Saturday, May 3, 2008

Thoughts about intentionally poisoning your body

First day post first chemo. I feel pretty good despite the fact that I have put some pretty strong poisons in my body. I wonder if a couple of hundred years from now people will look back on cancer treatment and say "What were they thinking?" the way we do now when we hear about leaching and bleeding patients to get rid of the bad humours.

We went to quarterly session meetings this year. What a blessing. We have had a number of action items that needed to be decided between session meetings and we met for about half an hour after worship. Now, there is no pressing business to discuss at out next meeting which is Tuesday evening. I am looking forward to an unrushed discussion of where the church is. There haven't been any new members in about 10 years. Older members are not dying off; they are a hardy bunch despite having lived through more tragedy than I can imagine. So many have lost adult children or have battled devestating diseases or in a couple of cases, both. We have a few recovering alcoholics. Last year (my first full year at the church) we planned and developed a vision statement. Amazingly without my presence they have followed through on the piece that most excited them. But, the first step is done and we need to talk about the next step. In addition, I am designated and my contract is done in September of next year. When I first came, I assumed that if all worked out, they would call me and I would stay 5-7 years. Right now, I want to retire, but the earliest I can is in 22months--six months beyond the end of my contract. Of course, I (or probably God) may change my mind.

A few people in the congregation are enthusiastic about outreach. Most are content to come to church, to minister to the older members or be ministered to. The latter spells death. They refuse to consider that death may be iminent or is an option (something I can certainly sympathize with, having been through a long denial of death and then a denial of my diagnosis). There are plans for a new housing/commercial development two blocks away which might bring new life (the land has not yet been cleared; completion is about two years away). Unfortunately, directly across the street is an 1100 member Methodist church. And our folks don't like to do calls. Another new apartment building is going up about four blocks away.

No one seems interested in any sort of small group. There is a Sunday School class attended by the over 75 bunch, primarily. In the summer a smaller group gets together for a walk around the neighborhood and then breakfast and discussion of a book (last year's was a book by Joyce Meyer--not my choice).

In February, I became really sick. I was in bed most days 14-16 hours, mainly sleeping. I went from doctor to doctor looking for a diagnosis. I must have seen my primary care physician every other week. It was my thyroid everyone seemed to think. I was still concerned because I was afraid it was something more serious than low thyroid. I thought I might have chronic fatigue or some other autoimmune disease that many people dismiss as in your head. (I suppose the good news about cancer is that it isn't something people expect you to just get up from and go to work everyday--except maybe my clerk of session, but that's another story and that's an overblown statement) When finally, finally someone took my huge 7 month pregnant belly seriously and did a cat scan and got started on the right road, I was relieved. But, I was in denial that it was cancer even though my surgeon had told me. The pathology report was missing a page and I was told just to wait until I saw my surgeon for follow up. Then when I finally got a hold of the path report myself and saw what it was; I was either in shock or denial.

Stage 1, grade2 ovarian cancer is a very good diagnosis, especially for ovarian cancer where most is caught at stage 3 or higher (which is why the mortality rate for it is so high). I elected to take chemo even though the life expectancy for this stage is the same with or without chemo. The difference is that with chemo, the chance of recurrence is less. Now, this is my personality: I am going to make a quick decision and go with the most aggressive treatment.

But what if it had been stage 4 and I were 90 years old? Would I have chosen a year of life or the possibility of a bit longer life and the agony of extended chemo (I'm only doing 4 to 6 courses). Many older people would choose no chemo.

I think this congregation is more like the latter situation. They are old and have lived long lives and have come though much pain. They don't have the energy to fight death. Death is imminent. But they don't have a diagnosis that they believe. They believe that they will continue as a congegation. And they have heard imminent death before: for at least the last ten years, if not longer.

Circumstances have not been good to them. After a long term minister left, they called a pastor with severe mental health issues (as I understand it). The presbytery where he was, was glad to get rid of him. The congregation wound up giving him a substantial package to leave after about 6 months. Then they called an interim, who teaches Presbyterian polity. The congregation really liked her and she told them that they could call her as an installed pastor. (This is a blatant violation of our polity; there is simply no way to get around the prohibition on calling an interim as installed pastor.) This caused folks to be angry at the presbytery (rather than the lying pastor, pardon my anger at her--she knew better and damaged the church if not consciously and intentionally, then with blatant disregard for the consequences) and many left the church. They then called a woman who stayed for seven years. Unfortunately she was battling many personal problems at the end, including a divorce and depression. At the time the health benefit plan did not cover depression treatment very well and she could not afford to get the help she needed. Her leaving caused disruption. Because they had had such a bad experience with having an interim, they wanted a designated pastor that they could call as installed if it worked out.

I am feeling guilty about wanting to leave at the end of my contract. I think they need a stable pastor for at least 5 years. But, I am losing energy for being a pastor. Of course, this could be merely where I am health wise. I just don't see the energy there for them to die. Is it better to let them die a slow death, gradually and naturally or should I lead them to see that death is inevitable and help them choose a way to die: merge with another church, build a senior living facility on the property (with space for our preschool, after school programs for the community, a way for the residents to interact with the children who come there), or just close the doors. I really like the senior living facility, but it will take lots of leadership and time.

Pray with me.

6 comments:

cheesehead said...

Oh my, Joan.

I think it is very astute that you can see the parallels between your situation and that of your congregation.

I am praying for wisdom for you, but above all for your health and well-being.

Queen Mum said...

I agree that your ability to articulate the parallels is very wise. It would preach, too, at the right time.

Take deep breaths, and let yourself delay long-term decisions....

Joan Calvin said...

Thanks

Mary Beth said...

Praying with you and for you, Joan. Many blessings and Pentecostal healing fires!!!

Joan Calvin said...

Thanks

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