Written By Charlotte Diana, Indonesia
It was sometime in the middle of 2010, just after I welcomed my father back home. He had just arrived from Borneo in Indonesia, where he had been working as a broadcast consultant and technician at a radio station. Giving me a big hug, Papa came into the house and told us how tired he felt.
That evening, he asked me to massage his left shoulder, which was hurting him. I didn’t think anything of it then, and did as he requested. But the pain did not go away, and about a week later, he asked me to massage his shoulder again. My mother suggested that he try traditional physiotherapy, which he did for a month. But it didn’t help. The pain became even more severe, and his left shoulder started to swell.
On seeing how much it hurt, the therapist told my father to get his shoulder seen at a hospital. When he went to get it checked, he was referred to a specialist, and that’s when we received the shocking news: My father was suffering from advanced bone cancer, and it had spread to his heart and lungs. Papa was dying, we were told, and surgery was the only hope.
We didn’t know what to do. We were overwhelmed by the news that my father could die, and the realization that we would need money to pay for surgery that we couldn’t afford. Mama could only cry.
The days that followed passed with much difficulty. We shared our struggle with the rest of our extended family, and they suggested that we get a second opinion at another hospital, to see if doctors there would give a different diagnosis.
Fortunately, we were all Christians, and we had God to turn to. Before making that decision to get a second opinion, we got together to pray. While we were waiting for God to show us what to do, someone introduced me to a blood specialist whom we could consult for a second opinion.
After some investigation, the specialist gave us good and bad news. My father, he said, was actually suffering from a cancer called multiple myeloma. He didn’t need cardiovascular surgery, as the first group of doctors had prescribed. Multiple myeloma, we were told, was a cancer of plasma cells (a type of white blood cells) in which cancer cells accumulate in the bone marrow, crowding out healthy blood cells. But this type of cancer was said to be incurable. When we heard this, we lost even more hope that my father would recover. Along with Papa, we cried, not knowing what we should do—or whether anything could be done.
Several months later, my father had to be hospitalized as the disease got worse. A laboratory test showed that the cancer cells were also producing abnormal proteins that could cause kidney problems.
While he was in hospital, my father had to take a lot of medicine. We also had to pay for costly medical expenses, and my sister and I didn’t know how to settle the bills. At the time, I had yet to finish my bachelor’s degree, my brother was still in junior high school, and my mother was a housewife. Only my sister was working and bringing in money. We could only pray. But God was watching out for us. Just as we had almost given up, He sent people to help us. Some friends who visited my father in hospital handed us an envelope with money, which helped us to pay for some of the costs. Our extended family also helped us with the hospital charges.
After a week in hospital, Papa came home. The doctor had given us the green light to have him treated at home, as long as we kept his room as clean as possible. Once again, God provided us with miracles. One of the doctors treating my father turned out to be a neighbour of ours, and he said he would monitor my father’s condition at home. One of our friends in church, meanwhile, lent us a special bed, so my father could rest properly.
While at home, Papa had to undergo special treatment and take a lot of expensive medicines. Besides taking oral medication, he also had to be injected with a special drug every three weeks. This was very expensive (around 7 million rupiah, or about US$550), and was a constant source of worry for us.
In that difficult time, we tried to keep trusting in God. We didn’t know whether Papa would recover or not. We didn’t have any strength of our own; we had to rely on God to help us stand firm in the storm.
But, sometime at the end of 2010, things got even worse.
One day in December, my mother had an accident while making her way to the laundry shop. She had fallen down from her motorcycle because the road was slippery, but the motorcyclist behind could not stop in time. He crashed into her, and his motorcycle crushed her right shoulder.
When my mother called me on the phone to tell me what happened, she was already in hospital and waiting to undergo surgery. “What happened?” my father asked me. I didn’t want to worry him, so I just said, “Nothing. I’m just going out for a while.” Leaving my father at home, I headed for the hospital. On the way, I called my uncle and others to help me. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for my mother’s surgery. I knew that if I had asked my father, he could think of some options, but I didn’t want to worry him.
