This is Post #4 in a series.
It seems counter-intuitive, but I believe that I have been a more effective pastor and teacher since the diagnosis. I was pretty miserable the last few weeks before my hospitalization when it felt like my body was breaking down and I didn’t know why, so it is obvious that any improvement in my condition would help there, but I believe it is bigger than that. I believe that over the last month I’ve improved in both of my positions compared to when I was at full strength. How did that happen?
The short answer is that I have made lifestyle adjustments to clear space in my schedule in case the treatments and side effects leave me unable to perform at previous levels. Since the treatments have been effective and the side effects quite tolerable, the net result is that I am focused on fewer responsibilities, but I have more time and energy to devote to them.
As it dawned on me that my illness was serious, but before I received the good news about how treatable my condition is, I had a little time to wonder, “Is this it? And what if it is?” I decided then that if my window was closing, I would want to make some adjustments. What roles are important to me? What are my priorities? Who am I?
For Christians, our big-picture answers should all have a similar flavor. I am a disciple of Jesus. I am part of a family filling the roles of husband, father, son, brother and more. After that, I am defined by my calling. I have been blessed with two different but highly complementary careers. I have been a high school (mostly history) teacher for 28 years, and I have been the teaching pastor of Melbourne Community Church since its founding 14 years ago. Many people have trouble finding one job they can tolerate, but I feel particularly blessed to have found two vocations that bring me great joy and help me feel useful.
When I was still unsure about how serious my illness Tat things can and will change especially if there is an illness, but I am still a long way from being a person who could tolerate an inactive lifestyle. My oncologist told me to listen to my body. I believe that means that when I feel tired I should take a nap. I am not allowed to jog or lift weights, but I can walk, bike, swim or work out on low impact machines at the gym.
Over the last few months I learned that sometimes my body cannot be trusted to cooperate or to be as strong as it used to be. So I’m working ahead at school and church, attacking deadlines early in case I don’t feel like it later. Since I’ve been feeling good before and after the nap, I have had time for some household projects, and I have taken over many of the kitchen duties at home. I was prepared to go the other way with the kitchen, but so far my new sleep schedule has added time to my daily routine rather than subtract.
Fatigue is my strongest side effect, and it is my favorite. I don’t really sleep more, rather I sleep more often. I take two or three short “naps” overnight, and one or two or three every day. The biggest difference for me is that when the fatigue hits, it hits hard. It is time to switch drivers and/or take a break from what I am doing because I need a nap and that nap needs to happen soon. That has not been a difficult adjustment, and the net plus in energy and time has allowed me to upgrade my performance at both of my positions. So I can sincerely thank God for the way he has used my cancer diagnosis and treatment to make me a more effective teacher and pastor.