Tribute to Jane High
1st December 2003
Back in the 80’s Jane and Michael High, along with their two daughters attended our church at St. Andrews, Bostall Heath, Kent. Michael was a Reader and I vividly remember a Lent Course at their house where firm friendships were made with them and a number of other Christians. I trained to become a Pastoral Assistant around the time Jane and Michael left to move to Northern Ireland and I only kept up to date with their lives through a mutual friend and fellow P.A., Jenny Clements.
In 1998 I developed Bowel Cancer, had an operation and was told that the tumour had been caught early enough for chemotherapy not to be necessary. The cancer, classified a Dukes A, had completely gone. I had been more fortunate than my father whose bowel cancer had been found when it had already spread to his liver. My check ups continued and I was distressed to hear in 2000 that Jane had developed Primary Liver Cancer. Jane was prayed for at St. Andrews (as well as in many other churches and by her family and friends) especially by those who remembered her with so much affection from past days. We knew as most people did that a tumour in the liver was dangerous as it is not an organ where recovery or cure have a high success rate. At one time when they were unaware that the liver re-grew, an operation was not an option. News filtered through from our mutual friend Jenny that Jane was having surgery in Leeds. There was some hope of recovery but the operation was both invasive and pioneering with reconstructive surgery needed.
In March 2001 I went along for my third year check up (colonoscopy and bloods). Although I had had blood tests since the operation no scans had taken place. In truth I treated the whole thing as statistical material having fully accepted I was cured. If a polyp should be found in the bowel (which my consultant had said was the start of my cancer, having been left untreated and turned cancerous), it would be expected to still be benign, as they take a long while to grow. It would safely be removed. All appeared to go well apart from the fact that my consultant said I might as well have an ultrasound, as I would be in for the day recovering from the aesthetic. My first concern was that the technician kept appearing to zoom in to take more detailed pictures and asked when my last scan had taken place. My queries drew a response of “It is for record purposes”.
That was Tuesday, 6th March. The phoned rang on Saturday 10th when I was in the middle of baking cakes for a charity event! My consultant told me a “shadow” had been found on my liver. I had to attend a CT Scan on the 13th March. On the following Tuesday, he ‘phoned again to say an operable small secondary tumour had been found on the liver. Secondary meant my “new” cancer had resulted from a cell from the original tumour in the bowel, whereas Jane’s had been a primary liver cancer originating in the liver. As I later discovered primary liver cancer was much rarer and potentially more serious than secondary.
On Tuesday 27th March I visited Professor Benjamin at Kings College Hospital, London, and was asked if I wanted to know how “large” the tumour was and to see the scan. I was told the tumour was the size of an orange but no other secondary tumours could be detected on the scan. An operation and chemotherapy would be essential, if not I would be dead in two years. However, the operation could not take place for five and a half weeks as my Consultant had other commitments and a holiday. When I saw the Oncologist I was told in any event I had a 20% chance of being alive in 10 years.
I was receiving spiritual support in prayer but I felt I was searching for practical support, which seemed thin on the ground. My G.P. said “nothing would do any harm”. My enquiries led me to alternative therapies being offered, including “Ricky the Healer” by one well-intentioned organisation. Having received the Laying on of Hands at Church, I was not looking for a healer. Eventually my enquiries led me to the Douglas Centre at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup. They run a drop in service for anyone with cancer, including relatives and friends, where professional staff can talk to you and you can obtain literature. At last I had a leaflet on Liver Cancer.
Set up as a joint venture with the McMillan Cancer Relief and Queen Mary’s Trust, they hold a once a month support group.. They provide, on GP referral, Aromatherapy and Reflexology classes. However, I was most interested in their Relaxation and Meditation Group which is run on Fridays from 1 – 2.30.p.m. I felt this was what I was being led to and went along with an open mind. The relaxation involves simple exercises, which became a boon in postoperative recovery, and the meditation is laying down ,relaxing and allowing the mind to rest to peaceful musical tapes. At my first session on the 30th March, Fiona told us to focus on something affirming and I focussed on the cross, which hangs above the altar at St. Andrews. I later discovered this very cross had been carved by Michael High during his time with us. Fiona, the instructor, then led us through relaxing each part of our skeleton structure, your right foot, your right ankle etc. She never mentioned any organs. Whilst I was following her direction I had the most amazing feeling of water being gently poured across the middle of my body-Anyone who knows me would tell you how I feel the cold; but this water was not cold or hot just wet. It was such a vivid sensation that I felt I could have put my hand in it. In fact kept my hands to the side of me because I did not want to interrupt what was happening. It seemed to me to be a spiritual experience. I could hear Fiona in the background but felt I had to stay with what I was experiencing. Then I had two impressions: the first one was very clearly of Jesus offering the Samaritan woman the living water at the well, and then as the experience began to fade, of water pouring from Jesus’ side on the cross. I was really amazed as I had always thought of spiritual experiences as warmth but had at no time considered water as any spiritual experience. When I had been told about the liver cancer I had felt I was being given strength from God. “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” were the words I received in prayer, but I had difficulty finding peace. My illness and operation had started to play on my mind, as I am sure it does with everyone. This experience literally bathed me in peace, which stayed with me through the days and weeks before and after the operation.
