4th Chemo

How’s Sheilagh?

I am tired.

The chemo is cumulative and it is harder to bounce back, but that is okay because I don’t need to bounce back right now. One thing we say a lot around the house these days is “Its just going to be like this for a while.” (it’s what my brother and I used to say when we climbed hills on our road bikes). So I’ll be tired for a while. I can do that.

I am also bald.

It didn’t take long to get used to having no hair and I kind of like it. I’ve got a nice scalp and a finely shaped head. I have been cutting my own hair for years and Sarah often helps with the finishing touches so she helped me shave it off. It was an emotional time but also very funny. Do you remember the vultures from the 70’s Disney film The Jungle Book? One of the vultures likes to bop up and down and ask the other vultures, “What do you want to do? I don’t know what do you want to do?” My kids think I am much like this vulture, always wanting to get up and do something. Years ago Madeleine changed my profile picture in her phone to this vulture. We were crying with laughter when she pulled it up – a fine likeness now in personality as well as in looks.

You can hear it now, can’t you? “What do you want to do? I don’t know what do you want to do?”

I’d like to make a prayer request.

You know how sometimes when you pray it’s actually just worrying and you end up in little ruts. I can end up doing gymnastics wondering if I’ve prayed well enough, thoroughly enough and I get all caught up in things that don’t matter. So, instead of that, what I am hoping for is that when you pray for me (I know you are praying. It’s awesome. I’m super grateful.) I’d like you to do a simple thing and that is to be hopeful. Either say the word or write it down or ring a bell or light a candle or simply turn your heart in that direction. I’d love it if this trouble resulted in more hope for the world. I know for me it is changing me in profound ways and so far as it is up to me my intention is that it will be a blessing of hope for the world.

Thank you for your prayers and love.

It is carrying me every day.

It’s just going to be like this for a while.

So keep praying and spreading hope.

Here are a couple of pictures from our trip to Awenda

It says “Go Live” I’ve got lots of living to do!

2nd Chemo

How’s Sheilagh?

Sheilagh is sleepy.

The events around the second round were less dramatic than the first go, thankfully! I’ll give you a more fulsome post soon, but for now, know that I am as well as can be given the circumstances and I thank you for your love, prayers and support.  The feasting week begins tomorrow.

First Day of Chemo – A Wild Ride

The first picture on the website of me, with the juice box in my hands and the piece of grass between my teeth, is from my first day of chemo. The first day of chemo was a wild day. I want to tell you the story but first let me ask you a question. Have you ever had days where you felt like you were blind folded and Jesus (or some other holy benevolent being who loves you and wants good things for you but is also a little crazy and not afraid of anything) had you by the hand and started running through a maze, while you did your best just to keep up and not let go, listen with all your being? I know that is a bit specific but that was how my first day of chemo felt. Anyone else ever feel that way?

It was a gorgeous day. I was up early to pray and meditate. (You know how you have a certain way of dribbling the ball before you shoot from the top of the key or before you serve in volleyball? Or tap the goal posts of the net? Or the way you wrap the rope for wakeboarding or waterskiing? Prayer and meditation does that for me. It grounds and focuses me. It makes me ready for whatever is coming and I’ve got to do it every day.)

Firstly, my brother Brian came over early to put new spring tires on the car, wash, and detail it. It feels so good to have things in order and a tool well tuned at the ready.

Soon after, my longtime friend, Kimberly, came over with treats and medicine. The day had hardly begun and I was surrounded by love in action.

Then, Bernie and James came to take me to Southlake. We had a great time. We listened to one of my favourite books – Lamb by Christopher Moore. It is one of the funniest books I have ever read and it made me love Jesus even more. The time in the clinic was exhausting, but was made lighter by easy company and a good book.

They sent me home with a chemo treatment box, to slowly drip for a couple of days. Someone, perhaps many people, lovingly knit little bags for “juice box” of chemo. A simple, sweet thing that made me feel like someone had been through this before and they were willing to share their tricks. Somehow the little box of poison that is going to be a part of healing me did not feel so threatening in its little knitted bag.

Part way through the day, I mentioned to Bernie that we should stop by my favourite place to hike on the way home. From the top you can see all the way to Bond Head to the North and the rolling hills of Caledon to the West.

