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For Fiona Pea, her husband’s diagnosis with stage 3 brain cancer was the start of a nightmarish period for her entire family.
After a series of trials and tribulations that left her husband, Alan, needing to learn how to walk, talk and eat again, Fiona herself was hospitalized for excess fluid accumulation in her brain.
The family relied on Nichiren Buddhism to tide through the difficult period, and today they are on the road to a complete recovery.
Fiona shared her story in an email to Stomp:
“My husband, Alan had bad headaches which doctors brushed off as migraine and stress.
“In late 2013, when our daughter, Charlotte, was just 3 months old, he fell very ill.
“My father sent him to the hospital and he was admitted into ICU. A MRI scan showed that due to a tumour growing in his brains, excess fluids have accumulated, resulting in swelling. He underwent a surgery to insert a shunt from his brains to his stomach to help discharge the excess brain fluids.
“In February 2014, he went through a surgery to remove the brain tumour.
“The neurosurgeon was only confident of removing less than 60% of the tumour as the location of the tumour was surrounded by many nerves. A slight accident in the operating theatre could result in paralysis or death.
“This was the beginning of our nightmare. He was unconscious the next day after surgery. His shunt was blocked with blood, resulting in him falling into a coma. They did another surgery.
“To decrease brain activity, he was sedated.
“I would visit him in hospital daily, not knowing when he would wake up. He finally woke up a week later, on the eve of my birthday.
“But I was in for a terrible shock. He couldn't talk. He couldn't walk. He couldn't eat.
“Basically, he couldn't do anything. He had more than ten tubes all over him. His condition was very serious and he had to stay in ICU for a month.
“A month later, the doctor revealed the most fearful truth.
“Alan's tumour was malignant. He was only 34 years old and suffering from Grade 3 brain cancer.
“The cancer cells were moving aggressively and they might have spread to his spine.
“I sought a second opinion. The doctor shared the same diagnosis as the first doctor and predicted that Alan was left with 2 to 3 years to live.
“My world came tumbling down. The surgeries had left him bedridden, and he was always in a drowsy state.
“As he could do nothing, I kept his illness from him. It was terrible, having to shoulder all these alone especially when I had just became a mother.
“He relied on a feeding tube due to his low food intake.
“Not only that, there were several hindrances to his cancer treatment. First, it was gall stones, then they found water in his liver.
“In May 2014, a colleague who is a Soka member, introduced me to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism.
“Initially, I was skeptical about this practice. I wondered how one could recover from such a serious illness just by repeatedly chanting this verse, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo? Hence, I brushed this aside, especially when I have never been the superstitious sort.
“Not long after, there was accumulation of brain fluids in his shunt again!
“He underwent another surgery to remove the faulty shunt and insert a new one.
“Much to my shock, the surgery left him with a trembling right hand, an almost 90 degrees tilted neck and a deep depression at his neck stem.
“The trembling hand affected him greatly, crushing his confidence. He couldn't eat on his own. By the time the spoon reached his mouth, all the food would have dropped.
“Doctor said he would remain like this forever. I was at a loss.
“I was desperate for Alan's survival. We had just entered the next phase of our lives – parenthood, and our daughter was still so young.
“Members of the Soka Association visited and shared their experiences of overcoming serious difficulties, head injuries and coma.
“Doctors were pessimistic and presented their verdicts. But through the members’ testimonials, I saw hope, I saw light, in this practice. The path ahead became clearer and brighter for me. I started to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo!
“In June 2014, he underwent a 32 consecutive sessions of radiation treatment. If he should miss any, he would have to restart the entire treatment.
“The oncologist prepared me for the worst. He told me that even if Alan could recover, he would not be the same Alan I knew. He meant mentally. He couldn't make it past even five minutes of the radiation session.
“He could hardly breathe as he had a very tight mask over his face.
“The same thing happened the second day.
“On the third day, I chanted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo at the very same time he started his treatment. He went through it successfully and completed the 32 sessions. He was very fortunate that he only suffered some hair loss and his skin didn't turn black after all the radiation sessions.
“Despite being bedridden, I brought him home to stay on weekends. We are very grateful that members, most of whom we did not know, came to our house every Sunday to chant for him.
“We were very touched. And it was a good thing that I had started practising this Buddhism.
“It wasn’t easy to cope with work, daily visitations at the hospital and looking after Charlotte when I returned home.
“I breastfed her till she was 1 year old and continued to latch her till she was 2 years old. It was a tough journey especially when my milk supply was on the low side.
“Whenever I felt stressed, chanting helped me. I would feel energised and re-charged after chanting and continue to perservere.
“After being hospitalised for 6 months, he was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital for another 2 months. He had to relearn basic routines.
“He was learning what our 1 year old daughter, Charlotte, was learning at that time.
“As Charlotte was learning to walk, he was too as the surgery had left him bedridden.
“As Charlotte was learning to talk, Alan was too as the surgery had left his speech slurred.
“As Charlotte was learning to eat, he was too as the surgery had left him with a trembling hand.
“About 6 months after I started chanting, Alan did another MRI scan. I prepared myself for the worst. I could not believe it when the oncologist informed us the good news. The tumour which they thought would only grow bigger and bigger, was almost completely resolved!
“In April 2015, Alan suddenly threw up every other day.
“I admitted him to another hospital this round since our daughter was running a high fever.
