How Leukemia Helped Me Know Christ
[Editor’s Note: On April 23 we hosted a Christ Talks event in State College, PA, where 10 speakers shared their insights on the person of Christ from their unique perspectives. In her Christ Talk, Yuhui (Millie) Zhou explains how leukemia helped her know Christ. You can watch the video or read the blog , which is based on the video of her Christ Talk.]
Before I moved to Seattle from State College, PA, in January 2004, I was very close to accepting Jesus as my Lord, but there was still one obstacle.
It was my pride. I thought I could achieve anything with my work.
I went to see my pastor to ask many questions about Christianity. I liked all the teachings in the Bible, but the bottom line was that I couldn’t convince myself that God is real and Christ is God.
Because of my pride, I refused to admit that I’m a sinner, let alone submit myself to anyone’s lordship. At the end of our conversation, my pastor encouraged me to tell Christ, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Two weeks after we got to Seattle, I was hospitalized. A pastor from the local Chinese church came to visit and pray for me. I found an English Bible in my room and started to read it seriously for the first time with a desire to know more about Christ.
When my oncologist came to my room to tell me the diagnosis from my bone marrow test—leukemia—I was surprisingly calm. Had I not known Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, I would have been frightened to death.
But at that moment, I knew that Jesus Christ—the one I heard about from Bible studies and sermons—was not just a historical figure, he is God. He is the one who promises peace to all who believe in him.
So I felt this supernatural peace, beyond any words of description. Because Jesus promised that, it was true.
The next time the same pastor came to visit me he asked me if I was ready to accept Jesus’ invitation. I said, “YES!” He led me to pray the most important prayer in my life.
The chemotherapy was awful. I counted down the days of the week-long chemo hoping that the discomfort would end, but it didn’t.
I never thought I was a picky eater till the chemo took away my appetite. The food I used to like tasted like wax in my mouth.
Most of my skin peeled off like old paint from a wall. I felt very itchy, but dared not scratch for fear of cuts. The prescription cream did not bring me the relief I expected.
I had a fever that lasted a week. Everyday I saw tubes of blood drawn out of my body for lab tests to find what was causing the fever. Finally, a blood test showed a very rare kind of bacteria and the doctor gave me the right antibiotics to bring my temperature to normal. Then I was able to be dismissed to go home from the hospital.
It took me a long time to recover enough to get ready for my second round of chemo. I couldn’t bear the thought of going through the process again. I was very ready for the first round of chemo because I knew that was the only way to save my life from cancer.
I had heard about the side effects of chemo, but that was only head knowledge. Now that I had experienced it, I dreaded it. I knew I would take as many rounds of chemo as my oncologist prescribed, but I really didn’t want to.
Suddenly, I found the answer to my own question: Since Jesus Christ knew he would come back to life in three days, what is so significant about Christ’s death on the cross?
That chemo experience—that “taste of death”—allowed me to have a glimpse of Jesus’ agony on the cross. In Luke 23:41, the criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” I deserved the suffering brought by the chemo because of the cancer cells in my body. But Jesus did not do anything to deserve the most humiliating and painful death on the cross.
Christ suffered on the cross as the perfect atonement for my sins so that I do not have to suffer eternally. Being 100% divine and 100% human, he was fully aware of the suffering on the cross. He prayed to God, “If it’s possible, take away this cup,” but he submitted to God’s will by giving up his life. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
Christ was “pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities . . . and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). That is a promise I claim. Although we are not always healed physically on earth, God always heals our souls when we cry out to him.
Christ My Lord Gave Me a New Identity
Now I am a Christian (follower of Christ), not Christian-tian—a word that I made up meaning a follower of another Christian.
I received a lot of help from my Christian friends and I’m very grateful to them. But my ultimate gratitude goes to Christ who loves me more than anyone does on earth.
Because of Christ’s unconditional love, my friends poured out their love to me, which I cannot possibly return. But I can be a channel of love to others at the receiving end. I agree with a pastor who says the best gift we can give to others is leading them to Christ or bringing them to know more about Christ through our godly lifestyle and active witness.
Soon after the first chemo ended, I did not only lose my hair, my face was so swollen and disfigured that I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I didn’t want any visitor to see me like that. I called my husband asking him not to visit me that day, but he came anyway. Bless his heart. I never thought I cared much about my appearance till that moment.
But two months later, I did a thing I never thought I would do: I took off my wig to show my semi-bald head when I saw a woman at the oncologist’s office who was worried about losing her hair from the chemo that she was about to receive.
I showed her the one-millimeter long hair that was growing on my head to assure her that her hair would grow back too. I kept talking with her without my wig on. The power of the Holy Spirit within me caused me to be bold. I invited her to join my Bible study group and she accepted the invitation.
When I left State College for Seattle, I had only head knowledge of Christ. But I was allowed to experience his love and faithfulness in my suffering; and as a result, I knew Christ better, and I saw my sin much more clearly.
I was humbled, and I knew Christ’s love and his intimate presence like never before. There is such sweetness in sorrow, such peace even in pain because we experience the loving arms of Jesus holding us and caring for us.
When I came back to State College in 2006, I had learned to soak in the Scriptures through the help of some in-depth Bible study programs, and to hold fast to God’s character and praise him.
I’m thankful that I did not stop pursuing Christ by reading the Bible and praying after I was healed. Otherwise, I would have been like the seeds that fell on rocky places, where the soil was shallow. I would have sprung up quickly and withered soon because of no root. I am able to pursue Christ because of the community he put me in so that I get support whenever I feel weak.
Many people in my life prepared the way for me to see Christ as my Lord.
How do you prepare the way for others to see Christ as their Lord? What truth of Christ could you share with someone who does not believe?
Many people prayed faithfully for me, including those whom I don’t know even to this day. I’m also very thankful to many people who prayed with me.
Who has God put in your mind to pray for and with?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yuhui (Millie) Zhou
Yuhui (Millie) Zhou is the substitute teaching leader at the daytime women’s Bible Study Fellowship class in State College, PA. Along with her husband and two sons, she attends State College Chinese Alliance Church. Millie works as the financial assistant at the Arboretum at Penn State.