I came to New Zealand with my husband in March 2000. My husband is a pioneer and likes to take on challenges, so he wanted to study in an English-speaking country so that he could do more helpful ministry to youth and young adults, so he went to the Philippines, where he had been on a few short-term missions, for a year, and then came to New Zealand because his visa didn't work out. By the grace of the Lord, I was granted permanent residency in November of that year, and I started studying. I was going to go back after finishing my studies with difficulty, but due to the conditions in Korea and above all, I asked an old lady to manage my house, which was right above my house, and she changed the original rent to charter and increased the two-story building to three floors, and used the money for charter, and the house was turned into a bright dog house due to bank loans and charter funds. As a result, my family had no place to live in Korea, so in 2007, we started our real immigration life, my husband became a full-time minister, but I started a university course in early childhood education to help with the household economy and to have Sundays off. It was very difficult for me because early childhood education is different from other studies, so I had to be good at everyday English, and I had to learn and memorize nursery rhymes and small stories. At that time, my husband became a church planter, so I was living in a time crunch, and I had to stay up many nights to get my assignments right. As a full-time student, working in a preschool, a mom, a wife, and a church planter, every day was a battle, and as the years went by, the fatigue I felt overwhelmed my entire body, and I would wake up in the morning and have to force myself out of bed by lifting my legs with my hands. Towards the end of the Ascension in November 2011, I needed to shower twice a day to stay awake, and one day I felt something touching my body and went to the hospital.
My mornings begin with a small whisper. "God, thank you for giving me another day. I will live the best day you have given me today, thank you. Father." Then I stand in front of the mirror and touch every inch of my body, from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, verbally expressing every single thing: "I love my hair, I love my eyebrows, I love you, thank you, thank you." This is one of the first things I do when I wake up. This is one of the first things I do when I wake up and I call it the blessing shower. It's about giving thanks to my body, knowing the obvious truth that I am not the owner of my blood, my muscles, my skin, and every cell in my body, but God is. How grateful I am to know that the blood of Jesus' life covers me.
Throughout my life, I have been reminded of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." These words have weighed heavily on me. Words that I had heard from childhood as nails in my ears and recited with my mouth. But you wondered how you could always be joyful and thankful, something that the Apostle Paul said was possible, something that was possible in theory but impossible in practice. But through my encounters with three different cancers, I realized that what the Bible says is true: I can't do it, but when I abide in the Lord, and the Lord abides in me, the Holy Spirit enables me to do it. It's not about the situation or the circumstances, it's about me being in the Lord and the Lord being in me.
When I go to the hospital, I can tell by their demeanor and the look in their eyes that the doctors and nurses feel so sorry for me because of my medical history. In November 2011, I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, then two other cancers, and for more than two years I was in a constant cycle of treatment, including three surgeries, two rounds of chemotherapy, and radiation. It felt like a very long tunnel, but it made me feel grateful and joyful for even the smallest things that I hadn't felt before. I first went to church with a neighborhood friend when I was 7 years old. So it's been over 40 years since I've known Jesus. But now, at this point in my life, when I am most physically vulnerable, I am experiencing the greatest joy and gratitude of my life, even though it doesn't make sense according to the values of this world. This must be the secret of the gospel of Jesus.
I enjoyed the first church I went to as a child, and I loved the Jesus I learned about through sermons and lessons, so for the first time in my life, I bravely went to church on Sunday by myself. In our house, Sundays were a time when the whole family slept in and ate a leisurely breakfast, so I went to church almost every week starving, but I was excited to worship. My faith life began in middle school when I accepted Jesus as a person and wanted to live for Him, and in my young mind, becoming a pastor seemed like the best option for the Lord. However, when I was in high school, I felt burdened to go to a seminary, so after consulting with my pastor, I concluded that I could go to a general university and live for Jesus, so I went to a general university with a free mind.
I used to set new goals and make a life plan at the beginning of the year, and when I was in my second or third year of high school, I wrote my life's prayer requests in very large letters at the front of my diary or a large notebook. The first and second were about my desired college, major, and job, and the third was to live my life for the Lord after the age of 33. The fourth was about how I wanted to glorify the Lord through books at the end of my life. It's a little funny to think about now, but at the time, I thought that I would live my life after high school, live 33 years after thirty-three, live as a wonderful Christian who resembles the resurrected Jesus, and then go to the Lord in my old age by summarizing my life with the Lord in a book. I thought that being a Christian was all good and happy things.
Then I went to a school that was not on my prayer list but related to it, and I had a really fun and exciting job in the field I wanted, after I got married, my husband's vision was for youth and young adults, so we decided to expand our horizons and live in a foreign country to gain experience and learn English so that we could embrace the new generation. I was 33 years old at the time. From then on, I had to give up the life I wanted to live. Until then, the Lord had always been a Father who answered my prayers abundantly, but after that, life became too much for me to handle. In 2000, I went to the Philippines and spent my entire stay there feeding missionaries and short-term mission teams who were traveling to remote areas. It wasn't a joy to serve, but something I was forced to do. My husband's cousin lived next door to our house, and he was a missionary working in remote areas of the Philippines, his wife often went to Korea due to circumstances, so I had to cry and eat mustard to do the job. When the mission teams returned from the remote areas, they ate more than double the usual amount of Korean food, so sometimes they ran out of rice and starved. I had never eaten kimchi in Korea, and after a working life where I had to order it from a restaurant and put it in a bowl at home, it was difficult for me to cook. Looking back, I realize how frustrating it must have been for the Lord to see me so inept at so many things, and I think that's why He started training me to eat first.
The Lord's discipline began to take hold of me, and then I forgot about it. Until I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011, I was living my life as best I could. I was studying early childhood education full-time and had to work 15 hours a week at a preschool or child care center. At the age of 40, studying outside of my major took more effort than most, and I often pulled an all-nighter on Sundays because assignments were due on Mondays. As a wife, a mother of two, and a member of the church, I was weighed down by the heavy burdens of my life.
I thought I was running for the Lord with Jesus Christ as my guidepost, but in my haste to dodge the waves of busyness, I found myself dodging one wave, then another, and then another, until I was so far away from the guidepost I had set my eyes on. My body was always tired and everything seemed too much for me to handle. Looking back now, I realize that I hadn't fully trusted and relied on the Lord to get me through life. I was living in my own strength and ability, only calling Him Lord of my life, as if He were just Australia on my family register, and that's why life was so hard for me. I was giving Him 80% of my faith sometimes and 50% of my faith at other times. My Lord is the main perfection of 100% faith, and I wasn't treating Him that way. Our Lord is a faithful God of healing who waits until the end and never lets go, even when we are tattered and bruised and have no strength to get up, so that despair can never be our end in the midst of failure, frustration, and pain. For the Alpha has become the Omega, and He, the Almighty God, is with us forever.
When I go back and look at the journal I kept of my thoughts and meditations after my first cancer diagnosis in 2011, I am reminded of the memorable journey I took with the Lord. The keyword of that journey was love. The love of a Father who loved me even unto death, rose again to show me resurrection and victory, and sent the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, as a sign of His ever-present presence. I can only be grateful for His love, which watches over me like the pupils of His eyes. That love that is heartbreaking to hear. Like a mother's tearful prayer when her child is in so much pain that if she could take his place, she would gladly do so. Like the anguish of a parent facing the death of their child, wishing they could take their place. The heart of the parent is the heart of the Heavenly Father, who gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to give life to me, a hopeless person dying in sin.
On December 20, 2011, my first round of chemotherapy for breast cancer began. Although my case was diagnosed as early stage, it was classified as stage 3, which is the most aggressive and most likely to recur, so I was given the most intense chemotherapy, the same as patients with terminal cancer. It took almost six months of treatments, four every three weeks and 12 once a week. Because I am so close to cancer, sometimes people ask me about it, or people who are newly diagnosed and struggling with it ask me about chemotherapy. In such cases, I can talk with comfort and encouragement to those who only need surgery and radiation, but I know that chemotherapy is so painful that I can't even explain it, so I pray from the bottom of my heart.
Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells, but they also kill healthy cells, so there are many side effects. Before the chemotherapy is administered, I take several anti-cancer side effects medications and take them for about a week. How strong are the chemo drugs Once the drugs are in your system, there are a lot of things that happen that you can't really control. It's a time when you realize that you're not in control of your body, whether it's your taste buds, loss of appetite, vomiting, muscle pain, hair loss, or numbness in your hands and feet. Hair loss is a classic example of breast cancer chemotherapy, and as time goes on, you start to lose not only your hair, but all the hair on your body.
