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Sunday, 25 March 2018 00:00

Back to the Origin after a Roller-coaster Ride

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Lee Hung Jiew

After nine surgeries and successfully fighting against cancer, Teh Seng Lim continues to serve as a documenting volunteer for Tzu Chi activities. Although he is 69, he serves with the spirit of a 19-year-old. [Photograph by Tan Ken Teik]

Having experienced a roller-coaster ride in life, 69-year-old Teh Seng Lim decided to set out again from the starting point, with the mindset of a 19-year-old. He hopes that from now on, life is more than medical records. He looks forward to writing life stories of others and recording a myriad of stories about gratitude and love.


When volunteer Teh Seng Lim heard Master Cheng Yen mentioned the concept of the “Treasury of Age”<Note>, he started counting with a smile and thought, “If I deposit 50 years of age in the ‘Treasury of Age’, I am now only 19, a youthful and blossoming age that I can do many, many things…”

“However, looking at my past, I have only my age and the medical records. There is nothing much that is worth passing down.” He reflected strongly when he learnt that the Master wished that the elderly volunteers were not only young at heart, but also able to pass down their experiences.

Seng Lim recalled that in 1991, he found polyps in his nose. He had them removed surgically and thought the trouble was over. Unexpectedly, in 2003, he found a tumour in his neck. After examination by an Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) Specialist, the peanut-sized tumour was found to be malignant and the doctor confirmed that he had nasopharyngeal cancer.

Seng Lim looked back at his life and could not understand why a Mr Nice Guy like him would end up with cancer. He had led a well-behaved life and had never done anything harmful. At home, he had been a great husband and a good father. He observed a regular daily routine, rising and sleeping early. He did not smoke, drink alcohol, or had a night life. At work, he got along well with his colleagues, always spoke softly, polite and never lost his temper.

The moment when he learnt of his cancer, he was shocked as to how could that be possible? And then he wondered what he had done wrong that God did that to him? However, he was grateful that he did not complain for long, as his siblings kept encouraging him to get immediate treatment. They even accompanied him to the hospital for electrotherapy and chemotherapy. After a course of six months, he recovered.

A tough journey fighting against cancer

Seng Lim was miserable during that period of treatment. Ulcers built up in his mouth and throat, the skin of his neck was dark and peeling, and his appetite was poor. Each time after chemotherapy, he was not able to swallow. He vomited, and it felt as if his stomach had been hollowed out. Day after day, it was awful.

The saddest and most helpless person was his wife, Teh Chooi Im, but she took care of Seng Lim very carefully and tirelessly. She referred to all kinds of recipes and looked for all the suitable ingredients to cook for Seng Lim, so that it could supplement the body’s nutrients. Seng Lim disclosed that his wife’s efforts was his greatest strength in his fight against cancer.

He informed, “I persisted until the whole treatment cycle was completed, and after examination, it was confirmed that all the cancerous cells had disappeared. Only when the doctor announced that the treatment was successful did I feel relieve. I was glad that I started proper treatment once it was discovered and did not go for any untested remedies, which may have delayed recovery.”

However thankful he was, the treatment caused various side effects, such as, loss of function of the salivary gland which led to a dry mouth. He needed to rehydrate very often to stimulate saliva production, and speak slowly with frequent pauses. There was also a deterioration in his taste buds as everything felt bland and tasteless. When he ate biscuits or cakes, he needed to have water to help swallow the food; and his hearing was affected as well.

After the hardship of fighting cancer, Seng Lim became very cautious with his daily living routine. He consistently practises Qi Gong and exercises in the park every morning. Despite the good habits, he still experienced various illnesses. In 2005, he underwent prostate surgery. In 2006, he had two cardiac operations, the first was vascular surgery, but as his was still having irregular heartbeat after half a year, a cardiac pacemaker was implanted. In 2007, he had a caecectomy. In 2009, gallstones were found, so his gallbladder was removed. After one or two years, he had intestinal hernia surgery. In 2013, the pacemaker needed a battery change. In 2017, he suddenly lost most of his eyesight on the right eye. After examination, it was found that some soft tissues were pressing against the nerves, so he needed to go through the procedure of removing the soft tissues...

Faced with those major and minor surgeries, Seng Lim initially felt that fate was playing a joke on him. However, right now, he does not feel that he is the unluckiest person. Instead, he feels fortunate that he is still able to move and walk, and has the chance to serve as a Tzu Chi volunteer, allowing him to rejuvenate his life.

