Jeremy…husband of Catherine, father of Ben, Simeon, Tom, Joshua & Lydia. Up until the end of April 2015, he was pastor/vicar of a group of churches on the edge of Exeter in Devon, UK. In early October 2014, aged 48, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, a stage four malignant melanoma presenting as a tumour on his lungs. The usual life expectancy is 8-12 months. Then, in late December 2014, 23 year old Ben suffered a seizure. After prolonged medical care for what was most likely to have been a viral infection affecting his brain, Ben died in April 2015. Jeremy has up until recently seemed to have responded well to pioneering immunotherapy treatments that can extend life, but from September 2016 is now facing the fresh development of brain tumours and potentially now just months to live. On January 27th 2017 Jeremy took his last breath and went to be his Lord and Saviour. The family share their thoughts, feelings and reflections as they taJeremy…husband of Catherine, father of Ben, Simeon, Tom, Joshua & Lydia. Up until the end of April 2015, he was pastor/vicar of a group of churches on the edge of Exeter in Devon, UK. In early October 2014, aged 48, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, a stage four malignant melanoma presenting as a tumour on his lungs. The usual life expectancy is 8-12 months. Then, in late December 2014, 23 year old Ben suffered a seizure. After prolonged medical care for what was most likely to have been a viral infection affecting his brain, Ben died in April 2015. Jeremy has up until recently seemed to have responded well to pioneering immunotherapy treatments that can extend life, but from September 2016 is now facing the fresh development of brain tumours and potentially now just months to live. On January 27th 2017 Jeremy took his last breath and went to be with his Lord and Saviour. The family share their thoughts, feelings and reflections as they take this painful and unexpected journey.

Facing the facts

blue-sky-with-golden-and-black-cloudsIt’s been three weeks of both good times and nervous waiting for us all. Having friends to visit and to stay has been great and it was a privilege for Catherine and me to visit Belmont Chapel and Isca Church, both in Exeter, over a couple of Sundays and share our story. It’s reminded us again that in so many of our weaknesses and painful thorny experiences, God’s hand can be seen and strength can be found which both encourages us and others around as they hear about it and see it, even through our occasional tears and as yet unanswered questions.

It’s over a week now since Catherine and I travelled up to Taunton for what is the latest and newest type of scan, one I’d not had before. The Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan, identical in appearance to an MRI scanner, uses a radioactive tracer injected into the body to look for disease and shows how organs and tissues are working. Basically, when it comes to cancer, where there’s a tumour, it will glow.

PET Scan resultThe results came back late last week. I glowed in more than a few places. Thankfully there wasn’t any evidence of cancer on any major organs apart from the original tumour on my lung and a tiny one on the liver which is reckoned to be the harmless hemangioma seen on a previous CT scan. Briefly described, there are a whole lot of small tumours in various places (click on the report alongside to see where). The most troublesome of them, the (now large) one under my chin, giving the appearance of a huge ‘adam’s apple’ or even second chin; the enlarging one under my left arm and then multiple lesions/tumours on my right upper thigh – particularly as they’re pushing through the surface and feel like a small pear lying on its side.

The great relief for us all was the absence of any sign of anything in my brain. We’d been concerned as I’ve been experiencing some ‘fuzzy’ heads and low level, persistent headaches over the past few weeks. Maybe its just a man, mid-life thing instead. 

The consultant radiologist’s report concluded,

‘Multiple nodal and subcutaneous sites of metastatic disease. Single tiny inter-muscular deposit. Tiny avid focus within the liver could also represent a metastatic deposit and can be followed up on subsequent imaging. Comparison with the diagnostic CT demonstrates progression.’

It has confirmed that the cancer is indeed on the move again, and has also given my medical team at Exeter the absolute low-down on all the ‘where’s and what’s’.

Keytruda_pembrolizumab_melanoma_checkpoint_PD-1-20150729040309992Hearing the results from my ever-reassuring medical journeying companion, Dr Ayman Nassar, oncology registrar in Exeter, he was fairly relaxed about it all. Yes, there’s disease progression, but it’s not developing and appearing anywhere especially serious. Next step? I’m starting on the new pembolizumab on Friday 5th February, and will have it pumped into my veins every three weeks for the foreseeable future…or at least until they can see that it’s having either no effect or until the tumours shrink to vanishing. It’s a drug producing some startling effects in advanced melanoma treatment. I know I’m in the right place as the drug was licensed in the UK for first line use in late 2015 and the NHS provides it at no cost. In NZ, with one of the greatest instances of melanoma in the world, Pharmac NZ has thus far refused to license it. I find that both curious and startling.    

concernsI’m doing reasonably OK, although the multiple tumours around my shoulder and neck area sometimes feel, perhaps more psychologically, like my neck is being corralled in. Family wise, we’re all doing ‘ok-ish’ although these last two weeks have brought to the surface lots of old concerns, ones with which we became familiar in the early days of my diagnosis. As I see Catherine and the children hold their breath, wondering what the news will be about me with new cancer developments (but this time now with the pain of Ben’s death on top of it), I find myself engaged in a fresh and more intense dialogue with God. Encouraged by Abraham’s careful, yet bold exchange with God over the city of Sodom,

“What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away….Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’

‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake’, God says.

