Today counts as Day 10 in the 21-day chemo cycle. Day 1 is infusion day, and it proceeds from there. It’s been a long 10 days. The short version is: I was really, really tired and loopy for days 1-4. It was foggy, but I could function. Chemo was going fine. And then suddenly it wasn’t. One of the side effects overcame me, and days 5-8 were really bad. I could barely get out of bed, and I had to leave in the middle of worship because I thought I might pass out. Days 9-10 have so far showed signs of improvement, and I’m feeling more like myself again. For the next round, we should be able to anticipate and head off the side effect, so things don’t get so bad.
There is a lot more to say about all the things that happened in those days, but I write to process my thoughts and feelings. That means looking smaller, breaking things down, capturing fleeting moments that somehow speak to something bigger. I tried writing about all of it, but I couldn’t do it. I don’t care to keep a log–I write to go deeper. That means all I can capture today is one small part of the story, one moment from Day 1. I am hoping, as I improve, to share some more moments along the way. It’s important to me to have this space, because I want witness. I want a witness, a written account of all that I am going through so that I can remember it. And I want witnesses, people who will hear the story and carry it with me.
So here’s just a bit of the story. There are more stories to come. Harder ones. But this is the one that I found myself ready to write tonight.
On my first chemo morning, I went to the office. Not the doctor’s office, but my office, the church office. I figured I should work while I still felt well, and I needed something to occupy my mind while I waited for my 12:45 appointment. I blasted through a pile of e-mails and thank-you notes, assuaging my guilt at the slow response time likely in my post-chemo days. When the time came, I took the quick walk to the MacMillan Cancer Centre.
It’s hard to describe how I felt walking in. Scared, of course–but not frightened of what might happen, or dreading the worst. Just anxious to find out what these drugs would actually do to me, how terrible I might feel, how hard this journey will be. At the same time, I was also relieved, and even a little bit excited to finally get started. Those killer cancer cells have been allowed to grow freely inside of me for too long, and I was ready to put a stop to them. I can’t get well until I get sick. A starting date gives me an ending date, a calendar and to-do list and countdown for the next 18 weeks. I’ve known about the cancer for nearly two months, and this was the first treatment or procedure that was actually going to fight it. At last, we’re taking steps to get me better, even if those steps will make me worse.
That’s the brave attitude I tried to keep and show when I arrived, checked in, and sat down to have my IV cannula put in. My facade was crumbling fast, though.
First of all, I didn’t expect them to go searching for a vein in the top of my forearm. Who looks for veins there? I usually have good, easy-to-find veins, but I also have been savoring a nice summer tan–making them quite invisible to the nurse’s assistant trying to locate one. She brought over a wastebasket filled with a bag of warm water, and had me soak my whole arm in it for 10 minutes. It was a little bit like memories of sleepovers, where you put someone’s hand in warm water because it supposedly makes them have to pee. It didn’t make me have to pee, but it did make my vein pop out so she could find it.
Second, the only way I can handle IV needles and blood draws is by pretending they aren’t happening. Before I learned this strategy, I would routinely pass out and/or vomit at the prospect. Now that I am older and wiser, I am cool as a cucumber–once I tell the person doing their job that I’m going to close my eyes, and that they need to talk to me anything that’s not happening to me right now. The poking and thumping and talk of finding veins made that hard to accomplish.
Thankfully, the nurse was gracious and we easily switched to a new topic. Usually, my “pretend I’m somewhere else, chatting with a new friend” strategy yields some lovely connections, as I ask after people’s kids, hobbies, television habits, vacations and sports loyalties. The conversation with my IV cannula nurse started out in a very typical London style: “So, your accent isn’t British. Where are you from?” (London is such an international city, it always seems there are more foreigners than Brits.) I can’t even remember who started it. It turns out she is from Iran, and has only been in the country for seven months. At six weeks, I was still the newer immigrant. She shared that she had traveled all over the world–Europe, Africa, Asia and even Canada and Mexico. “Not the United States?” I started, then realized: “Oh, it must be hard to get a visa on an Iranian passport.” Yes, of course. “And it would be just as hard to get a visa to visit Iran on a U.S. passport.” We talked about the various sites we wished we could see in one another’s home countries. I want to see ancient civilizations, she wants to see natural wonders. “Here we are,” she said, “just two ordinary people, talking and sharing just fine. Only the governments want us to be angry with each other.”
