This article is from The Star Online (http://thestar.com.my)
Despite her condition, Shery Lim is on a mission to help other cancer patients.
By ALLAN KOAY
CANCER is not terminal; life is.” That’s what cancer survivor Shery Lim believes, and that’s the rule by which she now lives. She was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer last year, but she looks so full of life that you’d never guess she has a large tumour in her chest until she tells you so.
Instead of wallowing in despair, and despite her pain, she has decided to live life to the fullest and help others to live with cancer. Lim has written a faith-based book about her experiences. There is Hope is also a kind of guide for patients and those around them on how to live with the condition. She said she has finally found her purpose in life, ironically because of the disease that threatens to take her life.
Shery Lim: ‘It’s time for me to comfort other cancer survivors and support them in whatever way I can.’
Lim, 51, first discovered that she had third-stage breast cancer back in 1994. She had a mastectomy and 11 affected lymph nodes in her armpit were removed. Before that, she had a successful career in advertising, and was raising a 10-year-old son. But the disease stopped her in her tracks, career-wise.
Before learning about her cancer, Lim had renewed her Christian faith and found that it helped her through her ordeal, and to go on with life and not give up.
“Most people with cancer just don’t know what to do when they are faced with death,” Lim explained. “But I just pushed on and on. After treatment I went back to work as client service director with Ogilvy & Mather. But I felt that my health could not cope with the work. Thank God another job was created for me in the same company, as human resource director, which was less demanding.”
In 1998, Lim quit and started her own advertising training company, under which she trained six international ad agencies for two years. After that she went back to her advertising career and joined Naga DDB as head of brand planning. She became corporate director later on.
Little did she realise that the worst was just around the corner. In December 2005, Lim was in Melbourne visiting her son, who was studying there. “When I lifted this huge luggage and suddenly felt pain in my chest, I dropped the luggage.”
“I thought I had overexerted myself, but the pain got worse. I flew home in February last year. I did the scans and check-ups, and found that the cancer had recurred and affected the internal mammary node and spread to the sternum. It was fourth-stage.”
Lim felt devastated and couldn’t stop crying. She even asked why it was happening to her again after such a long time, and she knew it would be tough this time.
“People usually say that with fourth stage cancer, there is no hope,” said Lim. “So fear started to creep in.”
Treatment lasted till August last year, but the CT scan showed that the tumour had not decreased in size. It is sandwiched between her heart and left lung, and is near the aorta. So it could not be removed by surgery. Lim couldn’t even lift a glass of water or sit properly. She described the pain as like a knife that kept cutting. She couldn’t sleep at night and at times would just cry in pain all by herself. She was on six painkillers a day.
Her first treatment 12 years ago made her vomit five times a day, and she lost a lot of weight as a result. This time around, although she vomited only once, she developed nine ulcers in her mouth and the pain caused by the tumour was excruciating.
“I told God that I didn’t want to die, for two reasons,” said Lim. “First, I have a wonderful husband and a very understanding son. I didn’t want to leave them. But more importantly, if I were to die, would I be prepared to meet God? In my life, what had I done?
“I believe for every human being, when you know death is around the corner, you would ask yourself what you have achieved in life that is meaningful to God and others? I felt that I had been quite selfish, living for myself. I was also passionate about my work and would put it before anything else.”
Her pastor, Dr Chew Weng Chee, and his wife who is also a pastor, visited her in May last year, and suggested that she help others by writing a book about her experience.
She wasn’t keen on the idea at first, as she was still undergoing treatment. But a week later, she woke up at 4am and started typing on the computer, working out the structure and content of the book.
“I didn’t know why I did it, but I believe my faith had to do with it. I showed my pastor what I had written. I had made up my mind that if he didn’t think much of it, I would not continue. But he thought it was good! So, I thought, oh no, now I have to continue!” she recalled with a laugh.
By November last year, she was feeling better and started to write the book proper. She completed it in two months. Before writing, she went to several cancer support groups and organisations to talk to other patients and learn about their feelings and frustrations, and what they wanted. Through this, she developed more ideas for the book.
“My heart really cries out to the cancer survivors because I know the suffering, the torment and the fears that they have to live with,” she said.
There is Hope is divided into three sections. The first deals with Lim’s personal journey, and also provides information on what cancer is, a patient’s fears and concerns, and the proper ways to help a patient. The second section deals with spiritual healing while the third consists of cancer survivors’ testimonies.
The book was launched by Dr Chew at the Sidang Injil Borneo church in Kuala Lumpur on June 3, and since then, Lim has been on a road show of sorts, giving talks at churches.
“It’s time for me to comfort other cancer survivors and support them in whatever way I can,” she said.
Nowadays, Lim and a group of friends who are cancer survivors gather every fortnight to share stories and offer each other comfort and hope, so that they don’t feel alone. They meet at a bungalow in Petaling Jaya. The profit from the sale of her book will go to help this group in some ways.
“I always tell those I meet, ‘Don’t call yourself a cancer patient,’” she said. “The word ‘patient’ immediately locks you in a negative box. It means you’re unwell, and cannot do a lot of things. It’s all in the mind. So I tell myself, I’m a ‘cancer survivor’. And I’m still surviving.
“To me, the miracle is hope. Don’t care too much about whether the medical report says you’re healed or not. As I focus on God, surviving is already a miracle, when the odds were stacked against me all of last year.”
She also revealed a little secret.
“I might seem very strong and very positive,” she said. “But sometimes, when I’m by myself, I still struggle with the disease. So when faith runs dry and fear starts to creep in, I go back to my own book and religion. That’s why I always have this book at my bedside.”
Asked how she views the future now, Lim said she tries not to think too much about it.
“I live one day at a time. So every day is a blessed future for me.”