For The Someday Book

So, I have cancer, and I’m moving to London

Posted on: July 6, 2016

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.

 

 

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61 Responses to "So, I have cancer, and I’m moving to London"

I love you. Susan is a survivor as is her sister Sally. It is another challenge that tests you and those who love you. I lament that I will not be near you to assist or comfort you. You can deal with these issues. You have the capacity to adapt to the challenges you find. The strength is inside you. Remember that I love you and I will always be here for you.

Jack

Thanks, Jack. I had forgotten about Susan. That’s so encouraging.

Love you, dear friend, you have been on my mind so strongly the past few weeks and I wish I had followed my gut and invited you over for one last chat before you headed out. So glad to read your call is clear, London is supportive, and the prognosis is good. I know this will just be a “lump in the road” along your life’s journey. Your new congregation is in for a wonderful experience with you at the helm. I look forward to keeping up with you in your next adventures.

Speechless here… deeply moved. Cancer sucks so bad. I hate it, and I hate that you have to go through this. Yet so consoled that you have such a love system all around you. Count me as part of it. I will be storming heaven for as long as need be. God bless you, your family, your doctors, your new congregation, your unexpected journey.

Thanks, Mary. The thought of you, with your power and passion and wisdom, storming heaven on my behalf has made me feel like I have grand armies of saints by my side. Thank you.

I am shedding tears for you right now, old friend, ones that I know you probably can’t while trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The safest place for you and your family is in the middle of God’s will, and it sounds like that is exactly where you are headed. All of my love and prayers will be with you, Jen.

Thank you, Leigh. I never thought about “the safest place being in God’s will.” I’m holding on to that one, for keeps.

Oh, Jennifer, my heart goes out to you, and my prayers are lifted up for you. My dear friend Julie Wakelee-Lynch is a survivor. She is also an Episcopal priest, and she was diagnosed and went through treatment shortly after starting at a new church. She might have some helpful wisdom to share with you. She’s on Facebook. If you’re interested, you could message her and tell her I gave you her name. Please let me know if that doesn’t work, and I’ll encourage her to be in touch with you (if you’re interested). Meantime, peace, strength, healing and courage to you, your family and your new congregation. Vicki

Thank you so much, Vicki. Those are just the stories I need to hear.

I admire your courage. I’m sure God will be with you.
Nancy

You got this. And your communities and your God have got you.

Sending prayers for healing and comfort your way. I’m completely shocked at this and am having a “why do bad things happen to good people?” moment. Your faith is strong though, and I can hear it loud and clear in your writing. My mom had breast cancer about 20 years ago, probably around your age. I don’t remember a lot from that time, but mom is still around and healthy today. I can only imagine treatment has vastly improved since then. I’m so thankful your new church family is already being so supportive. I look forward to reading more about your journey. Know that I’m thinking of you!

Thanks, Liz. Stories of moms who did this with small kids–and the kids who turned out just fine–are a real source of hope and encouragement.

Susan, my dear one, you will do it! With God’s help, family, friends, and a new community, you will do it! God bless those Brits! I always knew I was proud of my heritage; my grandfather was from England!! You go girl!! And, may God walk with you, be with you, hold you up, until you can run again! And, you will!! I love you! Shirlee

Thanks, Shirlee. Much love to you and Ellen.

Oh, Jennifer! You will be held closely in my heart and I know Mira Vista folks will send mighty prayers for you. My BC was diagnosed in 1992 – I had found the lump in much the way you did. My older daughter, Karen, is now being treated for her second breast cancer. We will all survive to celebrate many more years. I know you have a great adventure before you in London and want the cancer to be a momentary distraction! My love to you and the family. Kathe

Thank you, Kathe! I had forgotten you were a survivor. That gives me great hope and encouragement!

And send my love to the folks at Mira Vista!

Jennifer- reading your news of breast cancer took my breath away. I cannot even begin to imagine the rollercoaster of feelings you have been going though. I have always known you to be a strong and introspective person who is always seeking greater truth and light. My prayer is that these skills will sustain you throughout this journey, and that you will feel the presence of God enfolding you in love and peace. My prayer are also for your sweet B. And your husband as they love and support you.
I will be holding you in my heart and in my prayers. Much love, Nina

Thanks, Nina. You are a gift in my life, as are your prayers.

Praying for your move to AIC and for successful cancer treatment in the UK. In His Grip, Jeff and Alba Powell (former pastor and spouse of the American Church in London 1997-2001)

Thank you, Jeff and Alba!