Amen. A beautiful moment of connection. A bond of peace across countries usually known for their mutual hostility.
But it was more than that. Something shifted for me in that conversation. This wasn’t just small talk to get me through the needle moment. This was God showing up for me, in the hands and voice of a Muslim immigrant. She reminded me why I’m here–to help God’s love bring people together. I am here (not just in London, but on the earth), by the grace of God, to open myself to moments of connection like this one, where we discover the love of God binds us, in spite of the barriers the world erects between us. I am here to witness moments like this one and share them with others, so that God’s love grows more real and tangible among us and in the world. That’s my ministry calling. I’ve served in many settings and done many tasks of leadership and ministry, but time and again I discover that this is my true work: naming the ways God’s love is at work in our midst, and helping people work through human differences by the power of those stories and God’s grace.
It’s that calling that has been providing me courage and strength in the cancer journey. I never had confidence that God would preserve my life. The doctors tell me they can, and I believe them, but I do not profess that God is keeping me protected. I’m not special. As a pastor, I have buried too many good people who died too soon to abide by the theology that God chooses favorites. My work keeps me close to the constant reality that I could be next. Faith provides instead the assurance that God will not leave me, no matter what; that resurrection is real and death is not the end; and that God can redeem anything, even cancer, even the cross.
My prayer life has also provided this confidence: God will preserve my call. God may or may not preserve my life, but the Spirit has convinced and convicted me that there is work ahead for me here in London–that same work of finding and naming God’s love that unites us all. It’s the work that my Iranian nurse did with me, in naming our common humanity. Her words of connection took me out of the fearful place and back into the faithful place–the one that knows God is with me, no matter what, and all I need to do is face forward and follow God’s call.
Though she is only a nurse’s aide here, my cannula nurse was trained as a highly skilled nurse supervisor in Iran. Once her English skills improve enough to pass the language test, her credentials will transfer. Her English seemed excellent to me, but I promised to pray for her as she studies and prepares. I hope to see her when I return for my next treatment, and maybe ask if she wants an English conversation partner to help her get ready.
I went back to the oncologist on Thursday, thinking I would still need my as-yet-unscheduled echocardiogram before beginning chemo. Much to my surprise, the oncologist offered to let me start right away–the next day, even! I requested to wait until Monday, so that all my treatments will happen on Mondays–giving me the best chance to be well for Sunday mornings. So here we go.
We spent the weekend as a family enjoying ourselves, knowing that I won’t be up for a lot of extra adventures in the coming months. On Friday, we had already planned to take the train to Brighton, a seaside town on the English Channel, to spend the day with a church family. Having grown up at the ocean, the sea has always been a spiritual place for me, so there was nothing better for my soul than the salt air in my hair and the cold salt water on my feet. Saturday included a long baseball practice and sermon-writing, which has been my beloved Saturday routine for quite a few years now.
Last night, J and I engaged a babysitter and enjoyed a great date in our new city. We didn’t do anything special, just wandered around the theatre district and Chinatown, stopping for drinks and dinner. Along the way, I found myself a cool hat to wear when my hair falls out. I’ve always loved hats, but the curls are so afflicted by hat-head that I don’t wear them very much. We stopped and picked up dark nail polish, which the nurse said will help strengthen my nails during treatment.
I had feared that there might be a cloud of awkwardness or a sense of forced frivolity over the evening, but that wasn’t true at all. (The bottle of wine we shared at dinner probably helped.) Cancer was definitely present, but we had fun trying on hats and laughing about side effects and picking out goth nail polish (especially since I haven’t painted my fingernails in years). We also just had fun being ourselves. We love city life, and it’s been 10 years since we had the chance to go out and just enjoy an evening in the city together–our favorite kind of date night. We wandered in bookshops, watched the people around us, found curious signs, meandered into unknown corners and just enjoyed ourselves. London feels like home already. I went to bed happy and relaxed, not anxious at all.
This morning, I’m headed to the office for a couple of hours before I walk the two short blocks to the clinic. The injections/infusions will only take an hour, but the clinic warned me they usually run very late. I am set to arrive at 12:45, but will likely be there all afternoon. That means I’ve spent a long time considering what to pack in my bag. Here’s what I came up with: a good novel and a good book about church leadership; a memory stick with downloaded movies from my father-in-law; my laptop, pen and paper in case I feel like writing; my phone to correspond with friends via Facebook; snacks; and a lovely pink lap blanket my mother made for me, which makes me feel wrapped in love in every stitch.