Encouraged, Abraham went on. What about for the sake of forty five? Yes. Forty? Yes. Thirty, twenty, ten? Yes. 

And then King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20, when in the face of his predicted death, cries out in prayer and weeping. God responds with fifteen years. Abraham and Hezekiah have further encouraged me in my ongoing prayer life, especially with Catherine, me and the children already going through one dark valley, to pray that it won’t be another. But who can say where it will lead? My situation is not Abraham’s, not Hezekiah’s. I’m simply encouraged that Father sees the bigger picture I don’t see and that the words of Abraham are ones which encourage me to dialogue and engage with Him, sometimes with a tearful passion. But I find myself ultimately resting on Abraham’s words…

“Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’”

Reading the bibleCo-incidentally (or perhaps not), on the morning of my scan results, one of my Bible-in-a-Year readings was the account of Jesus walking on the water out to his friends struggling away on the Sea of Galilee, buffeted by the wind in their small boat. It’s one of those accounts you’ve got to say sounds pretty fanciful and unlikely…unless it really happened. The gospel writers would surely hardly want to discredit their accounts by including things that would cause people to laugh and walk off in disbelief unless there was truth to it. And the reason for the events like this and their subsequent inclusion in the gospels is often to address three questions…‘Who is this man?’ – his identity – ‘Why has he come?’ – his mission  and ‘What is he asking of us in response?’ – his call

And so, especially for a first century Jew hearing this account, it’d probably take them immediately to the Old Testament book of Job where there’s a description of God…

“He alone spreads out the heavens and walks upon the waves of the sea”. (Job 9:8)

So the real identity being suggested for the one walking on the waters here in front of the disciples? God.   

The call was immediately plain. It was so relevant for me that morning waiting for the scan results. It’s seen in disciple Peter’s response to seeing Jesus…

“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.’

Peter gets out of the boat and, focusing on Christ, also does it. But then something happens. He begins to fix on the wind, the waves…and starts to sink.

Just at that moment as I was reading, I sensed something for me that morning. Here was an aspect of “the call”. Effectively, “Jeremy, because I’m God, will you trust me again today for your life, despite what you hear at the hospital? Will you trust me? Fix on me, no matter what, and you won’t sink beneath the waves. You’ll be steady. You’ll be secure”.

As he reached out and saved Peter from the waves that day, so there are hints at Jesus’ mission – why he came. Ultimately, not to be just a good teacher showing us how to live, or just a healer and not be be some kind of generic light bearer or yet another special guru. Unique above all others, he came as God to seek and save us, not from waves and a watery grave, but from something far more serious.   

As I think about it all, I’m taken to C S Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and the question that young Susan asked about Aslan the lion, Lewis’ allegory for Christ…

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

 “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Lewis puts it well.

In the middle of my low days and good days, through the days when I need more bed rest than before, when my body is struggling with the effects of the fresh advances of the melanoma, I’m remembering the strong God who appeared in history, who was seen, was touched, who stood in our shoes, who walked our walk, who died in my place and who rose, vindicating all he’d said and done. The always good God whose ways I don’t always understand, but who won’t fail me. The One who walked on the waters.

I’m assured once again that the best is yet to come.

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Comments on: "Facing the facts" (34)

  1. Gina Johnston said:

    Thanks be to God for His provision and Grace. So glad you have a good team looking after you, but ultimately that the Lord is with you throughout. He is able to do all things.
    I thank God for you and your wonderful faith, which is such an encouragement, and puts everything else into perspective xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David Ellis said:

    Jeremy you Catherine are an inspiration my thoughts have been with you all anything I can be of help please contact me God bless David

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  3. Tim Moyler said:

    Dear friends. This has encouraged me to pray with even more fervour.
    “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3
    Much love.

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  4. Tom Repton said:

    Jeremy, thank you for sharing and thank you for your ongoing example of clinging to our “not safe, but…good” God (that’s one of my favourite statements in the whole Narnia series!).

