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Cancer survivors seek healing through helping others

Indonesian church-run program helps patients through grim diagnosis

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Cancer survivors seek healing through helping others

"I keep fighting against cancer. I never give up, and I don't feel afraid. I just keep praying," says Candra Wahyu Aji.

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Candra Wahyu Aji's difficult, painful journey began in 2012, while he was playing his favorite sport, football.

He was playing with friends in a tournament, when his right knee grazed a goalpost. While it hurt slightly, he didn't think it was a serious problem at the time.

However, the pain intensified over the next three months forcing Aji to seek treatment, first at the state-run Fatmawati Hospital in South Jakarta. As the pain persisted, he sought help at the larger state-run Dr. Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Central Jakarta. There, he was given a grim, shocking diagnosis.

"I was diagnosed with severe bone cancer," Aji, now 16, told ucanews.com in late January.

Several rounds of chemotherapy failed to shrink the tumors growing inside his right leg. Late last year, the limb was amputated.

"There was no other way. I kept crying. I was so depressed. I got angry," said Aji, the son of working class parents.

A despondent Aji said he began to feel better psychologically after being counseled by volunteers from the Charity Service Foundation, which assists cancer patients from poor families.

"I started to feel strengthened. I was assisted to face the reality. The foundation guided me during my difficult times," said Aji, a student at Senior Vocational School of Putra Satria in South Jakarta.



'Love your neighbor'

James Benjamin Lumenta, a Catholic who was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1997, founded the foundation.

Lumenta's health is faltering and was unavailable for comment. But foundation volunteer Theodora Wahyu Dramastuti said the founder once told her, "Anyone diagnosed with cancer would definitely panic. I took medical treatment, but the doctors said that I wouldn't live long."

"People can say anything. Still, the decision remained in God's hands," Lumenta said, according to Dramastuti.

The founder told volunteers that he reflected on the commandment "Love your neighbor as I love you.'" That reflection led him to start the foundation in 2004.

The foundation operates a clinics in Cisarua, West Java, and in South Jakarta. Both units are for impoverished cancer patients.

Three doctors serve about 100 patients a day in the clinic, with patients suffering from bone, eye, intestine and lung cancers. Patients are mostly Muslim.

The foundation's monthly costs average about 100 million rupiah (US$7,400).

Its field coordinator Paulina Dewi, said counselors mostly focus on being present for the patient.

"Most patients aren't ready to face their situation when they are diagnosed with cancer," she said.

In helping patients move forward, counselors refer to them as "survivors," and teach them to help counsel newly diagnosed cancer patients.

Siti Maysaroh is an example of the foundation's approach and effectiveness. She was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer in 2004. Now living with cancer for more than a decade, she seeks to help motivate other patients who view her as a source of strength.

Recently, she has become a home caregiver to Lumenta.

"A cancer survivor serves another cancer survivor," Dramastuti said.

Aji says he has every intention of remaining a cancer survivor too. And he hasn't relinquished his first love of football. Although he can no longer play, he now serves as a coach for a youth football squad.

"I keep fighting against cancer. I never give up, and I don't feel afraid. I just keep praying," he told ucanews.com.

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