Alden Boon

Liao Wenjing on the ‘Trauma’ of Breast Cancer and Finding Her New Calling in Life



‘Dwelling in my own darkness’

Weeks of sustaining on a salubrious diet of unseasoned porridge, steamed fish and soup sapped all the joy out of Wenjing’s life. ‘On one hand I knew the importance of healthy, clean eating; on the other, the thought of yet again eating the same thing, day in and day out, was demoralising.’ After a while, she decided that she no longer wanted to stick to this diet, and guiltlessly indulged in chicken chop, nasi lemak and the like. ‘Surprisingly, I had no adverse reactions. I think in general, when you are happy, you feel strong as well. You develop a more optimistic outlook, which is really important for someone who is fighting cancer.’

Besides the chemotherapy sessions, Wenjing also attended counselling. ‘Within fifteen minutes of the first session, I was already crying uncontrollably. It was the first time since my diagnosis that I had to really deal with my inner feelings, instead of suppressing them. My counsellor walked me through the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining and depression — and how to deal with the negative emotions when they arise to reach the final stage of acceptance. She taught me different coping techniques, such as being mindful and to be grateful: grateful that I was still alive; grateful that I had people who loved me.’

The affirmations did not work at all. ‘It is easier said than done,’ Wenjing says laughingly. ‘At the time, I felt very frustrated: frustrated that my body had betrayed me, frustrated that I had no control over anything.’ It was also a bout of wounded pride: before her cancer diagnosis, Wenjing lived the enviable life of a globetrotter, her work taking her to Europe, the United States and even far-flung countries such as Saudi Arabia, with hotels and room services all fully paid for. Her life was like a musical score replete with crescendos that built to no chorus, her fifteen plus years of hard work and achievements seemingly coming to naught.

This ‘inescapable’ sinkhole of frustration only sought to swallow her whole. It wormed itself into every aspect of Wenjing’s life. During the chemotherapy sessions, she was not one of those patients who were friendly or who inspired others with a cheerful disposition. Her temperament was saturnine. ‘I was grouchy and had a sense of self-entitlement, as if the whole world was responsible for my plight. I was not very nice to the nurses.’

Once, without any trigger or incident, Wenjing was hit by a sudden tidal wave of sadness, and buckling under it she fell to her knees. ‘I was inconsolable for many hours. I even hid under the table like a scared child. My parents did not understand what was happening and did not know how to help me. They did not see a broken, flawed woman: in their eyes, I was still the perfect daughter.’ The day after, Wenjing explained to her parents that her crying was a form of catharsis, a way of releasing all the pain she was feeling.

Finding hope

‘It is inevitable for a cancer patient to ask the question of “why me”.’ One in thirteen Singaporean women will get breast cancer — why am I the one, a mere statistic?’ But Wenjing began to observe that the clinical room teemed with people from all walks of life and of all races, from Caucasians to dialect-speaking women who despite everything were still busy with their hawker businesses, elderly folks to young ladies knee-deep in their knitting projects. ‘Cancer is an illness that does not discriminate.’

One thing that kept Wenjing going was her religion. As a Christian, she spent the chemotherapy sessions watching sermons. The first sermon she came across serendipitously was of a pastor preaching about healing. ‘He said: “A sick person is stuck in a trench. You just have to get out of the trench and you will be healed.” I began taking the Holy Communion every day, and I placed the uttermost faith in Jesus. Matthew 14:22-33 — this verse tells of how Jesus came to his disciples in the middle of the storm that had struck the Sea of Galilee by walking on the water. Peter, one of his disciples, said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus said. Peter at first was able to do so, until he took his eyes off Him and became afraid of the wind and waves. It was then he began to sank. And then Jesus caught his hand and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”. When Peter placed his faith in Jesus again, he was eventually able to climb back into the boat, and the storm stopped. This verse taught me that if I focused on Jesus and not my problems, I would come out of the valley of death victorious.’

It would be several months before she started easing into the unrelenting routine of chemotherapy. ‘I began interacting with the nurses and new patients. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. At the same time, my body began restoring itself. My gastric problems and diarrhoea went away. My skin cleared up, and I never had any outbreaks since then. It is just as what Isaiah 40:31 reads: But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.’

It was also during this time that Wenjing was able to fulfil her lifelong dream of becoming a homeowner. The process of finding a new home and overseeing the months-long renovation works distracted from her from the adverse side effects of chemotherapy. ‘I took heart in having my own space, which was chosen due to its proximity to nature.’

Read: By 19, Jennifer Heng Already Had Two Abortions. This Is Her Story of Secret Shame, Self-forgiveness and Triumph

Pages: 1 2 3


Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.