People are so stupid that they only appreciate what they have after they lose it. I'm a classic case of that. After the first round of chemo, my nurse told me to buy a wig and prepare a bandana for my head because my hair would start to fall out, and thankfully, wigs are subsidized by the government. One day, about two weeks after chemotherapy, my hair suddenly started to fall out. I couldn't believe I had hair in the bathroom, on the couch, on the pillow, or anywhere else. I immediately went to a beauty salon and shaved my head, as advised by people with experience. I've never really appreciated my hair because I've always been dissatisfied with it because it's not very thin and I have a lot of gray hairs. Now that I'm breaking up with it, I apologized for not recognizing it and thanked her for all the trouble she's put me through. As my hair began to fall out, I could feel the hair on the rest of my body begin to fall out as well. Only when my eyebrows were almost gone did I realize how precious they were. I realized that God made everything for my needs. Without eyelashes, whenever I showered, the water went right into my eyes, which was uncomfortable, and I got a lot of dust in my eyes, which made my eyes water. I realized that I couldn't do anything about my body, and I was grateful for all the things that I felt were lacking because God is the owner of my body. Through my illness, a true season of gratitude has returned.
I am perhaps the most indebted to love in this land of Auckland. Through the intercession, love, and overflowing service of many people during my illness, the long period of treatment was in the gracious hands of God. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that love. I know better than anyone that their intercession saved my life. We have a Heavenly Father who hears and answers all our prayers, so the flower of hope can bloom in the midst of any storm.
After the third round of chemotherapy, I suffered from a high fever, which is so dangerous that it is a patient's duty to call the hospital if it reaches 38 degrees during chemotherapy, and there is a 24-hour emergency line to call. However, after calling my oncologist during the day, I was told to call the call center because he was unavailable and did not call back. Having been hospitalized once before with a fever, I found it a hassle to have to explain my medical history and the process of being hospitalized over and over again with each antibiotic, blood test, and emergency room doctor. I took Panadol during the day, which brought down my fever, and after dinner I felt a chill in my body, so I went to bed early, around 9 p.m. However, I woke up with very cold breath and tightness in my chest. When I got out of bed, my whole body felt sweaty and hot, and I took the thermometer and it was 39 degrees. I felt like I couldn't breathe, and I thought, "Oh my God, I'm going to die." I looked at my watch and saw that it was 12:00 am. I looked at the clock and it was after 12:30am. I went out of the bedroom and sat down on the living room couch and prayed fervently, "Lord, I can't breathe, please help me."
Almost as soon as I finished praying, my cell phone rang from somewhere. It was my handbag in the corner of the living room, and the sound sent chills down my spine. I picked up the phone, thinking the Lord was trying to save me, and it was my oncologist. He asked if I was feeling better and if my fever was down. He must have checked my recorded message and called me in the middle of the night. When I told her my condition, she almost panicked and told me to change my husband and get to Auckland Hospital as soon as possible, saying four or five times that I could die. When I arrived at the hospital, several nurses surrounded me and a large room was already prepared for me. This time, the emergency room doctor told me. If I have a high fever above 38 degrees during chemotherapy, I am at high risk of dying suddenly due to a rapid drop in immunity. Because of the high fever, my blood vessels were constricted and it took several people poking and prodding before they finally drew blood and gave me an injection. I don't know how long I slept, but when I woke up, I was transferred to the cancer ward and given antibiotics and constant temperature checks and blood tests. They told me that I had contracted some kind of virus and my immune system was rapidly declining, causing me to have a high fever. The next morning, my oncologist came to see me, and when I told him I was still alive, he apologized for scaring me so much that I was going to die, but he assured me that if I had a fever, I should call him right away. I was discharged from the hospital after 2 days and 3 nights, and at a later appointment, I asked him why he called me at that time, because it's unusual for a doctor to call a patient at nearly 1 a.m. His answer was that he was about to get into bed and go to sleep, but he thought of me and called. In that very desperate hour when I finished praying, the Lord touched the doctor's heart and sent his saving hand to me.
He made the confession of David in Psalm 23 to be my confession because I have a Lord who guards me like the pupil of His eye and puts me under the shadow of His wings, as Psalm 17:8 says. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Thy rod and thy staff are for my comfort. I now sing of hope in the midst of any situation. For the Lord is my very hope.
The chemo was really hard, and it felt like I was sinking into despair. The power of the drug was unimaginably strong, and it seemed to swallow me up. The injections would sneak into my body without any reaction at first, but then it would cause things that I couldn't control, and then it would move on its own schedule. In the case of chemotherapy every three weeks, the first week was very difficult, the second week was better, and the last week I recovered a lot and took blood tests, and if the results were okay, I took chemotherapy again, and so on. In other words, the human body reacts according to the purpose and schedule of the drug, and my body follows the intention of the person who made the drug. I thought about what I was living for, as if if I lived according to the flesh, sin would take root, and if I lived according to the Spirit, I would reap the fruit of the Spirit. I prayed that I would not live under the influence of drugs, but that I would live in the fullness of the Spirit, that I would be filled with the Spirit of the Lord, that I would rejoice and sing and dance for the Lord, and that the blood of the Lord would flow in all my veins.
The more chemo I received, the worse the side effects were than I could have ever imagined. Toward the end of my treatment, my fingernails and toenails turned yellow, and the numbness in my fingertips and toes became so severe that I couldn't open bottle caps. My fingers became numb, making it difficult to write, and my handwriting turned into a mess. My body became swollen all over, most noticeably on my face. Sometimes I'd catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and be horrified. My hair was in a tight bun, my face was puffy and eyebrowless, and I looked so unfamiliar. During my fourth round of three-weekly chemo, the side effects were so severe that I had to reduce the amount of chemo I received, and the weekly chemo I started afterward was much easier than the three-week cycle. I didn't have much vomiting, but my body was getting weaker and weaker from the long period of chemotherapy. My nose and throat were bloody, and the numbness in my hands and feet was getting worse.
Especially in the first week of chemotherapy, my body was so weak that it was difficult to cook food, and my taste was changed, so I couldn't match my liver, so even if I tried to make it, it was difficult for my family to eat it because it was tasteless. There was a priest who always remembered when it was my chemotherapy day and always provided rich food such as side dishes and kimchi for me and my family in the first week of chemotherapy. She prayed for me at the church intercessory prayer meeting and said that I was a constant burden on her heart. She said that she had undergone breast cancer surgery and treatment, so she feels compassionate when she sees someone with the same disease. During chemotherapy, I had vomiting episodes like morning sickness, and sometimes I would suddenly remember wanting to eat. One day, I wanted to eat the stewed fish that my mom cooked, and the next day, someone would bring me stewed fish that really tasted like my mom's hands, and one day, I went for a walk and thought, "I wish I could eat abalone porridge today," and when I went home, a butler left the abalone porridge that I wanted to eat. Just as a mother takes great care of her child when he is lying sick and is concerned about his food, so the Lord responded to my small groans.
Once, I had no taste for rice and hardly any side dishes to eat, so I usually ate around 6 p.m., but like a child who complains about side dishes, I didn't eat dinner until 7 p.m. I said in my heart, "Father, please give me some side dishes so that I can have strength." As soon as I finished praying, the phone rang as if someone had heard. Don't do it before dinner, just wait a minute. After about 15 minutes, I had a delicious dinner with colorful herbs and electric lights. One day, God, I ran out of kimchi. What should I do?" Later that afternoon, a deacon I had known for a while but had never visited before came to my house with a vat of deliciously ripe kimchi. When I saw the kimchi at home, my heart suddenly got excited and I felt the pressure to bring it to him as soon as possible, so he came in a hurry.
So many people have visited me as angels of the Lord, but the strange thing is that they are always people I can't imagine, and sometimes people I don't know at all, so I couldn't even say hello to them, even though I received so much love. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart, and through these things, the Lord has shown me how much I love you. Hye-young, I am watching you like a pair of eyes. It's as if He wants to tell you, "This is what I want you to do. I was so grateful to know that just as He provided the Israelites with quail and manna in the wilderness, He knew when I really needed help and provided it, especially during my surgery and chemo treatments. I was able to spend those difficult, wilderness-like days in gratitude because I was soaked in the love of my Heavenly Father, who knew ahead of time and cared for me in every detail.
After what seemed like an eternity of chemo, I finally finished the last of my 12 treatments and had a few weeks of rest. I went into radiation therapy for a short time, which felt really liberating. Compared to chemo, radiation was a piece of cake, and I had 35 treatments, every day of the week. The actual radiation time was only a few minutes, but once I changed into the gown and the nurses got me into position, I had to stay in that position for a few minutes. Before the treatment started, the nurses left, the door closed, and I was the only one in the room. Because of the machines, the temperature in the room was a little low, so there was always a chill in the air, the sound of beeping machines, and red beams of light. As I lay there, all alone, where no one else would come for fear of radiation damage, I called on the Lord. I declared by faith that I was healed because the Lord with me is the true healing ray, and I was treated. The radiation treatments were nothing compared to the chemotherapy, but afterward my flesh was raw, cracked and itchy like a sunburn, and my skin was flaky. I was told I would be tired, and my body became more tired by the day, but I was able to enjoy the end of the treatment because I knew it would soon be over. I dare to say that it was absolutely God's love that got me through that nearly 10-month period, and as God's love flows through people in many states connected like pipes, so does it flow through me. God's people spreading God's love. Like them, who are sensitive to the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit, I will listen to the Lord more and more, and live with the hands, feet, and heart of God.