Fortunately, my mother’s family helped us to pay for Mama’s treatment. The doctors referred her to another hospital, and by God’s grace, she was treated immediately. My sister and I stayed with her for a few days after the operation, until she was well enough to start physiotherapy.
As the days and weeks passed, things seemed to get better. It was as if we were getting a miracle. The swelling on my father’s left shoulder started to shrink, and his physical condition improved. His weight went up again, and soon, he could even resume driving his car. My mother’s condition, too, improved, and she started resuming use of her right shoulder.
When Christmas came at the end of 2010, it was a happy one: The family was able to attend a Christmas Eve service together in church.
In January 2011, my father eagerly returned to work. He had plans to finish his other project to rebuild a broadcasting radio station in Mataram and he wanted to give Mama a new home and pay off my studies.
Meanwhile, however, we were still facing difficulties obtaining the drug—called thalidomide—that my father needed. The drug was not readily available over the counters as it had been classified as a forbidden drug for pregnant women. Although known to alleviate morning sickness and nausea, women who consumed that drug ended up giving birth to children with malformed limbs. We asked doctors, colleagues and friends for help but there was nothing they could do. Finally, we decided to save on Papa’s usage of the thalidomide by having him take it only twice a day instead of three times as prescribed.
One day, we also decided to sell the car and jewellery to pay for the medical expenses.
“Papa, I will sell my jewellery,” I told my father.
But he shook his head, and replied, “Don’t sell it. That is yours.”
I knew, however, that if I didn’t sell all our jewellery, we would not have enough money to pay for the medical expenses, so finally, I sold it secretly.
In April 2011, my father wanted to go to Mataram in West Nusa Tenggara province to do his work. We didn’t want him to go, but he insisted, so my mother accompanied him on the trip. While he was there, his condition took a sudden turn for the worse. My father wanted morphine to relieve the pain—he still wanted to save on the thalidomide—but they had trouble finding the drug. Calling me on the phone to tell me about their situation, my mother cried as she asked me, “Please pray for us.” Shortly after, they returned from Mataram so that my father could be treated at home.
Within weeks, Papa’s weight came back down drastically. An infection developed in his mouth, he didn’t have any appetite, his body felt warm, and he was constantly in pain. We tried to keep smiling in a bid to raise his spirits, although our hearts were shattered inside. One night, on May 27, we celebrated my sister’s birthday and took a family photograph. For a rare moment, we put our grief aside and spent time together over dinner.
About a week later, at 6 a.m. on June 3, my father went into convulsions. I ran over to the doctor who lived nearby for help. His wife suggested that we take him to the hospital quickly. My father refused, as he didn’t want to be hospitalized again. But we insisted, and carried him out of the house and rushed him to hospital. There, he went into convulsions again. His blood vessels started to collapse, and he faded in and out of consciousness.
At that point, I started to lose hope in God. I just didn’t know how to trust Him. Standing in the hospital ward and crying, I felt that the “Invisible Hand” didn’t want to help us anymore.
Over the next three days, Papa’s physical condition got worse and worse. On June 6, he asked us to pray and to trust God’s plan. That evening, our pastor came to visit and pray for my father. I couldn’t bear to look at Papa. His face and fingers were already pale, and he looked very tired. I could only cry along with my mother, sister and brother. We prayed together repeatedly, and reminded ourselves to keep trusting God and in His plan for us. Our pastor, who had stayed with us to give us courage, whispered softly to my father, asking him to put all things in Jesus and to stand firm in his faith. At 11.45 p.m., Papa died.
Four years have passed since that fateful day, when our painful journey of 2010 and 2011 ended. At times, the journey had shaken my faith in God. But I can still remember His faithfulness. God sent many others to help us; His Invisible hands were constantly on my family. When we had to pay for the medical expenses, Jesus provided us with the means. When we asked for strength to carry on, Jesus provided it. Over those two years, as we walked through the storm, there were times when I could not understand God’s plan.
But now, I have learnt to trust God in everything I do, in every journey that I take. We may never know how we will die, but whatever we face, I know we must trust God.