We stopped on our way home to run a couple of errands. I was tired and I didn’t actually feel like a hike but as we approached the turn I said to Bernie “We’ve got to turn here”. As we entered the parking lot there was a car that caught my attention. Something was odd about it. When I got out of the car, I could see what the issue was. It was running and someone had attached a hose to the tail pipe. I ran as fast and as low to the ground as I could and opened the front door of the car. Thank God it wasn’t locked. Then I booked it out of there. If she had just started the process of trying to kill herself, then I did not want her to come after us. Bernie ran to the top of the hill to get a signal and called 911. He crept to the car and could see that she wasn’t moving. As Bernie talked with the dispatcher I put myself at the ready to run and turned off the car. At his signal I crab-ran to the car, turned it off then ran back again (my little chemo box in my hand like a relay runners baton). Again, I urgently called to Bernie that I wanted to make sure she didn’t see us. It was clear to me that she had put a tremendous effort into her task and I did not want that energy to be transferred to us.

(If you are one of the kids in my church who comes up for the kids talk you will remember me teaching you how to cross yourself. (three fingers, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, put them together etc.) There are many times that you can use that spiritual tool and this was the perfect time for me to cross myself for divine protection.)

When the police arrived they opened the back door and she woke up immediately. She was angry and started filming the police officer with her phone. Clearly, there was still a lot of fight left in her.

As we stood on the road directing the rest of the emergency crew to the site a neighbour came strolling up, curious about the situation. I just said, “Someone’s sick”. She wanted to be alone in her pain and I didn’t think she would appreciate an audience. The neighbour then said to me “Aren’t you the priest from Schomberg?” I said, yes, and he proceeded to remind me of a time 5 years ago when I visited him and his family during a crisis and helped them through it. He said it changed their life. I had forgotten all about it. He hadn’t.

Then, my friends Sarah and Natasha came up the road with their beautiful dog. Sarah has been helping me heal and meditate and doing amazing energy work with me. I laughed when I saw that it was her coming up the road. Of course it would be Sarah! Perfect!

After the woman was taken to Southlake, Bernie and I had our hike and took in the view with renewed gratitude for the simple gift of breath and life in this day.

This Jesus dude seems to know what he’s up to, so I’m just gonna hold tight and try to stop screaming. Wish me luck!

It has been an eventful couple of weeks.

It has been an eventful couple of weeks in the Ashworth household and I’d like to tell you some stories about what it has been like for me and keep you updated on how I’m doing.

I went to Southlake, at the urging of my family doctor after an ultra sound, then spent the rest of the week doing tests and trying to get things started as fast as we could. It was rough on the kids because I was away and could not give them an indication about the kind of tests we were doing or what we thought it was until we knew for sure. Sarah was knee deep in grade 11 exams and Madeleine was working hard at St. John’s Convent. Sarah was getting ready to go to camp as a counselor and Madeleine was getting ready for an adventure in Dawson City, the Yukon. Once you say the word, you can’t take it back and I wanted to mitigate fear so I had to hold it tight. The cancer is in the cecum and has metastasized.

I have been a chaplain at Southlake for over 17 years. When they brought me to the 6th floor I realized that I had visited people in every room on this floor and was recalling whom I had visited in each room. (a little like when Harry Potter is approaching Voldemort and his family and friends appear to cheer him. The saints were in attendance offering courage and thanks.) At the threshold I hesitated because I had always been a visitor and never the patient, not a happy turn around. I didn’t feel sick, I had a ton of energy and there was not much chance I was going to put the blue gown on until I absolutely had to.

My twin sister, Genny was with me every day. In many ways it was like we were on a holiday. We turn 50 this year and were planning a hot holiday to celebrate. In our minds it was as if we were already starting in on the celebrations. We recalled many childhood hilarities and simply enjoyed each other. Mid-way through a long afternoon of sleeping, worrying and waiting for results we were a little bored. Someone down the hall had been exclaiming loudly and repeatedly for hours about how they would like to go home. It was disconcerting at first, then it simply faded into the background like a sound track to the day. It could have been entitled “sheep protest sheering”. From an outsiders perspective one might say that only an asshole would laugh at someone else on the 6th floor but then, at the same moment, Genny and I looked at each other sideways and burst into belly laughter. So maybe I’m an asshole but it was so funny and a welcome release. (I know – the other patient was vocalizing what I was also feeling but unwilling to express. I’d rather laugh than cry any day, thank you very much.)