I’m also taking all of you with me. I woke up to a phone full of messages from my closest friends, family and church folks who know today’s the day. If my experience so far is any indication, those of you reading this will send prayers and encouragement as well. Those messages are much appreciated, and make me feel like you all are with me today.
Several folks from church offered to come visit or sit with me during the treatment, since J will be busy watching our son. I am beyond grateful for their offers, but turned them down, at least this time. I am enough of an introvert to think I’ll do better on my own, lost in a book and enjoying the quiet time to do my own thing. But I also told them that I most definitely won’t be alone when I am there. The cancer centre has an excellent wireless connection, and I can reach out to so many friends at any time, just to share what I’m feeling or report something funny or ask folks to send good thoughts.
I have had some moments of fear, anxiety, frustration and dread since the date was finally set on Thursday. On Thursday and Saturday especially, my heart felt heavy and my mind was unable to focus. I did some private writing (which may be shared later, when it’s not so raw), and some praying, and I awoke this morning feeling good and ready to get started. I am supported, cared for and loved in every way, which makes a huge difference. It’s about to get rough, I know, probably harder than I can even imagine at this stage. There’s nothing I can do to stop it, avoid it, mitigate it, or postpone it (don’t want to do that one anyway). So, I’m facing forward, knowing you guys have my back and God’s got the rest.
I know you are eager for the chemo details from last week’s meeting with the oncologist. They are here–but I just have to tell this whole story. Skip ahead if you have to, but I hope you won’t.
Last Sunday, a church visitor turned out to be one of the church’s former associate pastors, from nearly 30 years ago. He was in the UK on sabbatical from his current church. After worship, we retired to my office to talk about the church’s history and ministry in this unique place. I was eager to hear about his time here.
As he inquired about my plans for getting started this fall, I had to pause to explain that my plans were a bit uncertain, because I will be going through cancer treatment. His response? “Wow! That’s great! That makes me feel even better about your call and your ministry here.” Trust me when I say that, in context, it was not creepy or weird for him to cheering when he found out I have cancer–in the moment, it made me smile and feel a great sense of spiritual understanding. He explained that he has seen many pastors go through terrible trials at the beginning of their ministries in new churches. In his experience, if pastor and congregation can pray and share grace with each other through these challenges, they go on to have incredible, transformative, life-changing, world-changing ministries together. That’s what he immediately recognized as I shared my story of new church, new country, new cancer diagnosis all in the same month.
He was really energized and passionate about both my ministry and my cancer, and how they will go together. With great enthusiasm, he said, “You’re going to get the crap beat out of you! It’ll be great!” I broke into open laughter, because it was both an absurdly ridiculous thing to say and the most true and wonderful thing to my soul.
I have been feeling throughout this whole process that I will be broken down, broken apart, broken open. I will be changed in ways I can’t even imagine. Vulnerability has always been a struggle for me, so being weakened and in need of support is sure to be a growing edge. I am both terrified and hopeful.
My friend Molly Phinney Baskette is also a pastor and cancer survivor. She referred to her cancerous mass, and the space it left behind, as her “Holy Spirit Portal. The way God gets in.” (I recommend her beautiful post about it.) I feel in my deepest place of faith and hope that this cancer will be a way for God to get into me too. Not that God gave me cancer, or that God is happy about it, but that this experience of weakness will lead me closer to the strength of God, that this breaking will transform me in God-soaked ways that might manage to make me a better pastor, preacher and person along the way.
In other words, “You’re going to get the crap beat out of you! I’ll be great!”
That same phrase is the perfect description of my meeting with the oncologist and oncology nurse last week. After some preliminary questions making sure that I was confident in the quality of the pathology work from the hospital in Louisville (I am!), the doctor began to describe the chemotherapy drugs and schedule I will be facing. The sentinel node biopsy three weeks ago indicated no presence in the lymph nodes, placing me at Stage 2, Grade 3. (Stage 2 because the tumor was more than 2cm, Grade 3 because it is the aggressive, fast-growing kind.)
My kind of breast cancer is estrogen and progesterone negative, HER positive. That means it is not driven by hormones, but it does show a particular mutation in a particular protein. Thankfully, they have a special drug called Herceptin that targets and kills the cells with that particular mutation. Herceptin works very well, and that is what makes my prognosis so hopeful.
