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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Article Two : The Green Chair

Article # 2 In The Green Chair

Green patient's chairs wait in a corner of each small examination room at the Cancer Clinic in St. John's. For my first time  in that dubious seat of honour, an oncology team comprised of doctors, nurses, specialists and students were all gathered around me in this one place.  One physician spoke about the treatments I was about to undergo while  the others looked quietly at me, assessing my reaction. 
  "We are going to make you very, very sick.”.
 The Chemotherapy would be among the highest doses ever given in our province.  I would start off in the Gander  clinic for two doses  then be admitted and isolated for a 120 hour regimen of more Chemotherapy.  I would be helped as "best they could", to keep me going. Once  recovered enough, I would  travel to St. John's  for radiation interspersed with more chemotherapy . This cycle would be repeated  several times in the hope of destroying the tumour.  Each round of chemotherapy wiped out my white blood cells ,my weakness and vulnerability compounded by serious radiation burns from the inside out of my neck. I could not eat or swallow for weeks at a time, and had to fight against malnutrition infections and dehydration. I became helpless. The staff at the Cancer Clinics in Gander and St. John’s was attentive, encouraging and sympathetic to me and my wife Karen, who never left my side. They went above the call of duty, and kept me going.

Beyond family, only the Vestry and Wardens of our parish knew about my illness. After my diagnosis and treatments were outlined I spoke to the congregation during a very emotional Eucharist  to disclose every detail.

 We have a strong, trusting and loving fellowship among the leadership and membership of the Cathedral . I felt  it important for my Church family to be part of the whole journey. I believed that Jesus would use all of this to strengthen and bless the Church.

 I told everyone that I was about to take a long walk through the Valley of The Shadow and  would make sure that they knew everything that was happening. I started an online blog  to honestly share my physical, mental and spiritual challenges.  I wanted to make sure that people got the right story, and I honestly believed, that even in darkness and despair, God's love would be found by sightings and glimpses of Grace  in the Valley of the Shadow.  I had no idea at the time as to just how dark, lonely and painful this journey was to be.
Good wishes and love poured in for the next eight months from our Parish and beyond providing both a sustaining energy, and much material to ponder theologically.

It is not easy to portray the entirety of my theological reflection in a short article, but let me leave you with these two contrasting memories for your own reflection: Many people would say something like this to me:  "Revd. John, you will be all right. God won't let anything happen to you. He still needs you do so much more work ." Good words. Well intentioned and somewhat comforting.Somewhat.

When I began my ordained ministry years ago, one of the first sick persons I ministered to was an  lady in the final stages of Cancer. I'll never forget the incredible sadness in her eyes or her plea: " I don't understand why God is letting this happen to me. I have served Him well, and still have so much to offer."

I have journeyed as best I could, part way through the Valley with some people.
But no other person can ever get you through to the other side.
Whatever brokenness or illness that causes your pain, is yours. You are the only person who can work it out with God. Others who love you will try to share it, carry it for you, and weep with you. Thank God for those people. They are Sacramental. They are glimpses of blue sky on a rainy day, their love is a healing power and because of them, the journey can become bearable...even beautiful, as God makes His point for your life known.

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