So, I have cancer, and I’m moving to London
Posted July 6, 2016on:
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.