I will have six cycles of chemotherapy, known as the FEC-T protocol. Each cycle is one day’s infusion, followed by 20 days of rest. That means one dose every three weeks, for a total of 18 weeks, 4.5 months. For those who like or understand technical details, the first three cycles will be a cocktail of Fluorouracil, Epirubicin, Cyclophosphamide and Docetaxel (aka Taxotere, for the T in FEC-T). The second three will be the Docetaxel, plus Herceptin. The Herceptin does not cause the nasty side effects associated with chemo, and I will continue to receive Herceptin infusions every three weeks for an entire year. I will have surgery to remove any remaining mass and get clear margins after completing the six cycles.
After the drug names and schedule, the rest of the visit (more than an hour) was dedicated to rehearsing the many, many side effects I can anticipate. It was nasty and gross and intimidating and lousy in every way. (I’ll have another post about that stuff another time.) Yes, I will lose my hair, and a whole lot of other pleasures. It’s gonna suck, big time.
I went in to the appointment with lots of fears and anxieties. What about germs? Can I die if I catch a cold? Will I be able to get around the city at all if my blood count goes low and I shouldn’t take public transportation? What happens to my work and ministry life if I just can’t be around people because I am too vulnerable to infection? I asked all of those questions and more. To every question, they said, “You don’t need to worry about that. Just call us, come in, and we’ll give you something to take care of it.”
When I got home, J asked me, “So, what did they tell you we need to be worried about?” The light turned on in my mind, and I got a huge grin on my face. “Nothing,” I said. “They told me I didn’t need to worry about anything. They told me that a whole bunch of misery-inducing things are going to happen, but I shouldn’t be worried about surviving any of them, or the cancer itself, for that matter.” In spite of the long list of wretched side effects, I left the visit feeling hopeful and reassured.
In other words, “You’re going to get the crap beat out of you! It’ll be great!”
I go back to the oncologist today to sign consent forms and make sure my blood test came back clear. I have to pass an echocardiogram, and then we can begin the beating. Hopefully as soon as next week.
There hasn’t been much happening on the cancer front in the last two weeks. The official two-week healing period after the sentinel node biopsy ended on Monday, and I feel back to normal. I am allowed to lift heavy objects again, which allowed us to assemble my son’s new IKEA bed and mattress. We’ve also continued to explore London, including the gift of a ticket to see my first show–Jesus Christ Superstar in the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park. What a joy!
I’ve been working hard at my new church, spending lots of time meeting with staff and church leaders to help me orient. There is so much I am excited to do here. After three weeks, I am finally starting to get a sense of what projects will need to come first, and how to go about doing them. It’s frustrating to be eager to dive in, but always held back by the knowledge that treatment is coming. I can’t quite plan or commit to anything for the fall yet, because I don’t yet know my treatment schedule or how I will feel as a result.
In some ways, I feel like I am in denial about the reality of chemo and surgery ahead. I just don’t spend much time thinking about it. There’s nothing I can do to speed it up, procrastinate about it, get around it, prepare for it, or avoid it. So, I am doing the things I can–working, building relationships, enjoying London and trying to unpack our boxes. Most hours of most days, I don’t think about the cancer at all. It’s not that I am ignoring it or pretending it isn’t there. I just don’t generally dwell on things I can’t act on. Most hours of most days, cancer isn’t something I can impact and it doesn’t impact me, other than adding the phrase “as long as my treatment doesn’t interfere” anytime I schedule anything for the next six months. Consequently, I don’t think about it.I feel great, I look fine, so I and the people around me can forget about the cancer.
Tomorrow, that changes. Tomorrow, at last, I meet with the oncologist. I am expecting (hoping!) that he or she will present me with a schedule for my chemotherapy for the next 4-6 months, along with a list of the drugs I will be taking, all of their side effects, and everything that is going to be unpleasant about the next year of my life. I expect it to be sobering, daunting and hard.
In many ways, I’m glad and grateful this day is finally here. The sooner I start treatment, the sooner I finish treatment. I am eager to get this over with. I want the cancer out of my system NOW. So far, everything I have done is diagnostic. I am looking forward to procedures that actually move toward healing.
