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Volunteer Continues to Serve Despite Suffering from Terminal Illness

“The journey of life is a natural course…… Master Cheng Yen says that if we are willing to accept our lot in life, we will suffer less,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Sim Siew Hong. A terminal liver cancer patient, Sim calmly accepted her condition upon learning of her diagnosis.


SG20191013 CHA HDQ 009Terminal liver cancer patient Sim Siew Hong calmly accepts her lot in life and keeps a positive mindset. (Photo by Willy Ang)

“You are a kind-hearted person. You can’t leave this world before I do…” said a Tzu Chi aid beneficiary to Tzu Chi volunteer Sim Siew Hong.

The aid recipient had been receiving continued care and support from Sim over the years. When she heard that Sim was undergoing chemotherapy, she was deeply concerned for the latter. Both of them were very touched by each other’s care and wished for each other to persevere on the journey of life despite all odds.

Sim has joined Tzu Chi for close to ten years and finds joy in conducting the monthly visits to the homes of the NGO’s aid and care beneficiaries. As a volunteer leader, she keeps a record of every beneficiary case for future reference.

In April 2019, Sim, who was usually fit and healthy, suddenly suffered a loss of appetite and was subsequently diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.

 “The journey of life is a natural course. I entrust my body to the doctor and my heart to the Buddha. Master Cheng Yen says that if we are willing to accept our lot in life, we will suffer less,” said Sim.

She calmly accepted her condition upon being diagnosed with the disease and kept a positive mindset while undergoing chemotherapy. She also prayed for her karmic obstacles to be eliminated.

Empathy comes from personal experience

“After I’ve personally experienced an illness, I can empathise more with the aid/care recipients who are suffering from illnesses. I would not have too high expectations of them,” shared Sim Siew Hong.

She is now able to empathise with a patient’s despair and helplessness, and even suicidal patients. Thus, she has become more patient and understanding of what the aid/care recipients are going through, and speaks with them with a gentler tone, allowing them to feel a greater sense of love and care.

Sim is also grateful for the  support and encouragement from her husband and fellow volunteer leader, Willy Ang, who has given her a lot of helpful tips and advice on a healthy diet and how to transform negative emotions into positive ones. The couple has served in Tzu Chi for ten years and witnessed many cases during charity home visits. Now, one of them is a caregiver while the other, a care recipient.

When their daughter knew about Sim’s condition, she was so shocked and saddened that she burst into tears. Her father patted her hand gently and told her to “let things take their natural course and not to resist what life brings to them”. Ang thinks that since a human life is impermanent, he and his family should bravely come to terms with his wife’s condition.

He and his wife had devoted decades of their lives to their family business and just when they were reaching 70 years of age, a time when they should be enjoying their golden years, they encountered such a great setback. Their many years of experience in charity home visits and care for the bereaved thus became a “guiding light” for them.

SG20191006 CHA ZMZ 002Sim Siew Hong and fellow Tzu Chi volunteers visiting the home of an aid recipient (Photo by Chan May Ching)

Willy Ang feels happy and relieved to see that his wife is keeping a broad heart and pure mind. Although he also feels sad for his wife’s condition, he still accepts reality and understands that life must still go on.

After taking care of his wife for some months, he shared these words from his heart: “No amount of (nice) talk can equal actions that show your love and care to a patient.”

“In the past, I often felt that the aid/care recipients were not making enough effort to improve their lives. But after becoming a caregiver for my wife, I feel that it is quite a big challenge (to care for a patient),” shared Ang.

He said that as a caregiver for his terminally-ill wife, he needed to adjust his daily schedule, and also, to be mentally prepared to bear with the emotional pain that comes when the condition of his partner worsens.

He understands that if he only sees looking after his wife as a “duty”, then after some time, he may start to feel resentful. And he knows that only with true love will he be able to provide meticulous care to his wife without giving rise to afflictions.

Apart from feeling appreciative of the continued care from their family members, the couple is also thankful to many fellow volunteers, even the unfamiliar ones, for visiting them to give them care and support. Dharma masters from Tzu Chi Taiwan would also visit them whenever they visited Tzu Chi Singapore, bringing them much comfort during such a trying period of their lives.

SG20190807 CUA ZMZ 015Sim Siew Hong (second from the left in the second row) joining a Medicine Buddha Sutra book study with her husband, Willy Ang (standing at the back). (Photo by Chan May Ching)

Serving others despite suffering an illness

Ang has witnessed how his wife continued to join Tzu Chi’s activities, including charity home visits, recycling and other group events, after being diagnosed with liver cancer. She truly manifests the spirit of the “master boatman” in the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, “whose body is suffering from severe illness, but still has a sturdy ship equipped for transporting people (to the shore of Nirvana)”.

“I gain something more whenever I participate in a Tzu Chi activity. I wish to form good karmic connections with more people, so that our wisdom-life can continue life after life,” said Sim.

Since after learning about her diagnosis, she has stopped serving at the reception counter of the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Redhill. This was a task she loved the most. But when she learned that a new Tzu Chi free clinic has opened in Khatib, she made a wish to volunteer there after completing her chemotherapy.

SG20191128 EDA CYL 034Sim Siew Hong helping to sweep the floor at the Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre before its opening. (Photo by Chai Yu Leong)

“You mustn’t give up on me!” Sim often said that to a fellow volunteer leader, Jennifer Tan.

Tan is very grateful to Sim, who inspires fellow volunteers in the community with her exemplary example and indomitable spirit.

“Although I feel for her, we cannot resist the impermanence of life. Only our willpower can spur us forward. Sim faithfully serves at the free clinic in Khatib, and when she invites other volunteers to help out in a Tzu Chi activity, the latter will do it. Her example serves to strengthen everyone’s resolve to walk the Bodhisattva Path,” said Tan.

Sim continues to accompany her fellow volunteers in doing Tzu Chi’s work and encourages them to do more while they are still healthy and able, so that they would not feel regret for not having done enough when an illness struck.

She said, “It’s really great to have everyone’s care and company. We don’t feel lonely at all. I’m very thankful to everyone.”

The care and support from fellow Dharma brothers and sisters in Tzu Chi have enabled Sim and Ang to take firmer steps on the journey of life. They hope that the volunteers will care for every fellow Dharma brother or sister with the same caring heart, for everyone in Tzu Chi is “one family”.

 “Since I have met a good Dharma master, who guides us with the Dharma and teaches us how to apply the teachings in our lives, I feel that I’ve been very blessed and fortunate in this life. I will seize the opportunity to contribute more,” said Sim.


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