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Shaker Heights, OH 44122
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Fr. Tom's Weekly Reflections

Monday, September 17, 2018

On the night before my lumbar puncture last week I received an email from a 5th grader in the parish who assured me it was “no big deal”, she had had two or three of them in the last year and she could not even remember them! They were encouraging words that helped diminish most of my fears and I was grateful she took the time to write. As they strapped me to the table for the procedure I kept picturing that little girl and thinking “no big deal” and it really wasn’t! I am still waiting on the results yet I am glad it is over with.

Navigating through the hospital system can be overwhelming at times, yet it seems that hospitals are filled with gracious employees showing compassion and understanding. At one point I was lost in the basement of the Main Campus building at UH when an older janitor approached and said, “I don’t think you are in the right place.” He then kindly walked me through a maze of corridors and took me to where I needed to be! Secretaries and admission’s clerks, doctors and nurses, aides and transport people, all of them have special roles at a hospital. They may not realize it, but their kindness and patience makes all the difference when you are struggling. For those of you in the health care industry, I can never understand what you deal with every day but I am grateful for your vocation and pray for you in an entirely different way now.  

Today I go for session three of my R-CHOP therapy, which means I am half-way through my treatments! The chemotherapy comes with a week of prednisone so that usually means a good couple of days.

Your continued prayers sustain me and I am more grateful than you can ever know.

Pray for me and for all who are struggling, and in a special way pray for all those in the health care industry. Each of them has role in the healing ministry of Jesus. May God give them strength and patience, and may they know our gratitude.

Much love,

Fr. Tom

Monday, September 10, 2018

It seems like every day is different when it comes to cancer. Some mornings I wake up and forget that I am even dealing with this, other mornings begin at 1am and I up all night. Week 2 after a chemo treatment is always the worse, as the prednisone ceases and my body is left to fend for itself. The worst of it usually lasts 2-3 days, and then I start to feel like my old self again. All of this is made so much more bearable by your cards and emails, reminders to me of the goodness of this parish and your prayers for my recovery.

I look forward to a good week this week, with the exception of a “lumbar puncture” scheduled for Friday. Even the name of the procedure sounds like it hurts, yet the doctor assures me that most people tolerate it well. A lumbar puncture is sometimes called a “spinal tap.” It’s a medical procedure that involves collecting a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is the fluid that surrounds your spinal cord and brain. They will then test the fluid to make sure the lymphoma has not entered my central nervous system. After the procedure I will then lay flat for several hours with an IV to insure that I do not get a headache from the procedure. The doctor assures me that this is simply a precautionary measure as my other test results have shown an extremely positive reaction to the chemotherapy. I just wish they called it something else!

Two different parishioners sent me emails this week telling me about their recent diagnosis of cancer. It reminded me that many people who sit around us at church are struggling.

My thought for the week is simply, “Be kinder than necessary, for many are struggling.”

Pray for me as I will for you.

In Christ,

Fr. Tom

Monday, September 3, 2018

Two treatments down, four to go! The power of your prayer is surely working. A recent Pet-Scan revealed a dramatic reduction of the lymphoma after just the first chemotherapy treatment! I have been blessed by so many amazing healthcare providers who quickly answer questions, offer words of advice and encouragement, and continue to care for me on this strange journey.

The second treatment went extremely well, and I feel like I am “ahead of the curve” in managing side effects. Drinking lots of water, taking breaks throughout the day, exercising, and healthy eating…it’s all working! I did not lose ALL my hair, yet the nurse assured me that the loss is coming along with the eyebrows. Not sure why that is such a big deal. Many of our bald parishioners have “welcomed” me to their club but I have assured them that I will only be a member for a short time.

I suppose the hardest thing about all of this has been a sense of “isolation”. Shaking your hands before and after mass, welcoming kids at the school doors, coffee and donut Sundays…I love all of those things. They remind me that I am part of the body of Christ and they give me strength. The chemotherapy has been very effective on my cancer but has also played a toll on my immune system.  Colds, flu, pneumonia, infections are all at increased levels for me and my medical team warns me constantly about this. Thanks for your continued understanding here. A reminder to all parishioners that if you or your child is sick there is no “sin” in missing mass! Stay home and take care of yourself. You can always watch the mass on live-stream!

Your cards and notes continue to lift my spirits. The following quote from one of those cards brought me comfort this week….

“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is
no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the
midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

Thank you for helping me to find that peace through your prayers and support.

Love,
Fr. Tom






Monday, August 27, 2018

Last week was a really good week in my chemotherapy regime as I had no infusions and was able to catch up on some sleep, gain a few pounds, and clean the ever-falling hair in my shower drain! Your many cards and emails continue to sustain me as you share stories of faith and hope and remind me of the goodness of this parish.

Today I will have the combined R-CHOP therapy. As you may recall, they decided to separate the various drugs into two separate infusions but they are now confident I can handle all of them in one sitting. The infusion is done at an outpatient clinic and should take about 4 hours. If you have a spare moment on Monday, send an extra prayer my way that things go as well as the last time!

I recently received an email from a parishioner that I think is worth sharing. It helped me to understand better my own disease and what so many other people are going through.