My daily life for 10 months was a series of hospital-related events. I usually forgot that I was a patient, but when I stood on the threshold of the hospital, I thought, "I am a patient," and at the same time I thought, "I am a sinner, and that is why I need Jesus the most." Just as the body is diagnosed in detail when it is examined, even if it looks fine on the outside, our souls see themselves as perfect sinners when we stand before a perfect God. To save that wretched and hopeless sinner, God's only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, suffered the most shameful and painful death on the cross. The words, "By His stripes we are healed," were so clearly etched in my mind.
After nearly 10 months of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, I felt like I could fly, but my body was very tired and exhausted. I was told that it is most common to feel more tired after radiation therapy than during it. After the last treatment, I received a congratulatory card with love from the radiology staff and thought that I had passed another tunnel in my life. After that, I met with an oncologist and a surgeon every three months to check my condition, but sometimes I felt that it was pointless to meet with specialists because it was just a consultation and listening to my condition. I asked the specialists to do a CT scan or something like that because it is common in Korea to check all the other parts of the body when there is cancer in one part of the body. Especially for women, the breast, thyroid, and uterus are all connected, so I told them several times that I wanted to have them checked together.
However, the doctors' response to my various unpleasant symptoms was that my body was weakened by chemotherapy and radiation treatment for too long, and that it would get better over time. I told them over and over again during my visits to the GP, radiation, chemo and surgery doctors, but they were adamant that there was no way they could allow me to have other parts of my body examined because there was no chance of other cancers in my case. In particular, they said that CT scans are bad for you because of the high radiation exposure. In Korea, you can get tests if you think something is wrong, but in New Zealand, you can't get any preventive tests, regardless of whether you have health insurance or not.
After the treatment, I wanted to go to Korea, but I couldn't due to various circumstances. We had a denominational church founding service in November, so we decided to postpone it to January because there were 11 pastors and wives from Korea. In January 2013, there was a two-week mission training organized by the General Assembly, so I decided to attend with my husband. Although my body was not fully recovered, I really wanted to go to the training to open the second act of my new life before the Lord, because now my desire is to live a life that is completely owned by Christ in me, not by me,
It was very cold in Korea in January 2013, but I felt as warm as my mother's arms because it was the land of my birth. I joined the mission training with excitement, and there were many people who were already doing ministry in the mission field. I was impressed by the people who preached the gospel in various places around the world, such as Egypt, Vietnam, China, Nepal, and Urumqi. The 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. training was grueling as it was a short-term intensive course. With swollen and bruised hands and feet, sore muscles, and a cap on my head at all times, I must have looked like a patient. I think it was all because of the Holy Spirit's help and care that I was able to complete the training with courage.
One of the missionaries, a man in his mid-30s, realized I was sick and shared his story. He told me that his wife had breast cancer, and when she went to the hospital, she was already beyond help, and after a few months in the hospital, she went to heaven. The missionary looked so lonely as he urged me to get well. Death is all around us, and we often go through life without realizing it, only to be reminded of its meaning by a sudden accident or illness of someone close to us. The world after death. Because I believe in it, I believe that we can live in this world with the values of the Kingdom of God, with the identity of the people of heaven, not with the values and culture of the world. That is why he is able to stand up again with the gospel even after the death of his beloved wife at a young age.
As with all visitors to Korea, a medical examination was indispensable. During our two weeks of missionary training, we were constantly scheduled for medical appointments. My husband's appointment was in Anyang, which is over an hour's drive from where we were staying. During the medical examination, the doctor was very quick and friendly, and we were able to communicate in all languages. It was like a comfort from home. One of the most memorable was the thyroid specialist. He told me that I had a lump on my thyroid gland that was over 2 centimeters and wanted to take a biopsy. Hospital S is a Christian hospital, so missionaries get preferential treatment, but for those of us without medical insurance, the cost was prohibitive. When I told the doctor that I didn't want to get the test because of the cost, and that I would go to New Zealand to get it, he told me to wait and make sure that I would get it when I returned to Korea. Anyway, after waiting for about 10 minutes, the nurse told me that it was received, so I asked the amount, and the doctor said that he didn't know the exact amount because he entered the code himself, but it would be about 100,000 won. I felt like I could smell the scent of Christ in the doctor's smile as he kindly explained various things. Fortunately, the results showed nothing wrong, but because of the large size, I was told to go for regular checkups every six months. After the biopsy, he prescribed medication for two days, and I had to take five pills at a time. I have had several biopsies in New Zealand and have never been prescribed medication.
I had another doctor who was the exact opposite, a gynecologist. When I asked him a question, he bluntly told me not to ask questions when he was speaking and not to repeat what he had said, and I could immediately see why he didn't have many appointments. He told me that I had a 7-centimeter lump on my uterus and that I needed surgery. I told him that I couldn't get the surgery in Korea, so he told me to come back in a week to see how it goes. When I saw the doctor again a week later, he told me that I had a tumor on my ovary on the ultrasound, and I kept repeating to myself, "Why didn't I see it last time? He ordered a CT scan right away, but it was two days before I flew to New Zealand, so I only took the doctor's note with me. It didn't occur to me that this was a malignant tumor.
After returning to New Zealand from a four-week trip to South Korea, I had a CT scan and blood work done, and when I saw my GP again, I was told that the blood work and CT results were not good and that I would probably need surgery. What I was told by the surgeon, who was referred by my GP on short notice, was so shocking that my husband and I were dumbfounded, like someone who had been hit on the head. The surgeon told me that I had a malignant tumor on my ovary, that it looked like breast cancer had metastasized or ovarian cancer, and that they couldn't do a biopsy on the ovary and would only know for sure once they operated. They told me that I needed to have surgery on my uterus, ovaries, and abdominal epithelium. I remembered how many times I had felt pain and discomfort in my left abdomen before, and how many times I told the doctors that it was nothing, but the GPs and specialists all said it was just because I had been on chemotherapy for a long time and my body was weak. If I had just had the CT scan I wanted so badly after my breast cancer treatment, I wouldn't be in this serious condition. I protested to the doctor. "How can you get cancer while undergoing chemotherapy, and when did you get it?" The doctor could only estimate that it was about six months ago, maybe two or three years ago. He said it was urgent and that I should have surgery as soon as possible. The doctor's main concern was my physical condition, which was weakened by the long treatment. I was scheduled to have the surgery in a week's time and left the hospital, but I still didn't feel it.
The Lord seemed so far away from me. "God, are you seeing me now? Father, what am I going to do now? I'm not even fully recovered yet...... Lord, please be by my side and hold my hand. Lord......' No tears came to her eyes. My husband and I were devastated and couldn't say anything. As I knelt down to pray before the Lord, so many thoughts flashed through my mind. I couldn't believe that I had been through the long, dark tunnel of breast cancer and now there was another darker, longer tunnel ahead of me. All I could do was keep my eyes on the Lord. I prayed, confessing that I could not grow a single hair on my body and that Jesus, the Lord of my body, was the only complete healer. I made another prayer request to the many people who had been praying for me. Because I believe in the power of prayer, I also contacted people in Korea and the U.S. In particular, I was able to share prayer requests quickly and efficiently through KakaoTalk, and I was grateful for the comfort and encouragement of many people. Among them was the testimony of a pastor who was diagnosed with tongue cancer, and when he was asked to say the last thing he wanted to say before the surgery to cut his tongue, he praised my Savior Jesus for his love and decided to cut his tongue, and to his surprise, a miracle happened: the tongue cancer disappeared completely. I prayed with all my heart. "God, my body is still not fully recovered, and I am going to have another operation. Please heal me with Your blood." I asked God to show me a miracle. I continued to pray on the bed above the operating room. But no such miracle happened. It was difficult to find a blood vessel for the anesthesia injection, and after 20-30 minutes of nurses poking here and there and changing different types of needles, all in vain, the doctor used an ultrasound machine to find the blood vessel and inject it.
When I woke up, I was in a hospital room with something written on my nose and machines on both legs that whirred like fans, so I couldn't move. It was probably a device to improve circulation in my legs. After the surgery, I had to stay in bed for a day. On the left side of the bed was a button that I could press when I felt pain and morphine would be automatically administered. Lying in the hospital room, I realized that I had undergone a major surgery. After a day, the urine line was removed and all other devices were removed from my body, and I felt like I was going to live. On my stomach, I had a long vertical special bandage covered in white gauze, which was pulling and not very comfortable.