I knew from visiting, of course, that men and women were sharing rooms but it was different experiencing it as a patient. My first roommate was lovely and we struck up a friendship quickly. He had only been married two weeks so I tried to make myself scarce when his beloved visited. He went home the next day.

My Second Room Mate

When I came back from a test I met my next roommate. He was an elderly man who was in pain and fear. He was moaning without stop. When the nurses came to help him he did not thank them and when they suggested that he wash his hands he complained and only did so after some cajoling. This brewed up quite a bit of anger in me and after 10 minutes I asked myself “How long do you want to feel this way, Sheil.? Had enough yet?” So I went to his side and asked him if he would like some company. We talked about farming in the Sutton area. He generously answered all of my questions about cash crops and for 20 minutes he did not moan once. Then I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He said “I’ve been wondering if my sleep and pain medication are on a regular schedule.” I said “Let me look into that for you.” I went to the nurses station and said “Mr. ___ would like to know if his sleep and pain medication are on a regular schedule. Either way, he would like some.” The nurses burst into laughter. (I love making people laugh. Its like a drug.) I went back to Mr.__ to wait with him. Once you ask for pain medication time slows right down. When the nurse came around the corner with a loaded needle I cheered and looked to him and said, “I think we should cheer every time we see our nurse, don’t you?” He smiled and agreed that would be a good idea. The nurse concurred.

Telling the Parish

The next morning was Sunday Morning and I was on my way to church to tell my congregations.

I was dressed and ready to go first thing and said to my roommate and the nurses,
“In our church I am a short order chef for the Lord, taking your orders. Is there anything you would like us to pray for? (My pen and paper at the ready) Can we super size that for you?”

Telling the churches face to face was the only way I could think of to honour our deep and trusting relationship. It was emotional and powerful.

It was a glorious June day and I sat on the steps of Christ Church and prayed with the congregation and bishop George from outside. At the last hymn I slid into the back pew and joined in (Lift High the Cross). From there I proceeded to the front and Elly, our organist and Bishop George dashed to the next service. After I shared the news I asked them to come with me around the altar to pray for me, lay hands on me and anoint me. In our parish we have anointing for healing every week. I have been anointing them for years and now it was their turn to anoint me. I rolled up my sleeves and put my arms on the altar and leaned forward so everyone who wanted to could reach. People prayed out loud and as they chose, took the oil stock and anointed my forehead. The lighting at both churches is beautiful and an important element of worship. All of us were a glow in divine light.

Then I was off to St. Mary Magdalene’s. I prayed on the front steps with the mid morning sun making the red carpet warm and glowy. (If you go to St. Mary Magdalene’s you know the warm smell too. Nice, eh? Smells like prayer and comfort.) Again, at the last hymn I slid into the last pew and shared a hymn book. Having done it once did not make it easier the second time – breaking the hearts of people you love is not so much fun. The energy around the altar was amazing. It felt so grounded and in harmony with heaven. I have had a number of experiences of divine and angelic beings crowding around the altar at both St. Mary Magdalene’s and Christ Church. (in my mind I would be like “excuse me, do you mind, I need to reach the chalice. Thanks.”) That day the chancel was packed full with God’s creatures offering our prayers of petition, praise and thanksgiving. Receiving anointing from my people was so healing. News of this kind can be disabling. Praying and anointing allowed them to do something powerful. We are disciples together. (This is where I give you a high five) (Yes I expect you to high five the person closest to you or your phone)

When I returned to the hospital I spent some time with Mr. __’s family, then had a nap. (I’m doing a lot of napping these days. It’s my new sport.) As I lay there resting I overheard the doctor tell Mr. __ and his family that they were not going to treat him and promise to keep him pain free.

The next day I was supposed to get my port but I also had to get some things together. So I made a little office in the corner and started writing and making calls. Some hours later I stood up, turned around and the curtains around Mr. __’s bed were drawn. He had died while I did office work. The family did not ask for my help. It was odd to be a patient first and priest second. I anointed his body, said the prayer of commendation and prayed for him. Then I went to find his nurse and ask if I had been on the phone when he died. Thankfully, I was simply writing. When the nurses came to put him in a body bag I asked if I could help. I anointed him again and prayed again, then cradled his head in my hands as they slid the bag under him. Then I kissed his forehead. I wondered out loud how much food each of us had eaten that he had grown unbeknownst to us and we thanked him for his work. God bless you Mr. __, may you rest in peace and rise in glory.