For The Someday Book

Archive for July 2016

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.

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This is a fuzzy picture of Flaming Tuba Guy, without the fire. I promise I’ll replace it with a good picture, including flames, next time he’s in the square.

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.

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I’m breathless.

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.

I’m breathless.

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!

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Two brand new packs of paper (9 colors!) and a new mega pack of Sharpies, ready to make my own inspiration wall.

 

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.

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The beautiful hospitality of AIC awaiting us in our new home–guidebooks, tube cards, keys, a hand-drawn map of the neighborhood, starter pounds and card full of well wishes.

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.

I’m breathless.

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.

 

 


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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