“We were very fortunate that he was assigned to Dr Timothy Lee from Gleneagles, the same doctor whom I sought second opinion previously. MRI scans showed that there was bleeding in the brains.
“But I would say for a good reason this round. Due to the shrinkage of his tumour, his brains is able to discharge the fluids. As his shunt is doing the same job, it resulted in over-drainage of fluids.
“Dr Lee did a simple surgery for him. He inserted a remote controllable valve in him to control the pressure of the shunt.
“The surgery was completed within two hours. He made amazing recovery and was discharged in less than a week.
“We were blessed to meet Dr Lee, who has the skills to perform this surgery for him.
“Another doctor attending to him, at the previous hospital, refused to believe that the surgery could be done at the chest instead of the head.
“This is indeed a mystical journey for Alan.
"The doctors said he couldn't walk again. We chanted for him to walk. He’s walking rather steadily now!
“The doctors said he couldn't lift his head up again. We chanted for his neck to be stronger. He can lift up his head now.
“The doctors said his right hand would tremble forever. We chanted for his right hand to stop trembling. The tremors are lesser now!
“The doctors said there were 2 white spots on his spine, meaning that his cancer cells could have spread. We chanted that the cancer cells did not spread. These two spots miraculously disappeared!
“The doctors said his tumour would only grow bigger and bigger. We chanted for his tumour to shrink. His tumour is completely gone now!
“It was such a great relief that Alan could overcome such a serious sickness.
“However, when he was learning to walk with a walking stick, I had severe headaches and my vision turned blur.
“I was admitted into hospital late last year and was diagnosed with benign intracranial hypertension. This means that there was accumulation of excess fluids in my brain. My brain could not discharge the excess brain fluids fast enough. Hence, it resulted in ‘flooding’ in my brain.
“I approached Dr Timothy Lee, Alan’s doctor for help.
“After the diagnosis, I was treated with medication. My headaches got worst and I vomited daily.
“He advised doing a lumbar puncture, where he injected a needle into my spine to release the excess fluids. It was more painful than the epidural jab I took when I gave birth. That didn't work too.
“He advised that I go for a VP shunt surgery where a shunt is inserted from my brains to my abdomen to assist in the discharge of brain fluids. It took a lot of courage to agree to this surgery. Alan had done the same surgery thrice, and it had left him bedridden.
“I was changing both Alan and Charlotte’s diapers then.
“A vision check was done, and we discovered that the pressure was sitting on my optic nerves, resulting in irreversible damage to my eyes. This means that my vision would remain blur even after surgery. But if I left it untreated, I may turn blind.
“Because of this, it became of utmost importance that my condition be treated.
“I could not imagine myself going through all these. Neither could I imagine myself turning blind. I cried myself to sleep in hospital, worrying that I may never see Charlotte again.
“I was blessed to have met Dr Timothy Lee. Knowing the reason for my fear, he sat down and patiently explained thoroughly the surgery process. He also assured me of his confidence to perform this surgery for me. I agreed.
“My recovery was much faster than Alan's. I was fully conscious three hours after my surgery, and on the first day, I could talk, eat and write.
“I got off bed the next day. I no longer felt the intense headaches I was plagued with. And the best thing that happened was my vision was back to normal! I could see clearly.
“Just when I thought the battle was finally over, unfortunately, a month after the surgery, I caught an infection.
“Not once, not twice, but thrice in the past one year!
“Altogether, there were 3 episodes of infection and I had to go through 3 surgeries, with 2 being operated on the head.
“Every time an infection happened, I would suffer excruciating pain, so bad that I could hardly walk.
“I would be lying if I say my spirits were high and I was unbeatable throughout these lengthy episodes of battling with health issues. My spirits hit rock bottom before too.
“The fortunate thing was I met Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infection specialist from Mount Elizabeth (Novena), who treats from the heart. He treated my condition as if I were his family member.
“Every visit he made, he patiently explained to me my progress and would sometimes spend a slightly longer time in my room to talk to Charlotte when he saw her around. Seeing him on the daily rounds in hospital made me feel better emotionally.
“I was desperate to get well, very desperate to survive, for Charlotte. Charlotte is so young and she needs me.
“I recalled how we have experienced the tremendous power of the Mystic Law despite being so new in this practice. I must and will overcome this illness too.
“I chanted whenever I could: when I was driving, when I was showering. They may be short spans of chanting sessions but once I chant, I put in my 100% conviction, with only 1 prayer in mind – that is to recover fully.
“In addition, I am also very fortunate to be blessed to meet wonderful members from Soka Association. They encouraged me daily in our district WhatsApp group. They spurred me on during my darkest moments. I was very encouraged and it strengthened my life force, knowing that I am not alone battling this illness. This is the Soka family spirit.
“Doctors have since discharged me from my infection and they are pleased with my recovery progress.
"There is a piece of guidance from Mr Daisaku Ikeda, President of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), which encouraged me greatly when I was overwhelmed by both our sicknesses, especially when I felt that I could no longer move forward:
"'When facing adversity, we may think we’ve reached our limit but actually, the more trying the circumstances, the closer we are to making a breakthrough. The darker the night, the nearer the dawn. Victory in life is decided by that last concentrated burst of energy filled with the resolve to win.'
“This piece of guidance gives me hope and serves as a reminder to me not be disheartened by the unfortunate happenings and to be courageous and continue to fight on without doubts.”
Read more stories about other survivors' fights with cancer and find out how you can inspire others with a story of your own here.