Peter: On Waiting and Faith

The Reverend Peter K. is the vicar of my local church. Like so many people in the village, I have been following his battle with cancer for many years. Last year his condition deteriorated significantly and we all waited anxiously to find out if he was going to be able to take part in a promising clinical trial. This is his story….

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As Hillary Clinton famously quoted, “It takes a village.” When Peter K., the vicar of a small village in Worcester, was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), the whole community rallied. “I never needed a ride to the hospital,” says Peter. “There’s a mission to keep me alive.”

When first diagnosed with CLL, Peter's eight year-old daughter found him reading a book about cancer in a bookshop. “You don’t have cancer do you?” she asked.  At the time Peter thought he only had months to live, “this was it.” Today, his daughter is 26 and his blood levels are back to normal. The journey, however, has not been plain sailing, to say the least.

Peter is alive today because of the development of new medical treatments. For eighteen years he has been trying experimental drugs and recently developed treatments. “Many times I came to the end of the path when the treatment was no longer working but I stuck in there, hoping there would be another new one.”

Last year Peter had reached, what appeared to be, another dead end. His symptoms were getting worse, “I was living on blood transfusions. You’re aware of the fact that you are living on borrowed time.” But Peter was lucky. He had a consultant who was passionate about medical research and she recommended that Peter apply for a clinical trial of a new CLL treatment.

The process of applying for the trial was nerve-wracking because Peter didn’t have a high enough platelet level to be eligible for the trial. His doctor wasn’t giving up though. She kept giving him more transfusions until his platelet level reached the required 50.  When the nurse phoned Peter with the results, she got quite emotional. “We’re there. We did it!” she told him. Peter says the nurses make you feel like you matter.

The process of participating in the trial made him very weary. “There was so much waiting, lots of sitting around and the knowledge that many of the people participating in the trial just disappear. Mortality is what you’re thinking about. I felt it more strongly this time.”

Peter does not mind being thought of as a patient. “The definition of patient, one who suffers, one who waits is accurate. I think it’s quite a noble word”.

Thankfully, the new treatment appears to have worked as his blood levels are back to normal and the trial team is pleased with his response.  The word ‘cure’ is even being used as a possibility. “It’s taking me a long time to come to terms with the fact that this may be a cure.”

Peter retired as the vicar of eight other parishes in December. He performed one of his last services on Christmas Eve. It’s going to be a difficult transition for him. “You get hooked on people,” he says: “It’s like a drug.  After 40 years I’ll have to go searching for something else to give my life meaning. However, I feel extremely privileged to live in this community – there’s a sense of self as community.”

Peter also feels guilty that he is still alive, when others, including people he has known, are not so lucky.  “I do feel guilty. I’m still here, other patients haven’t got on the trial or even heard about it.  But I also feel very fortunate.”

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