This is the story of Linus. He enrolled for a community development (CD) organization’s pre-school program in 2015 at the age of 6.
When Jane (one of the CD Organisation’s team members) saw him for the first time, she said he looked pale and had yellowish skin. Linus would often complain of pain in his body. A month before Linus was admitted into hospital, he had an infection at his neck – a huge ulcer oozing out blood. After that, he had not gone to school for 3 weeks.
One morning, Linus’s mother came to the school crying and spoke with Adam the CEO of the CD organization, “Linus is always sleeping at home. He seems to be in great pain. Can you see what is wrong with him?” Adam thought it must be something serious. So he went back with her to their shed and took Linus to the hospital for a blood diagnosis. After doing the blood test, the doctors insisted that Linus be hospitalized.
As if having one child admitted into hospital wasn’t enough, Linus’s mother gave birth two days later. She was pregnant for 8 months by then. Since the family wasn’t able to afford the delivery charges, Adam paid on their behalf. Healthcare for the poor in that country is actually free, yet many of these villagers are not aware and do not know the necessary procedures to access free healthcare. For Linus’s family, they did not have the essential documents to prove their residency and their identity as citizens of the country.
When Adam brought Linus to the hospital for a diagnosis, he could afford so, but his pockets weren’t deep enough to afford a 10-day hospital bill on top of the delivery charges for Linus’s mother. The CD organization is still a non-profit entity that heavily relies on funding from external sources. This sent the team scrambling for their insurance papers as the hospital bills steadily climbed each passing day. A week later, their insurance documents were arranged.
Through this short stint, I heard about Linus’s father making countless pleas to bring Linus home. Many children admitted into the hospital die shortly after. Hang on a second, die? Why would Linus die?
When the blood test results were out, they confirmed the worst – Linus’s blood was 80% cancerous, and he was in the final stage of leukemia. This was Linus fighting cancer at the tender age of 7. He lost most of his hair as he underwent chemotherapy.
I had been hearing about Linus since the first day I arrived here. That was a month ago. He was still in the hospital fighting for his life. I’d visited him twice already. With needles poked into his body and constant beeping sounds all around him, this boy wasn’t even big enough to occupy half the size of this bed.
Once when Adam and I were driving in the car, he turned to me and said, “Last night Linus’s hemoglobin dropped again, and he needed eight bags of blood. He is in ICU now.” Linus needed eight bags of blood, while I was sleeping soundly dreaming about whatever…
Adam continued, “The week before, the doctors already gave him five bags of blood.” That added up to 13 bags of blood. And the following week, Linus needed another six bags of blood – altogether a total of 19 bags. Adam continued, “And when I talked with him on the phone last night he said, 'Pak, sakit sekali!” (Translate: Uncle, very painful!)
When I heard those words, my heart broke. I can't even recall what pain really felt when I was seven. ‘Very painful’ to the seven-year-old me meant a bloody knee cap, but Linus was fighting for his life. We all fight cancers and sicknesses at different stages of our lives, be it ourselves, family members or friends. More than a battle against physical illness and deterioration, it is a fight against despair, igniting hope and fuelling faith.
As a team, we did our best to walk with Linus and this family through this painful period. Each day, there would be a team member visiting them. It took time, effort and resources. Just as Jane succinctly put it, “I feel compassion for Linus and his family, but I do not know what I can do for them. All I can do is be with them in this difficult period.”
We journeyed with Linus and the family because Jesus journeys with us in our pain when the valleys are darkest. He has given His blood for mine.