Breast cancer surgery only involves cutting out about 4 centimeters on one side of my chest, but this time I felt emotional because I was completely removing a part of my body. After the surgery, my doctor told me that he thought my breast cancer had metastasized and that he would have to take a biopsy of the removed area to know for sure. My whole body felt like my chest was dropping. "What the heck is going on in my body? Lord, what am I going to do?" were the unanswered questions in my mind, and I was just dazed after the doctor's appointment. For me, God gave me a very special nurse with a smile like my mom's. On the first day of surgery, she carefully wiped every inch of my immobile body with a warm washcloth. The elderly nurse told me that I needed to come into the room in the morning to see the sunlight, pulled back all the curtains, held my hand, and let me walk in the hallway outside my room as often as I could after the surgery to help me heal faster. We chatted from time to time, which made me feel comfortable in the hospital without the foreignness of being treated in a foreign country. I couldn't help but bow down to God's delicacy in all things.
During the five days I was in the hospital, many people came to visit and prayed and comforted me. The Lord must have known how fragile I was to let me receive so much love. Being alone made me feel weak, and although I kept calling on the Lord, my heart was filled with compassion for myself, then filled with gratitude, then depressed at times. But I was not afraid. A strange peace began to fill my heart. The doctor's words were enough to discourage me, but there seemed to be a powerful force holding me up behind my back. It was obvious that Jesus was holding me up. I had nothing to fear because my Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lord of life, was with me.
When I was discharged from the hospital and the gauze was changed, I saw 17 large staples on my stomach. The scars, about 10 centimeters long, intersected with the long horizontal scars from my long-ago cesarean section to form the shape of a cross. The cross so clearly etched into my body, overlaid with Jesus crucified for my sins, reminded me of the words of Galatians 2:20, which I had read and memorized countless times: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
After my surgery for ovarian cancer, my husband and I were even more devastated. My surgeon, a thin, very sensitive-looking man, told me very carefully that my condition was stage 3 ovarian cancer, stage A, and that I would have a new cancer, not a metastasis from my breast cancer. He told me that stage 3 A had spread outside the uterus, and that mine had spread to the epithelial cells of my abdomen, and that although he had removed at least five of them visually at the time of surgery, there were still more, and that I would have to undergo chemotherapy. I was told that ovarian cancer has almost no self-recognizable symptoms, so if it is detected, it is almost stage 3 and the prognosis is poor. In addition, I was told that my body was already very weak due to the long battle, so the key to treatment is how well I can overcome chemotherapy, and that the chemotherapy doctor will contact me. I screamed at the doctor and said, "How can I get cancer during chemotherapy?" The doctor tried to answer me in several different ways, but it didn't make any sense. How could this happen to me? Was God even watching me? The Almighty God must have known everything about my body's condition, so what did He do to bring my body to this point? I kept asking Him questions, but He didn't answer me. I felt like I was trapped in pitch blackness again.
I spent days in a daze, unable to think of anything, and I kept thinking that this wasn't real. Four weeks after my surgery, I went to see my oncologist at the same hospital where I had chemo before, but it had moved to a new location and was much more comfortable and had all new equipment. The artfully arranged fresh flowers at the receptionist's desk were the exact opposite of what I wanted. The doctor, a woman in her mid-40s, was very calm and kind, and I was soon reunited with the doctor who had given me chemo for breast cancer. Seeing her made my blood run cold. I thought to myself, "If only I had a CT scan after all my treatments last year, if only I had an ultrasound, if only I had that one referral letter that I wanted, I wouldn't be in this position, I wouldn't have metastasized to stage 3 A, and I could have ended up with surgery." She showed me a stack of papers, said she was sorry, and went into a lengthy explanation of the guidelines for follow-up testing after cancer treatment. In short, he told me that in my case, based on the guidelines, there were a number of circumstances that indicated that no tests were necessary, and that he had not done so in the past and would not do so in the future for patients like me. He kept saying he was sorry in the middle of the conversation, but I felt uncomfortable hearing him say that and asked him to stop because it didn't provide any comfort. I was so emotional talking to him that I couldn't hold a conversation with him, so I moved to the next room with my new oncologist.
My new oncologist asked me, "What do you want most right now, if you could have treatment, where would you want to have it?" He told me that because I had lost trust in the New Zealand healthcare system and medical staff, I was not mentally prepared for effective treatment in my current situation. I was so full of anger towards my previous chemo doctor that I was unable to control my emotions to the point where I didn't know what I was saying. Not being able to express myself in English made me even more frustrated and upset, and I didn't want to go back to New Zealand for treatment where I didn't speak the language anymore. I desperately wanted to go back to my home country, South Korea, where I would be able to communicate more easily and be treated more preventively. But that wasn't to be, so I saw the doctor again the following week and decided to have chemo and the necessary photocap surgery.
But I was still filled with disbelief and anger. I researched online and found out that in Korea, for ovarian cancer, there is a treatment that involves direct chemotherapy to only the locally advanced areas, and I felt strongly that I would be cured. So the morning of the surgery, I canceled both the surgery and chemotherapy and discussed the idea of localized chemotherapy with my doctor, who told me that it is not done in New Zealand. I thought that if I could get a doctor to write a letter stating that the treatment is only available in Korea, my insurance company would cover it, so I got in touch with doctors in Korea. The first thing they almost always said was how much they could afford to pay for the treatment. They told me that even a small test would be very expensive if it wasn't covered by Korean health insurance, and one doctor even asked me how I could have gotten cancer during chemotherapy when breast cancer and ovarian cancer are usually treated with the same chemotherapy drugs. As I talked to the Korean doctors, I gradually lost my desire for Korea. In New Zealand, I never worried about the cost of treatment and took it for granted, but I felt so pathetic that my anger level was rising and my gratitude was sinking to the bottom. All those desperate thanksgivings to the Lord who had been with me during my illness were losing their power and my faith was going to the bottom.
In desperation, I went back to my knees and prayed to the Lord, confessing that neither doctors nor medical technology could save me, and that only God was my savior and healer. As I prayed, the events that had happened to me flashed before me like a movie screen: If the doctor had only let me have one scan, if the gynecologist in Korea had found the tumor in the first place, it would not have metastasized, but when I look back on these events, I think, "God willing, the doctor would have agreed with me. If God had allowed it, the first ultrasound would have found the abnormality and it wouldn't have gotten worse." I realized that God had allowed all of this to happen. The fact that my ovarian cancer is now stage 3 A with metastases in my abdomen was just the right situation for me, and since all of my circumstances are under the Lord's hand, He will heal the metastases as well. All I had to do was look to Him, and my mind cleared.
I reflected on how I had been praying and longing for a miraculous healing. It was too good to be true that the Holy Spirit would come upon me in prayer and heal me. If He could heal me once and for all, there would be no more pain, no more side effects, and His name would be exalted as the Healer. But I realized how much I was limiting the Lord in the confines of my own thinking, wanting Him to answer me how I wanted, when I wanted, when I wanted, whenever I wanted, whenever I wanted, whenever I wanted, whenever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and I was not allowing Him to be fully God. The peace of God filled my heart as I repented of my sins of grumbling, complaining, and getting angry when I didn't get what I wanted because I so easily treated the living and active God as an idol.
Going through chemotherapy again put a lot of pressure on me and my family. The first time I went through chemo, I didn't know much about it, so I bravely went through it, but knowing the pain, fear came over me and my family at times. I felt like I was on a train going into a long, dark tunnel again, but I was able to go through it in peace because the Lord was at the wheel.
I took a CT scan before the chemotherapy, and compared to the one taken immediately after the surgery, the cancerous cells that were 5 millimeters spread in the epithelium of my right abdomen had grown to about 9 millimeters. The delay in treatment was due to the decision of whether to have the treatment in Korea. In order to have successful chemotherapy, I had to have a photocap surgery, which is like an artificial vein device. I had my photocap removed in August 2012 and had to have it reinserted less than a year later in May 2013. If I had more than four rounds of chemotherapy or if my veins were too thin, I had to have a photo cap surgery so that I could easily receive chemotherapy injections.
During the third week of my second round of chemo, when I was feeling my best, my oldest and third sisters from Korea came to New Zealand. My third sister lives in the U.S. and took the time to visit me on her way to Korea. I was so excited and happy to see them because I had missed them so much. They brought two bags full of food for me. The kids were also happy to have their aunts cook for them after a long time. My sister in the U.S. was only able to stay for six days due to work, and I was sad that it was such a short time, but I was comforted by the fact that my oldest sister decided to stay for another week. During my third round of chemotherapy, I couldn't believe how grateful I was to have her by my side.