Care for another life with his own

In 2010, and at a volunteer’s invitation, Seng Lim participated in Tzu Chi’s Buddha Day Ceremony. He was awe-struck by the solemnity of the function. Later, he took part in the Seventh Lunar Month prayer activity and was very touched as well. Thus, he and his wife both filled in the volunteer form on the spot, marking the start of their Tzu Chi path.

Seng Lim started to participate in charity home visits. Through these charitable work, he was surprised to discover that in the upper-class residential area, like Petaling Jaya, there were people who could not afford three meals a day; there were elderly who were sick; and there were cancer patients who had no one to care for them. Feeling sorry for them, he started to be actively involved in charity and recycling work. As he was familiar with photography, he later started taking up roles as volunteer photographer and writer, recording for Tzu Chi activities and touching stories he came across.

Along the path, Seng Lim never gave up any opportunities to give despite his physical health. If there is a need, may it be public talks, medical or community activities, or activities organized by Parent-child Bonding Class, Da Ai kindergarten or Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre, he would carry a camera, hold a notebook and a voice recorder, and start recording for the events. Although during interviews, his words might slur a little and sometimes needed to keep drinking water, he persevered. Throughout the years, he had written more than 60 articles for Tzu Chi.

In addition, in 2013, when Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) started the Cancer Support Group (CSG), he willingly joined as a member of the caring group, to give support to cancer patients at the monthly get-together session.

He said, “I was a cancer patient myself, and I understand how it feels, so it was easy to share with one another. Every month when I attended the get-together session, I benefitted a lot from it. Every single sharing from the cancer patients was very touching.”

Every second Sunday of the month, he would be there at Tzu Chi Kelana Jaya Community Centre for the CSG’s health seminar or medical consultation event. It is also a time for cancer patients, survivors and their families to gather and share their feelings. All the stories or sharing about the pain and the bravery of facing the sickness, be it a happy story about survival or a sad story of despair, it touched Seng Lim’s heart.

It was especially sad when he heard stories where a cancer patient did not go for proper treatment but believed in unproven-remedies, which resulted in worsening of the cancer or even losing a valuable life.

He shared, “Every cancer patient would feel hopeless and lost at first, because no one is able to guarantee recovery from cancer. But it is worth mentioning that everyone does not give up. I always share my experiences with the cancer patients and will advise them to get treatment as soon as possible, without any delay.”

Seng Lim once accompanied a man who suffered from nasopharyngeal cancer. Due to fear, this man dreaded seven or eight months without receiving proper treatment. Instead, he spent the time searching for folk remedies or natural healing. During this time, the neck tumour grew bigger. Seng Lim then brought him to CSG to listen to medical talks and sharing. It was at the CSG that this man learnt about the differences in other cancer patients before and after treatment, and how they had moved from despair to recovery; and that ignited hope in him.

Seng Lim seized the moment to share with this man his own feelings when he first learnt about his own condition. Although he was afraid, he courageously accepted the treatment and was no longer in fear. Fifteen years passed by, and he is still living well, which proved that cancer is not a terminal illness. He also shared about his personal experiences in Tzu Chi, allowing this man to see that a body that has undergone many operations is still able to achieve many useful things.

Recently, this man informed Seng Lim that his condition is currently stable, and he is working out of town, started a new life. It made Seng Lim realize that his cancer-fighting experience is able to inspire other cancer sufferers. Therefore, putting shyness aside, he is braver in sharing his survival journey at the CSG get-together sessions. Always with a bright smile on his face, he received applause from the crowd.

Seize the moment and make good use of it

While giving his time, Seng Lim deeply felt that he continues to learn along the way. He recalled the things he has learnt from Tzu Chi. Although he studied the Chinese input method in his younger days, he never wrote any articles on his computer. He pushed himself to learn as he needed to use the computer to write reports and activity notes, as well as, prepare activity report in Power Point format. Through the monthly documenting team training session organized by Tzu Chi KL & Selangor, he learnt and improved his writing skills.

From word-by-word typing to producing copies of different manuscripts, they were the result of burning many midnight oils. However, to see his articles published on the Tzu Chi website or monthly magazine, it was rewarding and pleasing.

Currently retired from his job, Seng Lim spends two days per week at the Tzu Chi KL & Selangor Branch Office. He helps to send reports of local Tzu Chi activities back to Tzu Chi Taiwan Headquarters via online platform. To him, it is not a boring job at all.

He remarked, “I get to read reports and stories written by different people and learn from their writing skills. But the thing that touches me most is always the contents of the manuscripts.”

