Belfast Telegraph

Joshua Martin’s faith and courage in the face of aggressive cancer touched hearts around the world

Devout teen beat disease once after inspiring global campaign, but hopes for a second 'miracle' were dashed, says Ivan Little

They called him the miracle boy. Now, hundreds of people across the world who joined a prayer campaign on the internet for the recovery of teenage cancer sufferer Joshua Martin have taken to social media again to send messages of sympathy to his grieving family in Donaghadee after his tragic death.

The 15-year-old Bangor Grammar pupil passed away on Monday evening after the disease returned.

His parents, who had recently urged people to pray once more for their son, said they were heartbroken but at peace knowing that Joshua "was with his Heavenly Father in glory".

Joshua's cancer was first diagnosed on Christmas Eve 2014 after he was rushed to hospital with suspected appendicitis.

Medics discovered aggressive tumours in his abdomen - one was the size of a melon - and Joshua underwent months of invasive surgery and chemotherapy.

The Martins prepared themselves for the worst, and mum Kim, a civil servant, said they were told to bring him home from hospital and "make memories".

They didn't tell Joshua just how bleak a prognosis he'd received.

However, in October 2015 the doctors who reviewed his surgery and chemotherapy told the Martins that the tumours were gone and that their son was cancer-free.

It was the cue for celebrations in Bangor's Elim Pentecostal Church in November 2015 when more than 1,500 people gathered to give thanks for what was hailed as God's answer to the global prayer campaign.

That had been launched by his church with the hash-tag #prayforjosh, and shortly afterwards a massive billboard appeared in Holywood carrying the same message.

A mystery donor was said to have paid for the billboard advert and, in the following weeks, golfers Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, plus broadcaster Piers Morgan, showed their support for Joshua.

On the night of the Bangor thanksgiving service the confident and articulate teenager told me he couldn't wait to get up on stage to thank the congregation for their support, some of whom had travelled from Donegal and Fermanagh.

"I want to get across the message that God heals," he said. "I am loving life and thanking God for everything I have got."

Joshua laughed, however, as he recalled he almost didn't make his big date after he slipped and fell at home as he ran to his family's car that day.

He explained: "I was late and I tripped over onto the flat of my back. I thought initially that I'd broken my leg."

However, Joshua told his parents that he'd "been through worse than that" and insisted he wasn't going to miss the service, where the atmosphere was boisterously euphoric as the congregation sang and clapped their appreciation for what they saw as a modern-day miracle in their midst.

Joshua also took time to speak enthusiastically to me about how he was anticipating getting back to the other loves in his life, as well as his church - kayaking, quad-biking and skateboarding - though he was sorry that doctors had stopped him from taking up judo.

He told his parents before the service that he wanted the public to be shown previously unseen pictures and videos of him, including ones after he lost several stone in weight - and his hair.

During an interview with a senior pastor of the Elim church, Gary Beattie, the Martins didn't just thank God for their son's recovery, they also praised doctors and nurses, some of whom were in the congregation.

It was a fact that appeared to have been lost on sceptics, who took to social media to question the power of prayer having anything to do with the teenager's fightback to health.

Joshua's uncle Juls Martin, a presenter on the Christian Broadcasting Network, later told me he'd been amazed by the response from his listeners after he informed them about his nephew's plight.

He added: "I got messages from people as far away as the Philippines and Australia saying they were praying for him."

Joshua's grandmother Mavis Martin said he "wouldn't be here today" without the prayer campaign.

Kim Martin agreed. And she spoke emotionally to me of her joy at seeing her son smiling for the first time after months of watching helplessly as he cried in excruciating pain.

She said: "Just to see him walking is remarkable, given that he was in bed or wheelchair-bound for so long."

Kim also spoke of her pride at her son's courage, and she said she and her husband Tim believed their choice of name for him had been ordained by a higher power. She explained: "We picked the name because, in the Bible, Joshua was so strong and courageous during the Battle of Jericho. But little did we know how strong and courageous our Joshua would have to be."

Kim and Tim refused to believe that their son could not be cured, despite an original diagnosis that some of the tumours were inoperable.

Kim spoke about how the turning point in his recovery came after Joshua's third surgery, when the family were told about a ministry called Healing on the Streets (HOTS) in Coleraine. The movement follows the belief that the power of prayer can heal, and the street-side ministry involves sitting people down on a chair and praying for them.

The Martins took Joshua to visit founder Mark Marx.

The family later claimed that, when he noticed one of Joshua's legs was shorter than the other, he was able to make it grow in front of their eyes and, after the "miracle", Joshua got out of his wheelchair and danced.

"We hadn't known about his leg, but we were looking at him thinking: 'He has cancer in his abdomen. Why are you asking about his leg?'" Kim recalled.

"What I did know is my mum and I and Joshua saw the leg growing out. We looked to check it wasn't being pulled, but Mark just had his fingertips under his heels.

"Joshua said: 'This is God making my leg grow'.

"Literally everything around us zoned out while the miracle was happening in front of our eyes.

"I will never forget.

"Mark said God wanted to encourage Joshua and that was a sign of what was happening inside him. He told him to be bold and courageous."

Speaking after Joshua got the good news that he was cancer-free in October 2015, Kim said: "Family time is very, very precious to us now.

"The last year has made us realise that we ought not to take it for granted, but to enjoy moments with the children. We now just stop and cherish moments and cherish what we have."

After Joshua's all-clear the Martins were able to enjoy life again.

There were holidays to the sun and to the ski slopes.

Joshua used social media to show solidarity with the victims of the Paris terror attacks.

He also posted a message of sympathy after Bangor girl Megan Ogle died from cancer in September last year. It said: "Rest in peace, Megan. You were such an amazing and wonderful person and friend. We will miss you. Thoughts go out to all the family and friends."

He also put up a picture of himself alongside the slogan 'Stand Up To Cancer', and he shared information about the HOTS operation, supported by his family in Bangor.

But in October last year Kim revealed that a number of small tumours had returned, though in the next few months the outlook appeared brighter and Joshua was said to have finished GCSE papers and was preparing to go on a skiing trip.

However, 11 days ago Kim posted on Facebook about Joshua having a difficult week.

"He is in pain. We've seen God move before and we are believing He will do it again."

It was not to be, however.

And it was Kim who posted on social media on Monday evening to break the news that her "amazing and brave" son, who had touched the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, was gone.

Her message received more than 12,000 reactions in the first few hours and was shared more than 3,000 times.

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