Love and best wishes to you and your family from your old congregation at Old South. Subjects of Boston prayer will include your health, your family, your new congregation, and the transition you’ll all be making together. We hope you’ll be looking back on this time in grateful awe in about a year. Mike and Karen Hand

Thanks, Mike and Karen! Here’s to 2018!

I’m so sorry, dear sister in Christ, to read of what you are experiencing; I am a Methodist local preacher who lives in London and if you need someone to help out, I would gladly do what I can.

If you have to have cancer, you are at least in one of the best places in the world to be treated!

Thank you! I hope our paths might cross in London someday!

I’m your friend Michael Rehbaum’s wife, and as I’m sure he has told you, I was diagnosed with breast cancer one year into my first call (age 28). The circumstances were different, but similarly sucky, even as they brought their own surprising joys. I planned a wedding between surgeries (I had 5 in all, plus 5 biopsies, over the course of two separate diagnoses, 6 months apart), and went house shopping with my fiance after doctor appointments. I sandwiched a wedding between two mastectomies. All this while trying to figure out how to be a pastor of two churches, and grieving that we would have to hold off starting our family and once we did, I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed as I’d always dreamed. So. Many. Emotions. I know Michael has shared my blog with you, “Life Meets Ministry,” in which I reflect a bit about the experience generally, and also specifically as a pastor. For now, I’ll leave you with this: though I feared going through this with a congregation I hardly knew, I think it was such a help in bringing them all together around something they all cared about, and threw us in the ring together in a way that ended up being really helpful, that helped us learn to love and trust and certainly care for each other. I pray that this will be a boon for your ministry with your new congregation, making you all the more equipped to love serve them, and them all the more equipped to love and serve you. Peace be with you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. It is a huge encouragement to hear your story, especially from the perspective.of ministry. I am glad that I have finished the pregnancy and breastfeeding stage of life, and inspired by your news of #2 on the way. With God, all things are possible.

My dear friend and colleague Jennifer, I love you tons, and I am so saddened to hear this report. Yet, I am confident of this, that the One who began a great work in you will carry it on to completion.

I am so grateful that you made the decision, the tough and courageous decision, to allow your faith to face forward! It was the right decision to make, moving to London. God has much for you to accomplish there and you will accomplish it through the Almighty’s strength! I am convinced, that the Word of our Lord for you in this moment is:

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10 NIV

Please know I will be praying for you, until this grand day is realized.

Lots of love,

honored to be your brother in Christ

Hurmon Hamilton

Thank you so much, Hurmon. Your words are a huge blessing to me. Longer reply sent via email. Much love to you, my dear friend.

Hi! My name is Kelley Minschke & I know your mom, we worked together at Malibu Elem. Right now I am unable to teach due to cancer. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. I was given 1-2 years without a bone marrow transplant so of course we opted for the transplant which could provide a CURE. But after the transplant I got extremely ill with pneumonia and became septic. My husband was told to get my affairs in order twice. I was in ICU for 65 days, lost almost 80 lbs & 50% of my muscle mass, and was in rehab in the hospital for 6 months in Richmond. But There is a bright side to this story….I’ve been to hell and back but I’m doing well & progressing daily. Throughout all of this I never lost faith & I was never angry. Instead of asking why me, I said why not me? I had so many people praying for me I believe that’s one reason why I’m still on earth. I know your mom prayed faithfully for me. While I still have residual effects from being in ICU for so long I am very very grateful to be alive. So now I look at life through new lenses. The simple things I appreciate more like listening to the birds chirp in the a.m. Or watching my grandsons play. Life is short and we never know when it’s our time so embrace everyday! Hang in there as the chemo can be rough but you will get through it. Stay strong and I will be praying for you from Va Beach. God bless you & your family & good luck in London.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Many prayers for your continued healing.

Jennifer, I’m so sorry to hear this but I know you have the faith that will get you through this. It sounds very similar to my diagnosis. Stay strong and keep a positive attitude. I only stayed off work the Monday after my treatments to get an extra day of rest (treatments were on Friday) and managed a classroom the rest of the time. Drink lots of water :), Root beer hard candy seems to take the metallic taste out of your mouth if you have that, I didn’t. I’m here if you ever need a little extra support.

Bev, you have been so much on my mind through this whole thing. Your story of survival and all your energy now give me hope that I can join you in the survivors walk one day. Since that first night at Relay, I saw you and Laura and thought, “no matter what, I will be a survivor too.” Thanks for the tips, and your example. You don’t know how I have clung to it in these weeks.

You and Josh and Benjamin are in my prayers.

