Five months have passed since I was first admitted to hospital and I’m now in my 5th cycle of chemo. Life is so different to what it once was. It’s not entirely predictable, but it’s begun to take on some rhythm and routine. My life currently revolves around three weekly cycles. I gear myself up for the next chemo and then prepare to go downhill over the following week or so. Days 5, 6, 7 are usually pretty tough. Aching joints, pains, nausea, constipation, fatigue, skin rashes, headaches have become the new normal! But then the side effects fade away and I rebuild. Sometimes in the third week I can even forget that I’m unwell.
The good news is that my new ‘maintenance’ chemo regime seems to be more tolerable. I haven’t had the same severity of symptoms. The roller coaster hasn’t dipped so low. I’ve even continued my daily coffees! My appetite hasn’t dropped – this has has created a new problem with me putting on too much weight. But there are still bad days, even really bad days, and I need to be prepared for these.
I’m learning to plan ahead and work with these rhythms. Some days are good for catching up with people, some not so. We’ve been able to arrange some days away as a family. I’ve been able to plan to preach on certain weekends. We’re looking forward to a few friends coming to visit on some (anticipated) good days ahead! Unfortunately, the Brumbies schedule hasn’t followed my routine. I haven’t been able to build consistency in my involvement with the team. I get to be at some games live at the stadium, and other times I’m stuck at home, grateful for Foxtel!
Though I still get frustrated and impatient with my limitations, I am learning to go with the flow a bit more. There are times to rest and times for activity. When the energy levels allow, then I’m keen to get out and about, to catch up with people, to talk. When I ache, or feel weak and unwell, then my goals are more limited. Perhaps, this is the time to reply to a few emails, make a phone call, read a chapter of a book, or write another post. My family know there are times when I can do things and times when I can’t. They’ve been very patient with me and shown great care and concern.
There are some areas where I haven’t adapted well to my new rhythms. It’s important to build gentle regular exercise into the routine, but it’s not really happening. I’m keen to be reading the Bible and praying regularly with Fiona, but we’re haphazard at best. We want to be spending more time talking things through with our children, reading and praying together, but we get distracted by all that’s going on.
I’ve been a ‘twice every Sunday’ church attender most of my life, but now I can’t even make it every week. And I’m often too exhausted to back up on a Sunday evening after going along in the morning. Preaching twice on a Sunday recently was a big challenge! But, I’ve discovered that I approach church a little differently now. Previously, I’ve been focused on my sermon, or the details of leading the church. Now that I preach only rarely, I find myself more relaxed at church. And because I’m not spending as much time mixing with people during the week, I look forward to Sunday interactions even more. I’m more conscious of wanting to make my time count with people and to talk about the stuff that really matters!
The shape of my ministry has certainly changed. I’ve spent years and years focused on the spoken word and now find myself spending more and more time on the written word. My desire remains for people to discover the joy of knowing God and to discover the difference that Jesus makes to life. It’s wonderful to hear when something I’ve written has been an encouragement to someone. I thank God that blogging has pushed some people to ask questions, to explore issues, and to begin conversations about the big issues of life (and death).
As I write this, I’m spending a couple of days away with our church staff team. It’s great to be a part of the conversations, the planning, the prayer, the brain storming. But it’s also a reminder of how much has changed. I’m not working hard these three days, pushing the agenda, pulling everything together, focusing on action plans and outcomes. I’m no longer the senior pastor! I’ve gone from a leading ministerial portfolio to being a backbencher! Last year I was captain coach and now I’m an interchange player! I don’t resent this. In fact, it’s a relief (especially given my health and resources) not currently having the buck stop with me. It’s important to have the freedom to be involved as I’m able, and to not be involved when I’m unable. And I thank God that our church is in good hands with our new senior pastor!
There are challenges ahead as I explore what I can and can’t do. Who am I now? For so long I’ve been the leader, my job description has been defined, my responsibilities have been clear, and I’ve known what I have to do. Now I find myself asking new questions. How do I fit in? How can I complement the others on the staff team? What can I do given my limitations? What will make the biggest impact? How can I keep serving, learning, growing? Are there things that God has in store for me, which would never have been possible except for this cancer? They’re difficult questions to answer, because I don’t know what the future holds? But then, who does? We make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.