“God, please help Mum and Dad believe that You are still good in every circumstance”: This 10-year-old’s unshakable faith through bone cancer
by Gracia Lee // March 24, 2023, 2:48 pm
While Caleb's parents cried out in anguish: "Why, God? Why Caleb?", the young boy's own prayer was: "Please help Dad and Mum to believe You still love me." Caleb's faith is holding up their own, say his parents. Photos courtesy of Ponco Chandra and GIVE.asia.
In his short 10 years of life, Caleb Chandra has endured far more suffering than most adults have in their entire lives.
Diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, Caleb had to have his right arm amputated at the elbow despite being put through a host of gruelling medical procedures in an attempt to stave off the cancer.
Just a month after he was declared cancer-free in end-2022, the young Indonesian boy, who came to Singapore with his parents and younger brother to seek medical treatment, received news that the cancer had relapsed – this time, in his spine.
With a tumour pressing on one of his vertebra, he lost his ability to even move his toes. Doctors told him he would not walk again.
Despite the devastation that cancer has wreaked upon his life, however, Caleb demonstrates a maturity and depth of faith that far surpasses his age.
“I believe that God always has the best plan for us,” he told Salt&Light matter-of-factly after a trip to Mount Alvernia Hospital where he is going through his fifth cycle of chemotherapy for his relapse.
“So even if it’s a condition that people see is really bad, for me it’s the ‘best’ that can happen.”
“Do I have cancer?”
The family’s ordeal began in July 2021 when Caleb, then nine years old, felt a soreness in his upper right arm.
Doctors in Jakarta, where the family is from, initially thought it was a sports injury and recommended physiotherapy.
But when Caleb’s arm swelled to almost twice its normal size and showed no improvement after three months, his parents sought a second opinion.
“It went very quickly from me going to school normally to suddenly being in the hospital doing treatment. It happened so fast.”
After a battery of tests, Caleb’s father, Ponco, received his firstborn’s heart-wrenching diagnosis.
“When the doctor told my wife and me, the first thing that was in my head was, ‘How do I tell this to Caleb?'” said the 40-year-old.
His son already had an inkling that something was wrong.
Ponco, whose younger son is five, recalled: “When I came out of the doctor’s office, Caleb saw me crying from a distance. When I approached him, immediately he said, ‘Do I have cancer?'”
Upon hearing the news, Caleb broke down in tears.
“It was very devastating,” Caleb told Salt&Light. “It went very quickly from me going to school normally to suddenly being in the hospital doing treatment. It happened so fast.”
Despite being on chemotherapy in Jakarta for three months, however, his condition showed no signs of improvement. His parents decided to take him to Singapore for treatment.
The couple quit their jobs – both were working in family-owned businesses – sold all their valuable possessions including their car and borrowed money from relatives to make the trip.
Even then, the money they had was only enough for two cycles of chemotherapy.
“But we believed that God was the One who would accompany us through this trial and provide us with all our needs,” said Ponco, who had received Christ in his teenage years.
A father’s grief
In Singapore, Caleb was put through chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgeries and a stem cell transplant.
He also had to endure the barrage of debilitating side effects like nausea, diarrhoea, nosebleeds, headaches and fevers.
“It felt like a scene from a Hollywood movie when a soldier’s arm got bombed, but this time it was my very own son.”
It was heartbreaking for Ponco to watch his son suffer. A particularly difficult episode was when Caleb’s wounds could not heal properly after his arm amputation.
“We could see his bone and the blood dripping while the nurse changed the dressing. It felt like a scene from a Hollywood movie when a soldier’s arm got bombed, but this time it was my very own son,” he said.
While Ponco tried to put up a strong front for Caleb, he would weep every time he was alone.
“The question that I had for God was, ‘Why, God? Why Caleb? He’s only 10 years old. Why does he need to feel this suffering and pain?'” he said.
In the valley of his grief, his lifeline was Romans 8:28, which promises that God works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
He was also reminded of Job, who continued to praise God in the midst of his suffering.
“If everything is good, it’s quite easy to praise Him, to give thanks, to acknowledge Him as my God and as my Lord. But in this situation, I think this is the real test of my faith,” he said.
Whispers of assurance
Amid the flood of questions and grief, it is Caleb’s own faith that has held up his own, Ponco admitted.
As a father, his greatest fear was that the illness would break Caleb not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. However, his son has repeatedly demonstrated a gritty faith that Ponco believes is only from the Holy Spirit.
When doctors told them that Caleb had to have his arm amputated, Ponco told Caleb honestly that he felt disappointed with God.
“Don’t be like that, Pak. God is good in every situation.”
He wanted his son to know that it was okay to express his anger, pain and sadness at the situation.
But his son’s response stunned him. Though he was still in tears, Caleb replied: “Don’t be like that, Pak. God is good in every situation.”
The family then took turns to say a prayer. Ponco remembers praying for a miracle, mainly that Caleb would not need to have his arm amputated after all.
But Caleb’s prayer was different. He prayed: “God, please help Mum and Dad so they can have the strength to accept this and believe that God is still good in every circumstance.”
“That really saved my faith,” said Ponco, recalling that Caleb had even given him a smile after the surgery was over.
Ponco was also struck by a prayer that Caleb had prayed on New Year’s Eve, after he lost his ability to move his legs as a result of his relapse.
“God talks to me personally when I’m suffering, and that just shows me that He still loves me, cares for me and He wants me to be healed.”
“God, please heal me and please help me be able to walk again,” Caleb had said. “But if I cannot walk anymore, it’s okay, God.”
Asked what inspires his faith, Caleb said simply that God has spoken to him on multiple occasions, offering him comfort and reassurance.
When he learnt that his arm had to be amputated, God had whispered in his heart: “Everything is going to be okay.”
When he had to be admitted to hospital, God had told him: “This is another test and I will help you get through it.”
And when he asked God if he would ever walk again, God had assured him gently: “Yes, you will walk again. Just believe.”
Said Caleb: “God talks to me personally when I’m suffering, and that just shows me that He still loves me, cares for me and He wants me to be healed. If God hadn’t helped me, I know I wouldn’t be able to get through all this.”
The test is the reward
For Ponco, Caleb’s fortified faith is a miracle that he had not expected.
“For me, it’s a miracle that, at 10 years old, he can teach me a lot about God. That’s how we know that God is still with us. He has given Caleb an understanding like that and such faith and wisdom and knowledge of God,” said Ponco.
Still, he continues to pray for and wait on another miracle — complete healing for his son.
Just as God provided $450,000 to treat Caleb’s first bout of cancer, the family is trusting that God will provide another $200,000 that they need for this second round of treatment, which includes 12 cycles of chemotherapy.
On fundraising page GIVE.asia, they have since raised about $28,000.
In the meantime, they are pressing on in Caleb’s treatment and their faith.
Though he is being put through the furnace of testing, Ponco has found that he is not alone.
“God is Immanuel,” he said. “He is with us in every season, every trial that we face, and He provides everything.
“The one thing that comforts me is that I know Jesus has already been through all the pain that we are going through right now.”
Asked about one thing he has learnt about God during this trial, Caleb added: “It doesn’t mean that if we believe in God, we will get rich, this and that. No, God will put us through trials and see if we still have faith in Him or not.”
Does he believe that if he passes the test, he will be richly rewarded at the end?
“No,” he replied. “I think the reward is going through the test itself, because it shows us that God is with us.”
Help Caleb fight Ewing sarcoma for the second time
The Chandra family is hoping to raise $200,000 to fund Caleb’s treatment for his relapse. If you’d like to bless the family, you may visit their GIVE.asia fundraising page here.
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