In other ways, I’m terrified. Once this starts, there will be no denying that I am a cancer patient. When chemo leaves me tired and feeling lousy, there will be no escape. When I look in the mirror and see a bald head, I can’t pretend all is fine. When there is a port in my chest 24-7, there’s a constant reminder of the dangerous cells lurking in my body, and the equally dangerous chemicals fighting them.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself again. All I’ll get tomorrow is the schedule (at best–though I’ll volunteer to get my port put in if they’ll do it right away). The hair loss and sickness won’t come until the first treatment. I’m hopeful that, after tomorrow, there will be one more short respite before the storm, a few more free days before cancer is a part of every day.
I’m preaching this weekend about worrying. In Luke 12, Jesus speaks the famous words also found in the Sermon on the Mount about “consider the lilies of the field” and the “birds of the air” (though in Luke he calls out the ravens specifically). Jesus tells us that if God cares for birds and flowers, God will also care for us–which means we shouldn’t spend so much time and energy worrying about things. He says, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? … Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:25, 31)
I’m telling myself that maybe this denial is just faith, just following Jesus’ instructions to let go of worry and look only to God. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. I could discover that it was really just denial after all. Whether it’s tomorrow or somewhere down the road, I expect to have lots of moments where worry and fear catch up and threaten to overtake me. I am trying to tell myself to “strive for God’s kingdom alone,” and let God and the doctors deal with the cancer. We’ll see how far that mantra goes once reality strikes, whether that is tomorrow or still some future day, when treatment interferes with my life, my schedule, my plans, my independence, my stomach, my hair, my energy, my courage.
I’m counting on you all to be there for me when that day comes, to point me back to God and striving for the kingdom again.
Before you read this post, if you commented on the original post about having cancer and moving to London, I finally had the chance to reply. Click here and go to comments to read my responses to your lovely prayers and good wishes.
The other afternoon, the Associate Pastor of my new church came rushing into my office. “I have to show you something!” Stepping to the window, she pointed to a man in the park next door. Wearing a full tuxedo, top hat and tails, he sat atop a speaker, holding a tuba on his lap.
As he began to play along to the oompah music blaring from the speaker between his legs, fire began to shoot out the top of the tuba. With each puff of sound, there also arose a puff of fire, spewing from the top of the horn.
It was street performance at its finest, and a crowd soon formed. My colleague explained that he frequents this corner, and he has become, for her, a treasured part of the London landscape. After sharing her delight, she went back to her office to get back to work.
Not me. I’m like, “OMG, he’s got fire coming out of his tuba! It’s amazing! How does he do that? I’ve gotta stop everything and get outside and take a picture!” Because, really, what in my life and work at that minute could outdo a Flaming Tuba Guy?
I’m sure, as the weeks pass, he will fade into the background. The day will come when I also get annoyed that I can’t concentrate over the sound of the oompah music, or can’t pass the sidewalk because of the crowd. That first day, however, I had to stop everything and get a closer look, to pay attention and marvel at the spectacle of the Flaming Tuba Guy outside my office window.
As I contemplated Flaming Tuba Guy on my way home, I realized how much my breast cancer diagnosis is like Flaming Tuba Guy.
When it first happened six weeks ago, I felt like everything stopped. I couldn’t think about anything else, see anything else, do anything else except imagine myself as a cancer patient. Everything in the world shrunk down to a small hospital room, a blurry gray image on the screen, and pink ribbons everywhere. I stopped in my tracks, and so did all of you—my friends and family and community—to grapple with this unexpected thing confronting me.
As time has passed, along with more tests and doctor visits and procedures, breast cancer is slowly becoming just another part of the wider landscape. Some days, it’s there, and a big part of my life. Last Monday, I had a minor surgery (sentinel node biopsy), just 9 days after entering the country and three days after starting my new job. I spent a 14-hour day at the hospital, and the next day in bed recovering. Even then, I had lots of time to sit and wait, and I did some reading and planning for church.
Some days, it’s like the crowd in the street or the annoying earworm. By Wednesday after my surgery, I could spend most of the day doing what I love: ministry and motherhood. I had to juggle my schedule for a doctor’s appointment, deal with not wearing deodorant due to my incision, and get help lifting heavy objects for two weeks while I heal. Those things are annoyances, but nothing that stops my daily living.