I lead the tenor section (often just me!) in the American International Church choir. The choir doesn’t start back until September, but I and we will look forward to welcoming you here with our music, but also our friendship, love and support. I’m sure the choir can take special requests if there’s anything in particular that might help elicit a smile!

Sending best wishes to you for your family’s move and the beginnings of your recovery.

Thanks, Nick! I look forward to meeting you. You should beware taking requests–I may just make a whole list!

I am thankful this was found early, and am praying for you, Josh, and Benjamin as you get settled and start treatment. May the peace of Christ strengthen your hope as you face forward every step of the way.

Jim Shelton

A friend posted a link to your blog, and I was deeply moved by your story. I’m a cancer survivor myself (metastatic rectal), so my heart is with you as you go through treatment. Wiser and more spiritual folk, and those who actually know you, will likely have far deeper advice than mine, but I hope you’ll allow me a few quick thoughts, one survivor to another.

When I started chemo, a friend who’s a long-term BC survivor suggested checking with my oncologist about including Zofran or another anti-nausea agent in the drip. They did, and I never got sick once.

Well-meaning folk will urge you to “stay positive,” and a good attitude does have its uses, especially in dealing with medical teams. But as another poster pointed out, there will be days that simply suck, and it’s not a failure to be dispirited. As theologian Verna Dozier points out, “A faithful response can be to name the darkness when darkness has been the experience.”

Indeed, living openly and honestly through your treatment–valleys along with peaks–may be one of the best gifts you can give your new congregation, rooting your pastorate in incredible authenticity and inviting them to be equal real in their own struggles–and to minister to one another along the way.

May God bless you and keep you.

Peter

Peter, thank you for these wise and truthful words. I will return to them again, I know.

Me again. 🙂

I wrote this for a friend some years back and hope you don’t mind a bit of liturgical recycling.

Gentle Mother,
You cradle this fragile sphere
in gravity’s invisible arms.
You blanket us under a quilt of clouds.
You speckle the sky with stars,
beacons of your spendthrift creativity.

Hold Jennifer in your ageless arms.
Blanket cold fear with warm love.
And set stars in her sky for years to come.

Loving Brother,
You knew our flesh, our aches, our hopes, our end.
No part of our life lay beneath your dignity—
or beyond your love.
You walked among a conquered, broken people—
healing ills, mending dreams, opening eyes.

Walk with Jennifer through these hard days.
Let her know that you know
the texture of this grim chapter.
Heal her ills, give new wings to her dreams,
And open her eyes to love that will never end.

Persistent Spirit,
You coax the fragile crocus through the crusted earth.
You glow through grudging coals
that blunt the bite of wintry nights.
You wear down walls with gentle drops of rain.

Goad Jennifer’s cells to fight for life.
Steel her spirit to clutch when the rope frays.
Greet her gentleness with your own sweet touch.

Hear our prayer,
O gracious and baffling God.
Amen.

Wow. I am so moved and blessed by this. Thank you.

Hi there. I am a friend of a friend and saw your post. I just went through this in March. There is a great online support group you may want to check out. The app on your phone is: MyBCTeam. I have found a lot of resources there and comfort in knowing I was not alone. The site has been a godsend for me. Best wishes to you.

Thanks for the resource! I’ll check it out.

Dear Jennifer- my heart is heavy at reading this because I miss you and because you are right- this sucks. But I am so encouraged by the prognosis and know that you are going to be fine. Love and prayers to you and Josh and Benjamin. And a hug. Always a hug.

Thanks much, Marty.

Found my way here via a RevGals link. I was diagnosed with breast cancer as I was being approved for ordination and my first call — ordained at the end of October and mastectomy in mid-November (2011). Blessings to you and many prayers as you move into your new life in London! I will bekeeping you in mind and prayer.

Thanks, Robin! Survivors like you have been my greatest source of hope and encouragement.

Jennifer — I only received this from a friend of a friend and have not known you since last your wrote for one of my anthologies. Having read your current story I will surely be holding you in prayer every day of this next year. Safe journey in all ways.Maren Tirabassi

I am also a breast cancer survivor, as well as a woman in ministry. There is, as you have said, no good time to get cancer…but you are so clearly facing forward that I can only applaud your vision and courage to be undertaking so much at once! Know that prayer will undergird you as you go.

Thank you! Survivors like you give me much encouragement.

Jennifer, you are in our prayers. May your healing be thorough and as gentle as possible. And may all of you find some time to rest and renew. In Christ, Pamela

[…] original post about having cancer and moving to London, I finally had the chance to reply. Click here to read my response to your lovely […]

[…] I wrote my first blog post about being diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time my family was moving to London so that I […]

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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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