Seng Lim is grateful that in his later years, he found Tzu Chi and is able to make good use of his life. He is also grateful to his wife, for her willingness to join him on this Bodhisattva Path, and to be there with him throughout the many operations, silently supporting the entire family. Now, both their sons have grown up, so his wife is able to be actively involved in the culinary group without any worries, cooking delicious vegetarian meals to share with everyone.

Both the husband and wife serve their own function and often attend Tzu Chi activities together. To Seng Lim, it is very blessed for them to walk on the Bodhisattva Path together. He laughed and reflected that nowadays, he smiles a lot. Previously, relatives and friends used to comment that he looked unhappy even when he was smiling. Today, Seng Lim has become more energetic and is filled with positivity. His smiles from the bottom of his heart surprised many friends and relatives.

Seng Lim is not able to foresee the length of his life, nor does he know if any sickness awaits. He focuses happily on planning his life from the point of a 19-year-old, to do good deeds and learn the Dharma. He will continue to volunteer, accompany the cancer patients through their pain, write touching stories of life, join recycling and be a part of environmental protection. Carefully counting, he realized there are so many things to do. He broke into a smile and said, “Well, now that I am only 19 years old, I have no excuses to say that I cannot do much because of my age. I am still as young as 19!”

Note:

Treasury of Age:On January 21, 2018, when Master Cheng Yen visited Tzu Chi premises in Banqiao, Taiwan for the Year-end Blessing Ceremony, she saw many elderly volunteers serving at the recycling centre. She was grateful and happy to see that these elderly people were still putting their lives into good use. Master elaborated on the concept of a “treasury”, where one can deposit 50 years of their lives. This is to encourage everyone to keep a young mind and continue to take care of Mother Earth, continue to learn, and at the same time, pass down their experiences and inspire the young ones to follow their footsteps. Later on, Master officially named it the “Treasury of Age”.

 

 

Teh Seng Lim and Teh Chooi Im were very touched after attending the Buddha Day Ceremony and the Seventh Lunar Month prayer event in 2010. They then decided to become Tzu Chi volunteers. Picture shows them attending the 2012 Seventh Lunar Month activity. [Photograph by You Yit Min]   Teh Seng Lim and his wife, Teh Chooi Im, became volunteers and always attend activities together. Seng Lim is deeply grateful for Chooi Im’s full support. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]

Teh Seng Lim and Teh Chooi Im were very touched after attending the Buddha Day Ceremony and the Seventh Lunar Month prayer event in 2010. They then decided to become Tzu Chi volunteers. Picture shows them attending the 2012 Seventh Lunar Month activity. [Photograph by You Yit Min]
 
Teh Seng Lim and his wife, Teh Chooi Im, became volunteers and always attend activities together. Seng Lim is deeply grateful for Chooi Im’s full support. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
After successfully fighting cancer, Teh Seng Lim watches his exercise and meals. Besides Cancer Support Group excursions, he practises Qi Gong at the park every day. [Photograph by Lee Kok Keong]   Teh Seng Lim (left) sharing his cancer fighting journey at the Cancer Support Group. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]

After successfully fighting cancer, Teh Seng Lim watches his exercise and meals. Besides Cancer Support Group excursions, he practises Qi Gong at the park every day. [Photograph by Lee Kok Keong]
 
 
Teh Seng Lim (left) sharing his cancer fighting journey at the Cancer Support Group. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
After joining the documenting team, Teh Seng Lim diligently learnt the Chinese input using a computer. Picture show him (left) attending a documenting volunteer training session. [Photograph by Tan Ken Teik]   Teh Seng Lim uses his time at night to write with the computer. [Photograph by Lee Kok Keong]

After joining the documenting team, Teh Seng Lim diligently learnt the Chinese input using a computer. Picture show him (left) attending a documenting volunteer training session. [Photograph by Tan Ken Teik]
 
 
Teh Seng Lim uses his time at night to write with the computer. [Photograph by Lee Kok Keong]
 
Unable to estimate the length of his life, Teh Seng Lim wishes to continue to give with the spirit of a 19-year-old. Picture shows him raising funds for Philippines Typhoon Haiyan. [Photograph by Gan Cheah Teck]  

Unable to estimate the length of his life, Teh Seng Lim wishes to continue to give with the spirit of a 19-year-old. Picture shows him raising funds for Philippines Typhoon Haiyan. [Photograph by Gan Cheah Teck]