“ As a pharmacist who spent several years dosing and monitoring patients receiving treatments the same as or similar to your current regimen, I have some familiarity with what you are experiencing, and hope you are among those who have minimal adverse effects during the coming weeks and months.  I'm glad your medical team is providing high quality care, and would not presume to offer any unsolicited advice or information other than to remind you that it's probably not possible to "will" yourself to avoid the problems often associated with chemotherapy -- those who have issues are not weak or lazy, and the power of positive thinking only goes so far.  All those side effects they had to warn you about cut across the spectrum of people who are strong or weak, people who have faith or don't, people who have taken care of themselves for the past 50 years and those who have "let themselves go"  and there are people from all groups who get few or no bad reactions to chemo.  Whatever happens, you are going to be getting a lot of  medication that might otherwise be classified as "poison" and I hope you will not wear yourself out trying to be strong for your congregation when you really need a nap or a break.  You have given so much to us over the past 17 years!”

Words of wisdom like these are good for all of us to hear.

Pray for me as I will for you.

Love,
Fr. Tom

Monday, August 20, 2018

Last Monday I had the “R” of my chemotherapy regime. “ Rituximab” is the formal name for the medication, and I was blessed to have almost no side effects. I am feeling a little fatigued but my appetite is still good and I can only attribute that to all of your prayers! Each card, note and email lifts my spirits and reminds me that I am part of something more than myself. God has greatly blessed me!

Next Monday they will combine all of the chemotherapies into one treatment. Hopefully I will be able to maintain that schedule moving forward, as I will have one treatment every three weeks. The treatments are “cumulative” meaning each takes a bigger toll on my body.  My immune system will continue to weaken at this time, yet I hope to continue at least my daily and Sunday mass schedules.  Thanks to all those Eucharistic Ministers who have stepped up to help during this time! As much as I miss sharing the Eucharistic bread with you, I know it is the best way to stay healthy.

Many of you have sent me notes sharing your own battles with cancer. It is amazing how many lives this disease has touched. I feel like I have always been compassionate to those who are suffering, yet my own diagnosis gives me a whole different perspective. I am hoping God will use this to help me to be a better priest.

Thanks again for your prayers and concern.

Pray for me as I will for you…..

Love,
Fr. Tom

Monday, August 13, 2018

Well, I made it through week one. The doctors decided to divide my first round of chemotherapy into two sessions. For the medical experts out there, on Tuesday I had the “CHOP” portion and today I will have the “R” portion. This one may prove to be more difficult, so I ask for your prayers in a special way throughout the day.  Moving forward, I will have 5 more “R-CHOP” therapies combined in one session every three weeks.

Thanks to all of your prayers, I have had very minimal side effects. Although my appetite is good, I need to add some more calories. I am working with a dietician to do this, so please no cakes or cookies to the rectory! Strange, I have spent all of my middle age counting calories and exercising and now they want me to gain weight!  As of today, the hair loss has not started but I know it is coming….

I am continually amazed at the hospital workers who patiently care for people each day suffering from this disease. As I took my chemotherapy infusion, I watched as each patient was treated with dignity and respect in the midst of some truly horrible physical situations. Thanks to those in our community who live the vocation of service in the health care setting. You are truly the body of Christ in the world.

Finally, someone attached this quote to an email they sent me and I think it is worth passing along….

“When we say to people, 'I will pray for you,' we make a very important commitment. The sad thing is that this remark often remains nothing but a well-meant expression of concern. But when we learn to descend with our mind into our heart, then all those who have become part of our lives are led into the healing presence of God and touched by him in the center of our being. We are speaking here about a mystery for which words are inadequate. It is the mystery that the heart, which is the center of our being, is transformed by God into his own heart, a heart large enough to embrace the entire universe. Through prayer we can carry in our heart all human pain and sorrow, all conflicts and agonies, all torture and war, all hunger, loneliness, and misery, not because of some great psychological or emotional capacity, but because God's heart has become one with ours.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Although in the coming months I may not be as available as I was, I will pray for you…..please pray for me.

Love,
Fr. Tom

Monday, August 6, 2018

Words cannot express my gratitude for the outpouring of prayers and support you have offered me in this last week. The cards, emails, and phone calls have overwhelmed me and have given me great strength as I begin my treatment.

My first chemotherapy session will be today, August 6, and will be performed at an outpatient clinic. The treatments will continue once every three weeks for six months. As the therapy continues, my immune system will move to an extremely compromised state, and that is the hardest part of this treatment.

One of my greatest joys as a priest is to get dressed for mass early and walk around the church to greet all of you. I hear about the joys of your families and the things you’d like me to pray for. Your handshakes and embraces remind me that I am part of a family, and they give me great strength to celebrate the Eucharist with you. Unfortunately, this practice needs to be put on hold for a while.  It would also not be wise of me to distribute communion, and so on the weekends I am up for having mass, I will have to keep my distance from you and Eucharistic Ministers will take over.  I know you understand, yet I just wanted to give you fair warning.

I am going to try to keep going with daily mass schedule and take it one day at a time. Parishioners and staff members will lead communion services on those mornings when I am not feeling well. I am so grateful to the many people who have stepped forward with ideas to help me.
This is going to be a long road and I would be lying if I said I was not nervous about it. The doctors have given me an excellent prognosis for a cure yet it’s going to be a rough time getting there. So many of you have inspired me over the years on walking this same journey of battling cancer, and that will give me the courage to keep moving forward.

I will try to give you weekly updates on the website so as not to overwhelm the office with phone calls. Thanks for your understanding and for all your prayers.

Love,
Fr. Tom