Other days, it’s not a factor in my decision-making at all. By the weekend, I felt pretty good, and we took the chance of my good health and London’s rare good summer weather to explore the city. We spent the afternoon on Hampstead Heath, including climbing all the way to the top of Parliament Hill. On Sunday after church, we explored Oxford Street and Regent Streets, a major shopping area. Regent Street was closed to traffic, and there was music playing and thousands of people packing the streets because Magnum was handing out free ice cream. We explored the amazing Hamley’s Toy Store, which is the best I’ve ever seen. Other than the lack of deodorant, it was a cancer-free day.
While I know that the coming regimen of chemotherapy will make for more rough days ahead, I’m taking comfort in the claim that cancer is going to be like Flaming Tuba Guy. It’s gonna stop me, distract me, captivate me sometimes, because it’s breast cancer, for goodness sake. But not every day. Not all the time. It will be a part of my London landscape, but not all of it.
Thanks, Flaming Tuba Guy. Oompah on, my friend.
I’ve been moving so fast in the whirlwind of a new job, new home, new country that I’m out of breath.
I’ve been so overwhelmed by your words of encouragement, prayer, scripture and support that your love leaves me breathless.
I’ve been surprised by coincidental meetings with strangers and old friends that make me catch my breath.
I’ve felt God’s Spirit so strong and reassuring since I arrived in London that it takes my breath away.
Each of those breathless things has a story (or several) that need telling, but I’m too much in the moment right now. I will write when I am able.
We arrived in London on Saturday afternoon, too late to get to the clinic to register for the National Health Service. Instead I went first thing Monday morning, registered in 30 minutes and got an appointment a couple hours later, followed by a referral on Tuesday. I see the surgeon at the University College of London Hospital first thing tomorrow morning (Thursday). I hope to know more about my treatment plan after that appointment, though it may take a little longer for them to review all the records and films I brought from my doctors in the U.S. Even so, I thought it would take me three weeks to get this far–and it’s only taken four days!
I want so much to respond to each one of you who wrote me–blog comments, Facebook messages, e-mails and all the rest. I will, eventually. Your words are so thoughtful and they have blessed me so much. Special thanks to all who sent scriptures or quotations. I feel the need to surround myself with their wisdom and blessing, so I stopped at the stationer’s today to buy markers and colored paper. I plan to write down each gem, cut it out, and hang it on the wall as a source of inspiration in the coming months.
The folks at the American International Church have provided a warm welcome. We had no idea how complicated life could be moving to another country! Everything from shopping to banking to cell phones to turning on the oven requires explanation and support to accomplish. The staff and leaders at AIC have anticipated our every concern and they have been one step ahead of us, so that whatever we need is at hand when we need it. My predecessor at AIC described it as “taking a sip from a firehose,” and he was right. Yet every new bit I learn gets me more excited about life in London and especially about the ministry ahead at AIC. What an amazing place–and what a witness they have to offer to London at this moment in history.
We have all been going non-stop since we arrived, but without a sense of panic or burden. I’m so eager to get to both tasks and treatments that I look forward to each day’s fullness. I don’t feel anxious about all the newness, the list of things to do, the treatments and the move (our stuff arrives Friday), because it all feels so very good and so very much God’s. I feel overwhelmed, but only by how blessed I feel to be here, how beloved I feel by all of you, and how grateful I feel to God.
Thank you, friends. Thank you, God.
You may have noticed that things have been pretty quiet on my blog in the last several months. I have barely had time to read, much less write, but now I need to use this space to tell my story again–a very new and different story than I had planned.
Here’s the short version: In the time between leaving one pastorate and moving to a new one in London, I have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Treatment will be tough, but it has an excellent chance of success, so we are facing forward in faith.
A quick catch-up for any blog readers who are not also my friends on Facebook or in real life: In January, I was called to serve as the next Senior Pastor of the American International Church in London. The months since have been a blur of selling our home, applying for visas, preparing for an international move, and saying goodbye to the beloved church I served in southern Indiana for the last 10 years. I completed my work there in early June, and I will be starting my new position in London on July 15.
Now the cancer story (so far), for those who already know the London part:
On Saturday night June 4, I jumped in the shower after a long day of Little League baseball, on my way to Relay for Life, and I discovered a lump in my breast. The next day was my last Sunday at St. Luke’s, an emotional day saying goodbye to a congregation of people I have served and loved for more than 10 years. I saw my GP on Tuesday (6/7), who referred me for a mammogram and ultrasound on Thursday (6/9). I completed my last day as pastor of St. Luke’s, carried the last load of my belongings to my car, took a photo of my empty office, posted it on Facebook, shut the door for the last time, then drove to my mammogram and ultrasound appointment. They said immediately that it did not look good, and I knew in my heart that they were right.