    There is a song that says “and on and on and on and on it goes…” which in its context is referring to God’s love for us – God’s love for you all is ongoing, even when it may seem unclear how it works out. Those words (on and on and on…) also refer to my prayers for you all – please know you are all very much in my ongoing prayers to our good God (Psalm 119:68). 🙂

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    • Tom, thanks so much for this. It’s great to know you’re walking with us. So many memories of all the times Ben talked about you and ways you inspired him to follow the Lord closely, and then me spending occasions with you over a coffee at Ladysmith Rd.

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  5. I have so appreciated all the texts and references ,it speaks to me of your profound communion with God.
    May you feel strengthened and blessed as you move forward. I am also praying for you and your family in this time of challenges, hoping for some peace and ease, and much love.

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  6. Anne Thomson said:

    Jeremy what an encouragement you are in the face of all you are going through. I’m sure the words you write are not always what you feel but the strength of you faith is evident.
    I continue to lift you and the family up to God so holds our very breath in his hands. Many blessings and healing prayers to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Anne. I’m trying to write with honesty and openness, knowing that even in the most chewy, painful places, God is to be found even though He might be hard to perceive at times. Yes, as you rightly suggest, feelings come and go – sometimes I can feel anxiety and a sense of despair more keenly than at other times….but then I’m so aware of the profound peace of God, like the calm at the bottom of a turbulent ocean, that remains underneath.

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  7. Jeremy we continue to press into God for healing for you. May this new drug be an instrument of healing in the Hands of the Lord. We will particularly pray for the tumours around your neck and shoulder to be diminished and “lifted”. Lolomalevu my friend, may the presence of Christ continue to strengthen and provide courage to you, Catherine and the Children. Much love, Julie

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    • Julie – so many thanks for this. I still find it humbling to know all this ongoing powerful prayer is going on for us. Please send love to all who see and who know us in Wellington Diocese!

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  8. We are studying Abraham at the moment on Sunday’s! Newquay was all about “blessed to be a blessing”. I can’t type the words which first come to mind… But I can say my response to them. You have always felt a bit like a big brother (and Catherine a sister) to me, perhaps it’s the kiwi in the uk factor. In that, I’ve felt your care, love, protection and I have looked up to you. I pray this now for you. For the Fathers care, love, protection to you all. You are a blessing. I look forward to seeing you soon. Kia kaha xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Melinda, thanks for these special words. I’ve been grateful to have been a part of your journey down through the years while we’ve both been 12,000 miles away from home.
      Ma Io koutou e manaaki, e tiaki, i nga wa katoa.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So now I have my Maori phrase book out trying to figure out your words. I think – I greet you with blessings and are kept safe, for you all… ? But I’m kinda guessing some of that!
        Noho rangimārie, ka nui taku aroma mōu, ka pakeke te hāere kaua e hemp

        Liked by 1 person

      • “May your God bless you and protect you for all time”.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Guy & Tania West said:

    Bless you Jeremy for your continuing inspiration. So many people are impacted and inspired by your writing. We continue to pray for you. Much love Guy & Tania

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Still with you Jeremy, keep on keeping on. You are such an encouragement.
    Thank you for sharing your news and your thoughts. The lion may not be safe, but there!’s no safer place to be than with him.!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Paul & Sue Knab said:

    Jeremy,
    We are so privelidged to know you and your lovely wife, Catherine. You are a huge inspiration and massive encouragement to us bot. I am so grateful for how open and honest you are in your journey!
    Isaiah 40:31 was given me as “Your verse for 2016” by some link on a post on Facebook. I was a little cynical about how this site came up with my verse, as it’s a bit of a Bible verse lottery. However, it is such an encouraging verse and I am happy to take it on board. It is also my prayer for you, that you will rise up as on eagles wings, you will run and not grow weary, you will walk and not grow faint. Of course, we pray for the miracle of your complete healing but as you face these trials we pray you will be sustained because there is no doubt, you hope in the Lord.
    Once your treatment is underway, we will arrange a meet up.
    Love and blessings
    Paul & Sue

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks both of you. It’s great to know…and thanks for reminding me of those words…ancient words, but eternally true. Looking forward to catching up again soon. J

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  12. Thanks Jeremy. I hadn’t seen that link with Job 9.8 before. We continue to pray that the Lord who can walk on water will keep you afloat for a long time yet! In our prayers, as ever. Jonny.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Val & John said:

    We are trusting in our faithful God, to uphold you all.
    God Bless, love & prayers xx

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Chris Saunders said:

    Thank you again Jeremy for your insights into scripture – especially appreciated the three questions you asked re Jesus walking on water. And your courage and humility in sharing your life and faith. God bless. Chris

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Praying for you every day. Belinda.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Great to meet you a few months ago in Guernsey, you and the family are in my prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

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