For The Someday Book

Get Beat Up! It’ll Be Great!

Posted on: August 11, 2016

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!”

20160810_174043

My “it’ll be great!” face, after my first Evensong at Westminster Abbey. Yes, the smile is a bit strained.

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.

20160811_091115 (2)

Chemo comes with lots of paperwork. The list of side effects takes more than a few pages.

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.

 

 

 

 

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7 Responses to "Get Beat Up! It’ll Be Great!"

Thanks for the update. I love you. Susan was estrogen receptor positive. I think being a woman is far more complex than a lunky old fat guy. Too many complex health issues. I like and respect women and when I find one who performs as well as you I am grateful. Please take the best care of yourself. I miss you. love,

Jack jrvissinglaw@aol.com

Love you, sis! Fight like a girl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ❤

Sending prayers, hugs & love to you, Jen!

Praying you through this.

Jennifer, Nancy and I send our prayers as you begin this journey that will change you in ways we cannot know – but your spirit and the Spirit will guard and guide and bring you to that place where you can say “It was a hell of trip but look where I am now!”

Beautiful post. What an “Eye/I Spy God” moment of the visiting pastor and all he had to say. Will be praying for the influx of God in the midst of the here that is both broken and broken open. Big hug!

Hi there!
I am a friend and congregant of pastor Leah RM. She has spoken with me several times about your journey.

I was diagnosed with cancer in March, also stage 2, grade 3, also type HER2. I did have invasive cancer in my lymph nodes. I was scheduled for 6 chemos as well. I made it through 4 and then my body announced through blood work that it needed a moratorium from dumping poisons in, so we declared a rest period. I am many years ahead of you in age, so that may be one of the reasons I didn’t make it through 6 chemos.

I moved on to the surgery a month later and was pleased I only needed a lumpectomy rather than the originally diagnosed mastectomy. I am in two research trials that aim to find out whether lymph node removal add anything to survival rates that radiation doesn’t provide for.

I am currently awaiting a plan for radiation treatment. This will take two weeks so will probably begin in September.

I found it incredibly helpful to talk with several others in my same circumstance. If you would wish further contact with me about anything, you can get my email from Leah. I wish you the best as you begin this journey and hope that your congregation is as helpful and supportive as mine has been through out!!!! 🙂
Ruth

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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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