Eight months after the death of my father, our family doctor told me to take Saúl to the local hospital, since he was suffering from extreme fatigue. After a series of tests, the doctors informed me that Saúl had leukemia.*
During the following two and a half years, Saúl was in and out of the hospital as he struggled to cope with the cancer and the chemotherapy the doctors used in their effort to fight it. The first six-month program of treatment led to a remission that lasted about 18 months. But the cancer returned, and Saúl had another shorter treatment of chemotherapy that severely weakened him. The cancer went into remission for only a brief period, and Saúl could not cope with a third course of chemotherapy. Saúl had dedicated his life to God and had expressed his desire to be baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he died just after reaching the age of 17.
Doctors often recommend blood transfusions to counteract the aggressive nature of chemotherapy. Of course, transfusions cannot cure the disease. When the doctors first diagnosed the leukemia, both Saúl and I had to make clear that we would not accept this treatment, since we wanted to obey Jehovah’s law to “abstain . . . from blood.” (Acts 15:19, 20) On several occasions, Saúl had to convince the doctors in my absence that he was making his own decision in this matter. (See box on page 31.)
The doctors finally came to the conclusion that Saúl was a mature minor who understood perfectly well the nature of his disease. They agreed to respect our stand and offered us bloodless treatment, although we were under constant pressure to change our decision. I felt very proud of Saúl when I listened to him explaining his stand to the doctors. Clearly, he had developed a close relationship with Jehovah.
During the summer when we first learned of Saúl’s disease, the book entitled Draw Close to Jehovah was released at our district convention in Barcelona. That invaluable book proved to be like an anchor to keep us firm as we faced our uncertain and daunting future. During the hours we spent in the hospital, we read portions of it together. During the many difficult times that we endured afterward, we often recalled its contents. That was when the text of Isaiah 41:13, mentioned in the prologue of that book, came to have special meaning for us. It says: “I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.’”
Saúl’s Faith Touches the Hearts of Others
Saúl’s maturity and optimism deeply impressed doctors and nurses at Vall d’Hebrón Hospital. He endeared himself to the entire team that took care of him. The chief hematologist handling cancer cases has since treated other Witness children suffering from leukemia, and he has accorded them great respect and dignity. He recalls Saúl’s firm decision to uphold his beliefs, his courage in the face of death, and his happy outlook on life. The team of nurses told Saúl that he was the best patient they had ever had in that ward. They said that he never complained and never lost his sense of humor—even when he was about to die.
A psychologist told me that many children who have to face such a terminal illness at this age tend to rebel against doctors and parents because of discomfort and frustration. She noticed that this did not occur in the case of Saúl. To her, it was amazing to see Saúl so calm and positive. This gave Saúl and me an opportunity to witness to her about our faith.
I also recall how Saúl indirectly helped a Witness in our congregation. He had suffered from depression for some six years, and medication had not improved his condition. On several occasions, he spent the night caring for Saúl in the hospital. He told me that Saúl’s attitude in the face of leukemia deeply impressed him. He noticed that despite his exhaustion, Saúl tried to encourage everyone who visited him. “Saúl’s example gave me the courage to fight my depression,” this Witness says.
Saúl had lymphoblastic leukemia, a serious type of blood cancer that destroys the white blood cells.