Back in 2001 I had a burst appendix which required a week in hospital and some recuperation time. The experience was a far better learning for pastoral care than anything I was ever given in my theological college. I learned, for example that a 40 minute hospital chapel service was way too long, and that 20 or even 10 would have suited me far better. The best pastoral visit I received, also for example, was from my colleague David Crooke. David arrived at my bedside in his clerical blacks. He didn't ask me to talk - at that stage I was more or less incapable of it anyway - and he didn't give me any pre-packaged words of advice. He expressed his sympathy, held my hand, said a prayer and left, all within 5 minutes. Perfect. He didn't need to fix me. He didn't need to appear useful. He didn't have any of his own issues about illness or death to work through by ministering to me. He respected where I was and he was present, which was enough. And his lack of drama about the whole deal was deeply reassuring - his manner told me that this illness was a normal part of life, and was not the final say about who I was and what I was going to do with myself.
It's deja-vu now. Sometime in the next few weeks I will be admitted to hospital and they will perform a piece of surgery of about equal seriousness to that for fixing a burst appendix. As with my former procedure, there is some risk, and the possibility of serious, even fatal consequences, but I'm an optimist: I fully expect to fully recover. I know there will be a period of recuperation, following which I will function pretty much as normal. There is a high probability of some long lasting side effects but there's only two of us who need to be concerned - or even, for that matter to know - about them.
For now, it's waiting, hoping I can get it all over and done with as soon as possible. I am being supported right now by my family, my friends and my parish, and again the view from the other side is a huge learning curve for me, whose calling is the care of others. The phone calls, visits, txt messages, cards and emails have been streaming in, and all are welcome and treasured. People have expressed their shock, and sympathy and best wishes for recovery, but the most helpful have been the people who don't make too big a drama of it all.
Many people get cancer and I am just one of them. Many people recover and I intend to be one of them.