire day making sure I was all right. The closest agape an unmarried man would experience would undoubtedly be from his mother. I could never be more thankful for the last 27 years of care-giving, self-sacrificing and out-loving from this remarkable woman.
I’m also especially thankful for HY. Three years ago, immediately after I left the SAF, I went for a minor operation to remove three lipomas on both arms. HY was there with me; back then, I was still courting her. Three years on, HY was also there with me, this time as my girlfriend and what a difference three years have made:
- The comfort and assurance I felt when I was pushed back to my ward to recover, and to find a familiar face of love who had been waiting there for the last two hours. That is something I should never take for granted because she doesn’t owe it to me; she didn’t need to do it, she wanted to.
- HY had a fear and natural dislike for hospitals and yet she overcame that to care for me. Of course there were boo-boo moments (for us to know, for others never to find out), but it made it all the more memorable.
- She demonstrated patience for my impatience and a cool head for my hot head. This last statement actually does sum up how HY makes me a holier person by allowing me to overcome my weaknesses by learning from her strengths.
- HY came to my place today to also celebrate Mummy’s birthday. She bought and brought along with her my recovery pack – two boxes of Post cereal and Magnolia milk for my breakfasts over the next week, Bee Cheng Hiang pork floss for my congee lunches and (my two favourite snacks of) Famous Amos cookies and Jollybean peanut pancakes in case I go hungry at night. It doesn’t get more thoughtful than that! HY never fails to demonstrate to me that love is indeed a verb.
- Her presence during my absence from work this week have made and will continue to make a world of difference. She was there on Tuesday, Wednesday and she has offered to accompany me for Thursday. Every Naruto needs a Sakura in their lives for speedy healing, uh? (:
All right, I’ll be missing in action until next Monday (when I visit my doctor for the follow-up medical appointment). I doubt I’ll be mobile enough to make it to church services this weekend. I’m gonna try to work on the Newbies sermon series during this period of absence but I highly doubt my productivity. There’s little packing that I can do at home due to the awkwardness in moving around too. So… I think I’ll just be reading, playing FM (hehe), watching free movies on MioTV and couch-potato-ing a lot during the next few days. I welcome company.
There’s so much to praise God and to give Him glory for. He is good, in control and will bring it to pass. I serve a God who heals and a God who provides. And so I continue to covet your prayers. Please pray that:
- The root of the disease has been removed;
- There won’t be a recurrence – new lumps won’t grow, old lumps won’t return;
- Insurance will cover the bulk of the surgery cost – it wasn’t a cheap operation by any measure, and as it stands, I’m footing the entire bill;
- My body will heal well;
- Scars will be minimal;
- Wounds won’t be painful when I move around, sit or sleep, and
- There will be no infections or complications
And now I shall head off to watch Man Utd beat the living daylights out of AC Milan. (It’s 1-0 now but I may come back to edit this last sentence depending on the final score 90 minutes later…) [Edit: I’m a prophet. The final score: Man Utd 4 AC Milan 0.]
Extracted from Wikipedia:
Adiposis dolorosa, also known as Dercum’s disease (and which is different from Ander’s disease in which painful or painless fatty growths that do not resolve with weight loss), is a rare disease characterized by multiple painful lipomas that arise in adult life… …It also occurs in men and women of all ages. The fatty tumors are most often located on the trunk and limbs with sparing of the face and hands. It was first formally described by Francis Xavier Dercum in 1888.
A disease accompanied by painful localized fatty swellings and by various nerve lesions… …Dercum’s disease is a rare disorder in which there are fatty deposits which apply pressure to the nerves, resulting in weakness and pain. Various areas of the body may swell for no apparent reason. The swelling may disappear without treatment, leaving hardened tissue or pendulous skin folds.
Read more here.
That’s the most current (and I think most accurate) diagnosis of my condition. I’ve already scheduled a surgery on 9th March to remove all the lumps (approximately 20+) on my body; it will be the first time that I’d be under general anesthetic. I could have gone for the operation before Chinese New Year but I didn’t want to fly to Sri Lanka risking infection with open wounds. If you are reading this blog, please pray that:
- Every lump to be identified and completely removed.
- No recurrence or regrowth.
- Root of the problem be eradicated.
- Insurance to cover 100% of medical and hospitalisation expenses (about S$3,000).
- No side or post-surgery effects.
- Surgeon to have skillful hands so that I won’t be left with unsightly scars.
- Peace of mind and trust in my Jehovah Rapha.
While you’re at it, do pray for the REAL team too. We are heading to Tanjung Pinang in Pulau Bintan (Indonesia) from 23-25 January. Our ministry includes preaching, sharing testimonies, conducting children’s church and youth programmes, giving English tuition, visiting homes as well as presenting a special item. RL and I will be leading a team of nine boys and six girls. Prayer pointers include:
- God’s anointing to accomplish His work for His glory alone.
- Good health and quick recovery for those who become unwell.
- Journey mercies in sea and road travels.
- Wisdom to do what’s right and appropriate.
- Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
- Flexibility when programmes change.
- Favour of the locals.
Thank you for praying. Have a good weekend.
I am sorry. December looks insane and so if it’d be a remarkable achievement if I could update regularly.
In the meantime, I’d covet your prayers in the following 7 items:
1. Wisdom – you can never ask for enough of it.
2. Strength – for the impending lack of rest.
3. Time-management – prioritising is doing first things first.
4. Efficiency – especially in areas which I am weak at.
5. Help – you can answer this prayer by approaching me.
6. Health – a) seeing a specialist in Jan for my lipoma/neurofibroma; b) no ulcers; c) no pimples – haha.
7. Sensitivity – to God’s voice, prompting and direction.