God, who knew all my circumstances and knew my heart, sent my two sisters to show me the love of the Father. The day my oldest sister left for Korea, she went to the airport to see me off, and when I got home and was alone, I burst into tears. A stream of uncontrollable tears kept flowing. When I heard a noise outside, I opened the door to find a package. After signing for it, I realized it was from a woman named Rebecca in the U.S., whom I never knew in real life. When I opened it, I found a beautiful quilted pink, light blue, and white quilt with a letter and card inside.
She introduced herself as a member of the San Clemente Presbyterian Church in the United States and said that the quilt had been handmade for me by the congregation as part of the church's Quilt Ministry. The quilt was called the Pray Quilt blanket because it had a string on it and each time someone prayed for me, they would tie a knot in the string. It was a precious gift that was made by faith, stitch by stitch, trusting the Lord to heal me. The card had the names of many people who had prayed for me, along with words of blessing and comfort.
Rebecca told me that she was a regular customer at her sister's skin care shop in the U.S. She is a devout Christian who made the quilt with her church members after hearing my story, and she wrote about how faithful her sister is to comfort and help those in need. I am so precious and proud of my sister, who lived as a university professor in Korea, then moved to the United States, and turned into a person of the Lord like a piece of gold in the midst of unimaginable difficulties. Whenever I helped people in need, I prayed to the Lord that I could not take care of Hye-young because I was far away, but that the Lord would help me through His angels on her behalf, and I am a very happy person. Through her, people in the United States who don't even know me were praying earnestly for my healing. How blessed we are to believe in Jesus because we have a faithful God who hears all our prayers as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The package arrived at just the right time, and I could feel the love of my Father, who saw me covered in tears and snot from disappointment and self-pity and took me into his arms. I was so grateful that so many people are interceding around the world for someone as insignificant as me. I was amazed at His immeasurable love and grace, and He lifted me up in my weakness and let me know that the place I needed to be was in prayer. It was His beckoning for me to return to the place of surrendering myself to Him, knowing His heart, and obeying His will.
That night, I closed my prayer quit and prayed. "Thank You, Lord, for Your love. Thank You that all the cancer cells are gone, and thank You that they are not. I am satisfied with You alone'. I was scheduled for a CT scan the next day, but I slept better than ever. During the previous two CT scans, before surgery and chemotherapy, I had begged and pleaded with the Lord to fix it, to make it clean. But the scans showed that the cancer had only gotten bigger. This time, however, a sense of peace flooded my heart. Before the CT scan, I had to drink a lot of water mixed with a special solution for 10 minutes, but the prayer of thanksgiving kept coming out of my mouth, "It doesn't matter if I have cancer or if I don't have cancer, the Lord is enough.
After drinking the special solution, I had to inject the solution into my body, and in my case, I had trouble finding a vein, but this time, I was so thankful that I found a vein only once. After I got sick, I was able to tell the Lord and thank Him for even the smallest things. I was so thankful that He was my everything because there was nothing I could do and I was so weak that I had no one to rely on but Him. After all the preparations, when the nurses left because of the radiation, and I was alone in the humming vat, going in and out of tests, I was overwhelmingly happy and grateful to know that the Lord was with me. I felt His presence so vividly that my prayers of thanksgiving echoed in my mouth.
A week later, I met with my doctor and he excitedly said, "The scan results are normal, no cancer cells are visible. The doctor and I hugged each other and rejoiced. Hallelujah, the Lord had healed me. God had heard and answered our prayers. I told the doctor that I was grateful that God had heard our prayers. The same Lord who saved a sinner who deserved to die had saved me, who was lying in the midst of sickness and was about to die. A song of thanksgiving for His immeasurable love flowed from the depths of my heart.
3번째 항암을 끝내고 받은 CT스캔의 결과로 우리는 “할렐루야”를 불렀다. 그리고 마음 같아서는 거기서 치료를 끝내고 싶었다. 의사는 조심스럽게 자신의 의견을 말했다. “스캔 상으로 암세포가 보이지 않으니 지금 당장 치료를 그만두고 싶겠지만 원래 계획대로 6번의 항암을 다하는 것이 좋겠다. 그 동안의 연구에 따르면 5번까지는 해야 더 완벽한 효과를 볼 수 있기 때문이다.” 나와 남편은 잠시 기도했고 그 말에 따르기로 결정했다.
병에 걸렸을 때 그리스도인들은 어느 때보다도 간절하게 하나님께 기도 드린다. 예수 그리스도만이 완전한 치유자 되시기 때문에 그 분 앞에 우리의 모든 상황을 올려 드린다. 나도 그렇고 대부분의 사람들도 기적처럼 병 고침 받기를 바란다. 기도했을 때 병이 깨끗이 낫는 것은 생각만해도 신나고 즐거운 일이다. 그것은 수술 자국도 부작용도 없는 온전한 치유이기에 더욱 그렇다. 전능하신 하나님은 환자들을 초자연적 방법으로 치유하실 때도 있다. 그러나 때에 따라서 의사를 통해서도 약을 통해서도 그리고 음식과 운동 등의 꾸준한 생활 습관의 변화로도 병을 고쳐 주신다고 생각한다. 중요한 것은 다양한 방법 아래 모든 치유가 주님 손에 있다는 사실을 믿고 그분을 바라보는 것이다.
주님을 바라보며 사는 것은 그 분이 내 삶의 주인 이시라는 고백이다. 그 고백이 기도이며 기도를 통해 주님께서 내게 무엇을 말씀하시는지 알게 된다. 그렇기 때문에 일상에서 일어나는 일이 즐거운 일이든지 슬픈 일이든지 어려운 일이든지 범사에 감사할 수 있다.
4번째 항암을 하기 위해 피검사를 했는데 혈소판 수치가 낮게 나와서 한 주 뒤에 다시 검사해 항암 주사를 맞았고 면역력이 떨어질 것을 염려해 면역력을 높이는 주사를 일주일 후에 다시 맞았다. 그럼에도 3주 후 다시 항암을 하기에 내 몸의 상태는 너무 좋지 않았다. 혈소판 수치가 너무 낮아 주사를 맞을 수 없었다. 3주를 기다려 겨우 5번째 항암 주사를 맞을 수 있었지만 밀려오는 피곤함과 몸에 발진이 생기고 여러 가지 부작용들이 생기기 시작하였다.
의사에게 갈 수 조차 없을 정도로 허약해져 발진 사진을 담당 의사에게 이메일로 보내면 전화로 상담하고 우리 집에서 가장 가까운 약국에 약을 처방해 두어 찾아오는 형태로 진료를 받았지만 내 몸은 회복할 기세를 보이지 않았다. 결국 의사는 나의 의견대로 6번째 항암을 하지 않기로 결정했다. 그렇게 길고 긴 항암이 끝났다. 하지만 계속되는 피로감은 깊어만 갔다.
항암이 끝나고 한달 정도 휴식기를 갖고 나서 갑상선 정기 검진을 받았는데 결과가 좋지 않다고 했다. 2013년 1월 한국에서의 건강검진에서 갑상선 혹이 발견 됐지만 조직검사 결과 이상이 없다는 소견을 받아서 6개월에 한번 초음파로 정기 검진을 받고 있었다. 의사는 “혹 주변에 경계선이 두껍게 변했고 피가 섞여 보이니 수술을 해야 하지만 그렇게 급한 것은 아니니까 서둘러서 수술하지 않아도 된다”고 했다. 조심스럽게 “암은 아니냐”고 물었고 의사는 “암은 아닌 것 같다”고 말했다.
급한 수술은 아니라고 해도 왠지 2013년을 끝으로 수술과도 작별해야 한다는 마음이 들어 제일 빠른 수술 날짜를 잡았는데 12월 10일, 내 생일 다음 날이었다. ‘아, 이젠 이 수술을 끝으로 다시 태어나는구나. 새로운 인생을 허락하시니 이젠 주님 안에서 더 의미 있는 삶을 살아야겠다’고 결심했다.
왼쪽 갑상선을 제거하는 수술로 내 목에는 목 주름을 따라 상처가 생겼다. 이제 목까지 땄으니 나는 죽고 예수님만 살고 나는 없고 주님만 있는 인생 살고 싶었다.
감사하게도 수술 후 그 의사 명함을 자세히 보니 목, 머리 성형까지 겸하고 있는 전문의사였다. 세밀하게 일하시는 주님의 사랑에 다시 한번 놀랐다. 수술 후에도 의사는 “암은 아닌 것 같다”고 말해서 다행이라는 안도의 숨을 쉬고 수술 일주일 후 의사를 만나러 갔다.
의사는 내게 아주 장황하게 수술 후 조직 검사에 대해 설명하더니 “암세포가 발견되었다”고 하며 “암이 잘 생기는 체질인 것 같다”며 말끝을 흐렸다. 그 순간부터 나는 망치에 머리를 맞은 듯 아무 소리로 들리지 않았다. 현실이 아닌 것 같았다. ‘몇 번이나 암이 아닌 것 같다고 해 놓고 어떻게 또다시…’ 나중에 생각하니 의사도 본인이 했던 말 때문에 그렇게 빙빙 돌려 결과를 이야기한 것 같다는 생각이 들었다.
