Facing Illness with the “Heart of a Lion King”

Debbie Koh
Women Division

I took up faith in 1995 upon my mother’s encouragement. Throughout my 27 years of faith, I have been overwhelmed with many health challenges. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1996 when I was 14 years old, had my large intestine removed in 2001 to prevent colon cancer and was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2018 and had a permanent stoma constructed on my right abdomen in January 2019 as I could not pass out stools normally.

Despite the many challenges, I feel so fortunate to have grown up in this wonderful organisation, to be supported by many comrades in faith and to have a great medical team caring for me. Through faith, I am able to rouse in me the fighting spirit and strength to battle all kinds of illnesses, possess a happy family and fulfil my mission as a primary school teacher.

Despite having two huge desmoid tumours in my left abdomen, I took up the role of Sunshine Auntie in 2020 to take care of our Primary Division members, and became a Women Division district leader in 2021 because I wanted to continue contributing to kosen-rufu with gratitude. During this period, I also started my chemotherapy.

In July 2021, I shared my experience as an ostomate in the newspaper Today. I am proud to be able to share about SGS and inspire others through my experience. I was also nominated by the Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) doctors for Best Patient Award (to honour an individual for his/her strength, courage and resilience in the face of health challenges) in 2020.

A Close Shave with Death

In 2021, I was admitted to SKH on December 14 due to persistent high fever. I was found to have severe abscess, a localised collection of pus surrounded by inflamed tissue around the abdominal and pelvis regions and a drainage tube had to be inserted. I even suffered septic shock for two days in a row during the simple procedure to insert the drainage tube on December 16.

To make matters worse, my blood pressure dropped to 60 and the doctors discovered that my small bowel had ruptured. Due to the severity of my condition, doctors couldn’t operate to fix it. I was told that I might not be able to live past that night or could at most live for another two days. The doctors injected medication to sustain me for a few more hours so I could see my family and friends for one last time.

In spite of the situation, I was very calm. I did not feel pain or fear, instead I felt a surging life force. I knew that it is the power of daimoku that has enabled me to manifest the highest life condition to face this critical moment of my life.

I wanted to seize whatever remaining time I had left to encourage my father and husband to continue to have strong faith in the Mystic Law; and understand that I had lived my life to the fullest and fulfilled my mission. I had absolute conviction in the Gohonzon.

While I was hospitalised, I poured my entire life to share Nichiren Buddhism with more than 30 relatives and friends who had visited me or through video calls, encouraging them to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo! I still cannot believe that I had the strength to do this even at the last moment of my life. I firmly believed that it was not the doctors who would decide the length of my life. My daimoku will lead me on a path that creates the most value.

I received many messages from relatives and friends, thanking me for encouraging them in faith all these years. I shed tears of joy. I have lived as my mentor has hoped his disciples would, fearless in the face of ordeals, living my life to the fullest, and committed to the shared vow of kosen-rufu till the very end. This is truly a life without regrets! That night, I spoke to and encouraged my husband of 10 years till 3am, then spent my waking hours chanting determined, dynamic and joyous daimoku.

Transforming Poison into Medicine with Prayers

Next day, December 17, I was still alive! I calmly focused on chanting daimoku. On the third day, my surgeon proposed injecting a special nutrition into my body through my arteries, hoping that my bowel could absorb the nutrients and the ruptured bowel could heal by itself, although any chance of it healing was almost impossible. He remembered that I am a SGS member and told me to chant a lot for the impossible to become possible.

Without medication, my blood pressure started to rise above 90, and I felt as if all my organs were turning on their engines again.

From December 18 to 30, I faced endless onsets of negative updates from my colorectal and palliative doctors. My bowel did not heal and the abscess had worsened. Yet, I remained undefeated.

Ikeda Sensei says,

“When we fall ill, if we can summon up powerful faith to battle the devil of illness, illness itself can become an opportunity for us to achieve a life imbued with eternity, happiness, true self and purity.”

Debbie with her husband (left) and parents. Debbie remains undefeated as she battles the devil of illness with the resolve that she will live her life to the fullest as Ikeda Sensei’s disciple, and committed to the shared vow of kosen-rufu till the very end.

My mother and I continued to chant abundant daimoku in my room. Every day, I would use every opportunity to share Nichiren Buddhism with my husband. One day, he finally agreed to chant five minutes with me every night. On December 30, a doctor from the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), who is the only expert in complicated insertion procedure, managed to successfully insert the tube all the way to my right pelvis to extract the abscess.

A CT scan on January 11, 2022 confirmed that my small bowel had healed completely, and all abscesses had been extracted. I was discharged from the hospital on January 18.

However, devilish functions appeared again on January 31 in the form of leakages from small holes in my small bowel. As a result, there was an abscess again. The doctors told me that when my immune system becomes stronger, I will be able to discharge the abscess on my own. I was finally discharged from the SGH on February 16 this round.

Comparing my CT scans taken in May 2021 and January 2022, my doctors were surprised to see that my intestinal walls have thickened, tumours have shrunk significantly, and any abscess had not returned.

The doctors had told me previously that my ruptured bowels would never heal; my internal abscess would be a recurring problem; my desmoid tumours would never shrink or disappear; and I would die on December 16, 2021, but I achieved one victory after another, transforming the impossible into possible based on the strategy of the Lotus Sutra.

In September 2022, my oncologist told me that my recovery is satisfactory and I can return to work full time! This is a great victory for me!

Though I’m still challenging the inconvenience of living with a permanent stoma bag, I am chanting three hours of daimoku daily with a grateful and joyful heart that being alive itself is a victory for me. No matter what challenges will come before me in the future, I am determined to remain fearless, change all poison into medicine and all karma into mission. I will report victory to Ikeda Sensei, always engraving these words in my heart:

You may find yourself at an impasse, but “myo means to revive” (WND-1, p. 149), and if you chant daimoku, you will find new life force and a new wellspring of good fortune. Never forgetting that life is a series of challenges to be overcome, just keep advancing with optimism and vigour.

I vow to dedicate my entire life to fulfilling the shared vow of mentor and disciple! And so my mission continues…

(Adapted from October 2022 issue of Creative Life)