In October I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A routine blood test following a throat infection picked up a raised PSA. MRI, biopsies and a bone scan followed. Thankfully, it appears that it has been caught in time, the tumour was ‘localised’. I am writing following my robotic assisted surgery and I will know in due course whether I will require radiotherapy.
I have been blessed, enjoying a very fit and active life, continuing to play sport and on no medication whatsoever, so it came as a great surprise, with no symptoms that I had cancer.
Life can change very quickly and the experience over the last couple of months of coming to terms with such a serious illness is a sobering one. It has certainly caused me to listen well, think deeply, and I trust, live authentically.
For many years now, I have drawn inspiration in my faith from the contemplative stream of spirituality and during this period of re-orientation and reflection, drawing on my trust and faith in God “whatever befalls me”, has been a source of both comfort and strength.
In this period, listening well to the ‘external’ voices has been important to me. Those of the medical profession and also those of my family and friends have been invaluable. Along with listening to the ‘inner’ self, to the questions, fears and anxieties as well as to the sense of well-being and calm. Psalm 131 has spoken deeply to me during this period and I have been able to quieten my spirit and calm my soul. The scaffolding of my faith has been a great support and a present help in time of trouble.
When faced with the uncertainty as to what the future holds, it has caused me to think deeply about life and faith, about the people and things that really matter. In the words of one of our Northumbria Community liturgies, I have not lived an unlived life. I look back with much thankfulness through all the stages of my life; for my parents and siblings, for my wonderful wife, children and grandchildren, for two great soul friends, my spiritual director, companions and many friends. I’ve been blessed with good health and had remarkable opportunities to live that life which Jesus spoke about as life in all its fullness. I’ve remained fit and healthy and trust that post my surgery and recovery I will get back to being well, being on the tennis courts and on the curling rink, walking and exploring this beautiful area of Northumberland where we are privileged to live and so much more.
I trust I’ve been a blessing and an encouragement to whoever and wherever I’ve been. To all those whom I may have let down, I trust they will find it in their hearts to forgive just as I forgive all those who have hurt and wounded me, not least those who have misunderstood and misrepresented me. We all carry wounds. As I carry the physical scars of my surgery, currently very painful, we also carry the wounds that others have inflicted upon us. It’s part and parcel of life and as long as we don’t allow wounding to turn to bitterness and we learn to forgive, we can press on and not be impeded by such scars.
When we are reminded, as we all need to be, of our mortality it should give us a deeper appreciation of the life that we do have. I was leading a retreat recently at Launde Abbey on the theme of ‘Blessed to be a Blessing’ and there was a session where we were counting our blessings. There wasn’t enough space in my notebook to recall all the many ways in which I have been blessed and for which I am profoundly thankful to God and to those with whom I have journeyed throughout my life.
And to live authentically. Being real and honest with myself and others, aspiring to live what I believe, to live by the values that make me who I am, is key to being authentic and living life well. It’s a vulnerable and at times painful path to walk, to embrace the journey of self-awareness, to know both our strengths and weaknesses, our passions and pitfalls but it’s also liberating. Being free from having to seek our identity and sense of purpose in what others think about us or in the work we do and what we achieve. Being authentic is being real about the questions and doubts that we possess. It’s about owning the anxieties and fears that we have when faced with illness and uncertainty. It’s about being real with ourselves and others as we seek to live what we believe.
A verse in the Bible that I was given after I came to faith and was baptised was from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, chapter 3 verse 16, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths”. I’ve sought to live by that, not always trusting with all my heart, quite often leaning on my own understanding. Through the grace and goodness of God, I have sought to live that invitation and command out and have proved it to be true. I have plodded hopefully in the right direction and it has been good. I pray to God that I will continue in the coming days to encourage others even more diligently, to listen well, think deeply and live authentically.