겨우 정신을 추스르고 당분간 운전하지 말라는 주의 사항 때문에 같이 동행한 집사님한테 아무 말도 할 수 없었다. 계속 중보기도 모임을 하며 같이 기도해 온 나이는 어리지만 속이 깊은 그 집사님의 얼굴을 보며 우리가 기도했던 수 많은 기도에 응답하셨던 주님 생각이 났다. 암이 아니게 해 달라고 간절히 기도했고 그 응답 앞에 서 있는 나는 그저 고개를 떨구며 ‘주님 세번째 암까지 완전히 치유하신 건가요?’라고 물었다.
지치고 상한 맘으로 집에 돌아 와 주님 앞에 무릎을 꿇었다. 어떤 말도 할 수 없어 ‘주님’만 계속 불렀다. 주님만 바라봤다. 내 이성으로 받아들일 수 없는 상황을 주님께 올려드렸다. 그것이 내가 할 수 있는 유일한 일이었다. 참 신기하게도 오후가 되니 힘들어서 요동치던 마음이 평안해 졌다. 고통스러운 현실 속 처절한 몸부림 뒤에 감사의 기도가 흘러 나왔다.
뉴질랜드처럼 병 발견하기 쉽지 않은 나라에서 세 가지의 암을 발견케 하시고 치료케 하신 하나님의 은혜가 너무 감사했다. 내 몸 상태로 이길 만큼의 치료법을 주신 것도 감사했다. 갑상선은 차후 치료 없이 수술과 약 복용만 하면 되는 아주 초기 암이라서 감사했다. 수술 후 목소리 변화나 부작용이 거의 없다는 것도 감사했다. 내 마음은 어느새 감사의 물결로 가득 찼다.
참 이상했다. ‘내 스스로는 이렇게 평안하고 감사한 기분을 가질 수 없는 사람인데 어떻게 세번째 암 판정을 받았는데도 감사할 수 있을까’라는 생각이 들었다. 그러면서 아주 확실하게 드는 마음은 눈물로 기도하시는 많은 분들의 중보 덕분이라는 것이었다. 다른 사람들을 위해 쉬지 않고 기도하시는 이 땅의 중보자들의 기도가 죽어 가는 자들을 생명으로, 어둠 가운데 있는 자들을 빛으로, 억눌린 자들에게 자유를 가져다 주는 강력한 힘의 원동력이었다. 그 기도가 절망 속에 있는 나를 소망으로 이끌어 주었다.
갑상선 암 수술을 하고 6주 후에 피검사 후 수술 의사를 만났다. 한쪽 갑상선을 제거한 후 얼마나 몸에서 자연적으로 호르몬이 나오는가를 보고 약으로 호르몬 수위를 조절하기 위한 만남이었다. 나와 같은 경우는 갑상선 약을 한 알씩 공복에 먹어야 한다고 처방했다.
수술 후 6주간은 거의 아침에 일어 나기 힘들고 피곤했었는데 약을 먹기 시작하자 그러한 증상이 차차 없어지기 시작했다. 아침에 빈 속에 미지근한 물 한 컵과 함께 약을 복용한다. 한 알에 24시간 효과가 지속되는 작은 알약을 먹으면서 내 영혼을 위한 약도 그렇게 꼬박꼬박 먹기를 소원한다. 그리스도인이 먹어야 할 평생의 약, 신양과 구약, 하나님의 말씀을 통해 내 영혼이 강건해 지고 예수 그리스도를 닮아 가는 그 신비의 약을 나는 매일 매일 먹을 것이다.
3개월만에 정기 검진으로 담당 항암의사를 만났을 때 갑상선 수술까지 암으로 판정이 나자 의사는 내게 3개월에 한 번씩 MRI로 몸을 검진해야 한다고 했다. 가슴부분과 배 부위를 두 차례로 나누어 하는 검사는 CT 스캔과 다르게 굉장히 시끄러웠다. 검사 전에 미리 소음이 있으니 헤드폰과 좋아하는 음악을 골라 틀어 주긴 하지만 기계로 땅을 파는 것 같은 소음은 너무도 심했다. 거의 40분 정도나 그 이상을 촬영하는데 자석을 이용해 찍는 것이라 방사선에 노출되지 않는 것이 장점이라고 했다. 나의 경우 작년 일년 간 거의 3개월에 한 번 꼴로 CT 스캔을 했기에 더 이상의 방사선은 위험하다고 판단한 의료진의 결정이었다.
MRI를 이주간에 걸쳐 찍고 나서 다시 3개월 후에 찍어야 한다는 것은 악몽 같다는 생각이 들었다. 그런데 일 주일 후 결과를 보기 위해 의사를 만났는데 영상이 깨끗하게 나오지 않아 다시 찍어야 한다고 했다. 배 부위는 금식도 해야 하고 4시간 전부터는 물도 마실 수 없고 다시 그 소음을 경험해야 한다는 것에 마음이 무거웠다. ‘도대체 왜 나에게 이런 일이 생겼을까, 보통의 경우 한번 촬영으로 자연스럽게 결과가 나오기 마련인데 말이다’ 그러나 그 생각과 동시에 감사하다는 생각이 들었다. ‘결과를 더 정확히 알기 위해서 찍으니 감사하고 다시 찍을 수 있는 체력이 되어서 감사하고 내가 비용을 감당하지 않아도 되니 감사하고…’ 한번 감사를 떠 올리자 감사가 꼬리에 꼬리를 물고 떠 올랐다.
세 번의 암을 만나고 헤어지면서 가장 달라진 것이 있다면 감사에 대한 나의 태도였다. 예전에 나는 하나님이 들어 주신 것들에 대해서만 감사했다. 내 삶의 주인이 내 자신이었기 때문에 내가 원하는 대로 기도 응답되었을 때는 너무 기쁘고 감사했지만 상황이 나빠지거나 어려운 일이 생기면 금새 마음이 요동하고 실망하고 불평했다. 하지만 이제는 상황에 주목하는 것이 아니라 그 상황 가운데 계시며 모든 일의 주관자 되시는 하나님을 바라보게 되었다.
성경에 나오는 씨 뿌리는 비유처럼 작은 씨가 좋은 땅에 뿌려지면 자라서 열매를 맺으며 그 열매가 30배 60배 100배의 결실을 거두는 것처럼 감사도 마찬가지라는 생각이 들었다. 아주 작은 것 하나에 감사하게 되면 또 다른 일에 대한 감사가 생각나고 그 감사의 물줄기가 내 인생 전체를 통해 흘러가고 있다는 사실에 감격하게 되었다.
모든 상황 속에서 감사할 수 있는 것은 내 삶의 주인이 내가 아니라 예수 그리스도라는 고백이며 어떤 일이나 사건의 결과에 주목하는 것이 아니라 그 일을 행하실 주님을 기대하는 것이다. 주님을 기대하기에 항상 감사할 수 있는 ‘절대감사’는 일상에서 하나님의 은혜를 더욱 누리며 살게 해 주었다. 내 삶의 모든 영역의 중심이 주님께 향하고 그 분을 바라 볼 때 예전에 누리지 못한 기쁨과 평안이 넘쳐 흘렀다.
거의 2년 반을 꼬박 아팠기에 다시 살아 가는 하루는 이전에 살던 하루와 확연하게 달랐다. 아침에 눈을 뜨자마자 누운 자리에서 소리 내어 ‘하나님 감사합니다. 오늘도 하루를 연장시켜 주심을 감사합니다’ 라는 감사 기도로 하루를 연다. 아이들 도시락을 싸 줄 수 있다는 것이 내 발로 걸을 수 있다는 것이 두 눈으로 세상을 볼 수 있다는 것이 얼마나 감사한 것인지 예전에는 미처 알 지 못했다.
한창 공부하고 일 할 때 유치원에 아침 7시 30분까지 출근하려면 정신 없이 아침 준비하고 아이들 도시락 챙겨 놓고 정작 나는 밥도 못 챙겨 먹고 집을 나서기 일쑤였다. 출근 시간에 맞추어 바쁘게 운전해 가다 보면 창 밖으로 보여지는 아침 햇살을 맞으며 뛰거나 걷는 사람들이나 개와 함께 산책하는 사람들을 보며 ‘나는 언제나 저렇게 여유롭게 살 수 있을까’ 하며 부러워했다.
그때 누릴 수 없다고 여겼던 그 여유로움을 나는 요즘 만끽하고 있다. 감사하게도 뉴질랜드는 근처에 걸어 갈 수 있는 아름다운 공원이 있어서 거의 매일 아침 1시간 정도 운동을 하고 걷기로 마무리한다. 걸으며 묵상하는 그 시간은 주님과 데이트하는 달콤한 시간이다.