The next morning, Friday, the movers came to pack our belongings and send them to London. As the last boxes were being loaded, I got the call that a biopsy was needed. The biopsy happened the next Tuesday (6/14), and I chose a surgical biopsy for a more thorough pathology. I had two days of recovery at home. They called on Thursday (6/16) to let me know it was malignant.
All plans were put on hold while we waited to hear what the treatment plan and prognosis would be, after the full pathology came in. These were scary days, yet one thing was certain in my mind: we were still going to London. Our future lies there, and my call is to the American International Church is the clearest thing I have known in prayer in a long time. I was not certain that God would preserve my life, but I was confident that there was still a call and work to do. I spoke to the chair of the Personnel Committee in London, and he was shocked, but supportive. He agreed that they still wanted me to come, and would do everything they could to be flexible and make that possible.
In the meantime, the surgeon and her staff were doing everything they could to get me all the testing and information they could, knowing I am supposed to be leaving the country. We had anticipated delaying departure to have surgery here, then going to London for further treatment. I spent nearly every day at the hospital for 2-3 hours having different tests. Then, thanks to my son’s success making the All Star Team, we spent every night at a baseball game. It was the perfect distraction, and provided “cover” to explain why we had not yet left town.
When I finally met with the surgeon on Friday, 6/24, the news was good. There is no evidence the cancer has spread beyond the one lump (including no evidence of presence in any lymph nodes). The cancer I have is very aggressive (which is a given, since I am under 50), but it is also very responsive to chemotherapy. Consequently, chemo becomes the first line of treatment (4-6 months), followed by surgery and then possible radiation. One year from now, I have every reason to believe that cancer will be behind me.
With this news in hand, all plans changed again. Rather than delaying our departure, we moved it up by a week, so that I can begin treatment as soon as possible. We scrambled to sell our cars and remaining furniture (which we had left, thinking I would be convalescing in our home after surgery), then took off for Virginia Beach to visit family. We arrived last Wednesday, and have been running from one set of family to another ever since. We fly to London this Friday, July 8, the first day our visas allow, so I can see an oncologist as soon as possible.
The people of the American International Church have been compassionate, kind and supportive in every way. They share my sense that our future is still together, and we have agreed to take this journey together. The Brexit vote and its aftermath have already created much uncertainty there, so we will have many tough things to navigate together in the next year. While this is not at all how we planned to begin our time in ministry, my doctor believes I should be able to serve faithfully during my treatment, although I will need some flexibility and extra time to get well. Thankfully, I have no symptoms at all at this time, and I feel great. I will keep feeling good until the chemo begins to wear me down.
While there is no good time to get cancer, this one does really suck.My husband and I have both left our jobs, our house is on the market to sell, our belongings are on their way to a new country, and we have nothing here but three suitcases and my son’s bag of baseball gear. The only direction is forward. Since the first days of this journey, I have been hearing the words of one of my mentors from Old South, the late Rev. Carl Schultz: “Faith faces forward.” While I have moments of fears and tears, the more I pray, the more I feel like my feet are on the ground and my heart is light, because my sense of call and faith all point me forward–to London, to healing, to ministry, to a new life. There will be much more to let go of (like my hair!), but I feel like God is right here in this with me, no matter what.
I have a lot more to write and say and share about everything that has already happened, and everything that is still happening, but I have not had time or space to do so in the whirlwind. I plan to use Facebook to post updates, and this blog to write more in depth about this experience. I have stories to share already, once we get to London and I can have a little bit of space to write them down.
You all are a kind and lovely group, and may want to know if you can help somehow. You can. First, pray for me. For healing and strength and courage, for my family, for the church, for our transition and all the rest. Then, write to me. Send comments and messages, here or on Facebook, with words of encouragement, humor, scripture, and stories of survivors you know. If your prayers present you an image or phrase or scripture for me, I would welcome hearing about it. I may not be able to respond as quickly as I hope, but I will read and your words will help keep me going strong.
In the meantime, I’m determined to face forward in faith.