겨울의 끝자락에 작은 숲 길을 걸을 때면 앙상하게 가지만 무성한 나무들이 보였다. 나뭇잎이 푸르고 풍성하게 달려 있을 때는 보이지 않았던 작은 가지들과 부러진 부분들이 겨울철에는 너무나도 뚜렷하게 보여졌다. 모든 잎들이 사라진 뒤에야 나무의 참모습이 보여져 잘라내어야 할 가지들, 썩어 있는 부분들과 병 든 부분들도 찾아 낼 수 있다. 그래서 봄이 오기 전에 가지치기를 해서 필요한 부분은 베어내고 너무 많은 잔가지는 쳐내는 전문가들의 손 끝이 닿은 후에야 그 나무들은 더 건강하고 아름다운 잎사귀들을 가지게 될 것이다.
나무들에게 겨울이 앙상한 가지들을 드러나게 하는 것처럼 나에게도 암이라는 모습으로 고통이 찾아 왔을 때 앙상하게 메말라 비틀어진 나의 연약함과 믿음 없음을 보게 되었다. 그것이 나의 참모습이었다. 나 스스로 아무 것도 할 수 없다는 고백으로 무릎 꿇었던 바로 그 때 비로소 온전하게 주님을 바라 볼 수 있었다. 신실하신 주님께서는 에스겔서에 나오는 골짜기의 마른 뼈 같은 나에게 생기를 불어 넣으셨고 고치셨고 회복시키셨다. 내 인생의 겨울은 영영 끝날 것 같지 않고 길고 춥게 느껴 질 때도 있었지만 그 힘들고 어려운 시간을 주님은 은혜와 사랑이 넘치는 감사의 계절로 만들어 주셨다.
공식적인 치료를 다 끝내고 3개월마다 피검사와 때에 따라서는 MRI를 찍거나 하는 검사를 하고 의사를 만나는 일이 계속되고 있다. 다른 병도 마찬가지겠지만 의사들은 암은 전이라든가 재발의 위험성을 가진다는 것을 항상 강조하며 현재 암세포가 없어졌다 하더라도 완치는 아니라는 입장을 보여준다. 그래서 갑자기 이유 없는 통증을 느끼거나 몸의 조그마한 변화에도 암환자들은 두려움에 사로 잡히곤 한다. 나 또한 그러한 사소한 것에 민감하고 어쩔 때는 남편이나 가족들이 걱정할까 봐 혼자만 속으로 꿍꿍 앓을 때도 있다. 세미한 통증이나 이상 증후는 여러 가지 생각을 덧붙이고 꼬리에 꼬리를 물고 부정적인 마음과 암울한 장래를 바라보게 한다.
그러나 성경은 “내일 일을 위하여 염려하지 말라. 내일 일은 내일 염려할 것이요. 한 날 괴로움은 그 날에 족하니라” (마 6:34) 라고 말하고 있다. 이 말씀을 적용해 볼 때 때때로 다가 오지 않은 미래에 생기지도 않은 일들에 대해 그럴지도 모른다는 생각이 나를 짓누르고 있었다는 생각이 들었다. 주님을 내 삶의 주인으로 모셔 놓고 마음 속은 걱정과 염려로 가득 차 있다면 주님께서 일하시고 싶어도 일하실 수 있는 영역이 없을 것이다.
그래서 나는 딱 하루만 잘 살기로 결정했다. 하루가 주는 의미가 예전보다 더 절실하고 감사하기에 아침에 일어나면 눈뜨자 마자 기도한다. “주님, 오늘도 생명을 연장시켜 주셔서 감사합니다. 오늘도 주님과 함께 살기를 기도합니다.” 내게 주어진 시간을 허락해 주셔서 감사하며 어제 실패하고 좌절하여 쓰러졌더라도 다시 시작할 수 있는 하루가 있어 참 행복하다. 그 중에서도 뉴질랜드의 아침은 지저귀는 새소리와 눈이 부시게 아름다운 하늘이 있어 새로운 시작을 하기에 충분한 상큼함과 생동감을 준다.
치료를 마친 후 새롭게 살기를 다짐한 나는 먼저 내 자신을 잠잠히 진단해 볼 필요가 있었다. 암은 습관의 병이라고도 한다. 그래서 평소 식습관과 생활습관에 고쳐야 할 부분이 있다면 바로 잡아서 좋은 습관으로 고치는 것이 중요하며 그것이 예방책인 것이다.
첫번째 식습관을 바꾸었다. 인스턴트나 가공 식품은 먹지 않고 웬만한 음식은 직접 만들어 먹는 것을 원칙으로 삼았다. 첫번째 암 판정을 받고 미국에 사는 셋째 언니가 나의 병에 도움이 될까 해서 바쁜 와중에도 채식 요리 강습회에 일주일에 두번 나가서 배우고 나면 요약해서 사진과 함께 카톡으로 보내주었다. 실제적으로 언니가 채식으로 바꾸면서 몸이 많이 좋아지는 것을 경험했다.
나는 모든 치료 후에 의사와 상의해서 부분적 채식을 하다가 점차적으로 채식으로 바꾸어 갔다. 개인적인 경험으로 볼 때 6개월 정도 지나야 그 효과를 느낄 수 있었다. 중요한 것은 본인의 건강 상태에 맞게 음식을 조절해야 하며 수술 중이나 항암 중에는 단백질 섭취가 중요하기 때문에 권하고 싶지 않다. 물론 아이들 음식을 따로 해야 하는 번거로움이 있기에 너무 엄격하게 나의 식단에 매이지는 않는다. 그리고 외식을 하거나 초대를 받아서 식사할 때는 기쁘고 즐겁게 맛있게 먹는다. 가장 중요한 식습관은 주님께 늘 감사하며 먹는 것이다.
두번째로 거의 매일 아침마다 운동을 하게 되었다. 가끔은 아시는 분들과 같이 걷기도 하는데 “왜 그렇게 열심히 걷냐?”고 묻곤 한다. 그 이유는 절실함 때문이다. 운동으로 내 몸의 구석구석을 활성화시켜 주어야 하기 때문에 선택 사항이 아닌 필수가 되었다.
매일 아침 근처 공원에서 중국 인들과 함께 태극권을 한다. 처음부터 그냥 따라만 하면 된다고 했지만 거의 50분 정도에 걸쳐 행해지는 느린 체조 같은 느낌의 동작은 혈액순환과 몸 균형에 좋다고 하지만 초반에는 한 발 들고 서는 동작 조차 힘겨웠다. 그러나 집에서 나 혼자 몸을 움직이는 체조를 50분 정도 할 리 만무해서 거의 매일 같이 하고 있다.
하루는 항상 앞에서 리드 하시는 분한테 고맙다고 했더니 “자기 말고 하나님께 감사하라”고 했다. 이유인즉 자신은 크리스챤인데 태극권을 통해 하나님을 전하고 싶다고 했다. 그분을 통해 하나님의 사랑이 흘러가 태극권을 배우는 많은 중국인들 가운데 복음이 전해지기를 소원한다.
세번째로 내 시선을 주님께 고정시키고 하나님의 관점에서 상황을 바라보는 것이다. 병 중에 있는 동안 큰 아들이 사춘기를 보냈지만 신경을 써줄 여력이 없었다. 엄마가 아프니까 본인이 힘들다는 이야기도 못하고 치료가 끝나고 좀 괜찮아지니 심하게 반항하기도 하고 대화를 거부하기도 하는 아이를 보면서 너무 힘들고 속이 상했다. 내가 어떻게 해 보려고 애써도 안 되고 본인 하고 싶어하는 것만 하려고 하는 아이를 보면서 아이가 학교 가고 나면 아이 방에 엎드려 통곡하며 기도했다. 내 인격과 성품으로는 도저히 그 녀석에게 잘 대해 줄 수 없기에 기도하고 또 기도했다. 예수 그리스도가 내 안에 주인 되지 않으시면 도저히 감당이 되지 않았다.
나는 아들을 사랑하기에 장래를 생각해서 더 잘 되라고 하는 것인데 이 아이는 내 말을 듣고 싶어 하지 않았다. 하루는 기도하는데 ‘이 아이는 내게 어떤 존재인가. 주님께서 내게 허락하신 선물이며 이 세상 살면서 섬기라고 주신 대상인데 나는 어떻게 대하고 있는가’ 라는 마음이 들었다. ‘나는 좋은 아들을 원하면서 아이가 생각하기에 좋은 엄마인가. 과연 그 아이 입장에서 느끼는 엄마는 어떨까’라는 물음이 생겼다.
나는 좋은 엄마와 행복한 아내가 되고 싶었다. 하지만 한번도 내 남편과 아이들을 세상에서 가장 행복한 사람들로 만들고 싶다는 생각을 해 본적이 없었다. 이 얼마나 아이러니한 발상인가. 아이의 문제로 기도할 때 주님께서는 한없이 이기적인 나의 모습을 보게 하셨다. 내 관점에서 아이를 바라 볼 때는 답답하고 힘들었지만 하나님 아버지의 마음으로 그 아이를 바라 볼 때 소망을 가지게 되었다.
하나님은 내게 다이아몬드 원석을 두 개 주셨고 이 세상 살면서 그 다이아몬드가 잘 컷팅 되어 예수 그리스도의 보석들로 그 분의 영광을 위해 빛날 두 아들을 섬길 수 있는 특권을 주신 것이다.
며칠 전 정기 검진이 있어 병원에 갔다. 첫번째 암 진단을 받은 지 벌써 3년이 되었다. 세월이 유수와 같다는 말이 실감이 났다. 병원에 가는 것이 이제는 익숙할 법도 한데도 용기가 필요했다. 병원에서 정기검진이라 예약하라는 편지에도 차일 피일 미루다 전화를 걸어 예약하고 의사를 만나러 갔다. 가는 도중 왜 아직도 병원에 가는 것이 피하고 싶은 일인가라는 생각을 하며 곰곰이 나의 속마음을 들여다 보았다. 그 동안의 치료가 부담이 되어 이젠 어떠한 일도 일어나지 않기를 바라는 마음이 내면 깊숙이 자리 잡고 있었다.
분명한 것 한가지는 나는 너무 연약하기에 사소한 일 하나에도 기도할 수 밖에 없는 존재라는 것이다. 주님을 부르며 그 분 앞에 내 상황을 올려드려서 내 안에 나는 없어지고 주님으로 가득 찰 때야 비로소 평안이 찾아 오는 것이다.
1년 만에 유방암 수술을 집도한 의사를 만났다. 내 마음 상태나 요즘 어떻게 지냈는지 이야기를 나누다가 내진을 받았다. 그 의사는 내 몸 구석구석을 체크하다가 겨드랑이 밑에 무언가 만져진다며 수술한 자리였는데 예전보다 좀 두꺼워진 것 같다고 검사를 하라고 했다. 그 날 따라 비바람이 세차게 치는 날이라 환자가 별로 없어서인지 예약 없이도 30분 정도만 기다리라고 했다.
소파에 앉아 기다리는데 마음에 낙심이 됐다. ‘올 4월 MRI 검사에서 이상 없다고 나왔는데 도대체 또 무엇이 문제란 말인가?’ 난 의지적으로 주님을 계속 불렀지만 불안감이 엄습해 왔다. 아직 일어나지 않은 일들에 대해 과거의 경험을 바탕으로 학습된 일말의 사건에 대해 갖는 나쁜 기억 들이 내 생각위로 떠다니고 있었다. 그러면서 ‘아 나는 또 나한테 집중하고 있구나. 내가 아닌 주님을 봐야지’ 라는 생각이 들었다. 내 몸의 주인은 주님이시니 문제가 생겨도 주님이 해결하실 것’이라는 마음이 들자 그 동안 주님께서 세번의 암 치료 중에 행하셨던 수 많은 일들이 떠 올라 감사가 터져 나왔다. 어떠한 순간에서도 절대로 나를 놓지 않으시고 붙잡고 계시는 크고 강하신 아버지의 손이 그 순간에도 나를 붙잡고 계심에 감사했다.
엑스레이를 찍고 조금만 기다리라는 소리를 3번 들은 후에야 초음파 검사를 받을 수 있었다. 삐삐 거리고 뚜뚜 거리는 기계 음과 함께 하는 검사는 길게만 느껴졌다. 검사 후 결과는 이상 없음이었다. 할렐루야 감사를 외쳤다. 검사가 진행되고 결과 나오는 1시간 30분 동안 마치 나의 영혼 또한 스캔 되어 검사 되고 있는 듯했다. 나의 믿음에 대해 다시 한번 생각해 보았다. 안 좋은 일 앞에서는 여지없이 무너지는 나의 모습을 다시 한번 보았다. 닭 울음 소리에 통곡했던 베드로처럼 말이다.
요즘에 나는 조금 일상에서 벗어나는 일을 하거나 하면 곧바로 피곤이 밀려온다. 올 10월 호주 시드니에서 있었던 목회자 세미나를 남편과 함께 참석하게 되었다. 거의 2년 만에 비행기를 타고 하는 첫 여행이고 아프고 난 이후에 주님께 ‘아버지 이제 외국에 나갈 일이 있으면 나의 일이 아니라 주님의 일로 나가고 싶어요’ 라는 기도가 이루어져 감격스러웠다.
아침부터 저녁까지 빡빡한 일정에 좀 버거웠지만 너무도 유익하고 즐거웠으며 많은 도전과 감동이 있었다. 세미나를 섬기시는 분들 중에는 암이 3번 재발하셔서 치료 중인데도 열심으로 밥하시는 권사님이 계셔서 도전이 되었다. 사나 죽으나 주를 위해 사시는 장로님과 권사님을 보며 눈시울이 붉혀졌고 나의 병력을 아신 권사님이 도리어 나를 위로하시기에 “권사님 우리는 하나님이 꼭 집어서 특별히 사랑하시는 사람들 이예요” 하며 안아 드렸다. 암이 아니라 주님께 집중하며 사시는 두 분이 너무 아름다웠다.
정말 행복한 시간을 보냈지만 뉴질랜드로 돌아온 나는 몸이 시름시름 아프고 힘이 없었다. 너무 연약한 나를 볼 때 속상하기 보다는 내가 약할 때 강함이 되시는 주님이 계셔서 감사했다. ‘아버지, 저는 연약해서 아버지가 힘 주시지 않으면 아무 것도 할 수 없어요. 아버지 힘과 능력을 허락해 주세요. 아버지 이제 저는 주님 껌딱지가 되어 살렵니다’. 요한복음 15장 5절의 ‘나를 떠나서는 너희가 아무 것도 할 수 없음이라’ 라는 말씀처럼 주님만 바라보는 주바라기의 삶이 너무나도 감사했다.
호주 갔다 와서 여독이 안 풀린 상태인데 계속 집에 초대해서 음식으로 섬겨야 할 일이 있었다. 할 일은 태산이고 몸은 말을 잘 듣지 않았다. 싱크대에 서서 ‘아버지, 제가 과욕을 부르는 걸까요? 저는 주님을 위해서만 살고 싶어요’ 하면서도 ‘내 사명은 밥하는 것인가. 밥하라는 사명이라도 받았단 말인가’라며 투덜거리는 찰나 ‘그래 밥집이 사명이지. 주님도 베들레헴에서 태어나셨잖니. 베들레헴의 뜻이 떡집, 빵집이니 밥집도 되쟎아. 주님이 우리의 생명의 양식으로 이 세상 밥으로 오신 것’ 이라는 생각과 함께 ‘밥 집 주인이 몸 힘들다고 식당 문 닫을래?’ 주님이 내게 물으시는 것 같았다. 나는 금새 웃으며 ‘주님, 주님의 밥 집에 써 주셔서 감사합니다. 주님 맘껏 일하세요.’ 싱크대 건너편 식탁에 주님이 앉아서 웃고 계신 것 같았다. 나는 스쳐가는 청년들을 위해 음식을 준비하지만 그 식탁의 주인은 주님이셨고 섬김이 필요한 그들과 함께 그 자리에 앉아 계셨던 것이다.
이 소망일기를 연재한지 1년이 가까워 오고 있고 이제 이번이 마지막이기에 부족한 나의 이야기를 함께 들어 주셨던 많은 독자 분들께 마음 깊이 감사를 드린다. 나의 연약함이 주님의 강함이 되시기에 부끄럽지만 그 동안 이 일을 감당했던 것 같다.
이 땅의 마지막 날이 천국의 첫날이기에 죽음은 끝이 아니라 소망이다. 나중에 천국에 가서 주님께 “내가 너 살린 것 참 잘한 일이다! 수고했다 충성된 딸아” 라는 말을 꼭 듣고 싶다. 무거운 세상의 짐 속에서 미친 듯이 열심히 살았지만 나는 주님을 잘 몰랐다. 세번의 암을 통해 나는 주님이 어떤 분이신지. 얼마나 놀라운 분이신지 확실히 알게 되었다. 사랑이시며 진리 그 자체이신 하나님, 예수님, 성령님을 경험하며 새롭게 사는 내 인생의 후반전은 오직 주님을 위해 살고 싶다. 온 재산을 다 팔아 보물이 묻혀 있는 땅을 산 사람처럼, 그 보물 되신 주님과 함께 나는 오늘도 호흡하고 웃고 밥 먹고 이웃과 더불어 산다. 자연도 사랑도 돈도 관계도 세상의 모든 것이 다 변해도 변하지 않는 주님이 계셔 이 세상은 살기에 충분하다.