I wrote to Jane and received a reply virtually by return of post. She was tremendously supportive, holding out the hand of faith and trust in our Lord. “All we can do in the end is keep trusting” she wrote in her first letter of the 3rd April. She said that when she was cleaning her teeth in the hospital she heard Jesus say “I have dealt with this”. So clear was the voice she said she looked up expecting to see His face and said “Sorry … what do you mean?”. Jesus continued “By my death and resurrection”. “I have known these days from the beginning”. For Jane it was a turning point. Christ had taken her illness and suffering with Him to the cross. Her illness was “temporary”. Her life is hid in Christ. I think she meant her permanent life was held by Christ and was eternal.
She was eager to renew our friendship and to share her experiences though with limited references to physical pain (I was later to personally realise why). With humour she said that after my operation we could “out do each other with stories of how big our scars are”. Her depth of faith and closeness to our Lord shone from her letters “God will not let you go ever Heb. 13 v. 5-6 … He will never fail you or abandon you”. These were all lifelines to me.
I replied within a week and told her of my experience during the meditation session and she was very moved by it. I sent her a prayer by Cardinal Newman which she later said had helped her tremendously over her “inactivity”. She called him “the man of the moment”. It spoke of us all being here for a particular purpose. That God had his “mission” for each of us, in health or in sickness, and that we would not know it here.
Jane wrote of her own operation, that there were groups praying for her all over the UK “in three different locations, Christians who didn’t know each other existed, had the same vision of angels filling the operating theatre. The room was filled with light and one lady heard the angels singing. Another saw my guardian angel, 8 feet tall, with a drawn sword,” who she said accompanied Jane for the next three days. Jane said it wasn’t a breeze; what an understatement that must have been, but she spoke again of trust in the Lord. She said she was trying to write it all down because, when she died, she didn’t want anyone to think God had failed her (see footnote) . “He knows what is best”. Jane’s spiritual life had grown immensely, as mine did also. She said “We have been crucified with Him– it is no longer you and I that live but Christ lives in us”. She told me of her struggles facing death and I had asked her how she could bear facing the possibility of leaving Michael and the girls. She said that “relinquishing the family to his care is far from easy, but it is essential. He knows what is best for Bill as he knows what is best for you.”
She said how important Psalm 116 was to her. She said she was “living it”, and it later described my journey too, although mine was to finish in a different way. I do remember quoting Psalm 116 and leaving Bill a quote from it when I went to the operating theatre.
Shortly before my operation I received the anointing and prayers as in the letter of St. James. I had initially been unsure about it, seeing it at one time as the last rites. But Jane reassured me that she had received this sacrament and how meaningful it had been. It was an absolute joy to me when Jane wrote that she and Michael were coming over to England visiting Michael’s parents in Guildford and would I like to call by on their way back to the airport. They came shortly before the little service in my house and were able to briefly meet other old friends. We had lunch together and it was just so wonderful to physically be together. Our illnesses had brought us so close. We spoke in our correspondence of being sisters, and I thank God that he gave us that blessing of meeting once more in this life. She later wrote that it had been an unexpected blessing and encouragement seeing old friends at St. Andrews again.
My operation (on the day after we had planned our move to Porlock!) went so well. The surgeon said the tumour had no satellites of cancer around it or any other sign in the lymph nodes. He had apparently carried out an ultrasound on my open body! The tumour he had expected to have put out feelers spreading like fingers, but he said it was withdrawn like a fist. He had expected several blood transfusions to be necessary. He had not needed any. He said when he opened me up and went in, it was as if the way had been prepared for him and he was almost able to lift the tumour out. I had had a fever whilst under the operation but he sat at the end of my bed in high dependency (a bed had been booked in intensive care as an additional precaution) and said he had no answers for how well it had gone, but he smiled and I think he remembered the night before. He had come in to tell me that I might die on the operating theatre and I said “But I’ve booked my guardian angel. for 8.00.a.m. tomorrow” and he had replied “He does use those above”.
On the evening before my operation I had noticed drawing pins on the board opposite my bed obviously for expected cards. I already had placed some cards around my room but I thought that if there were enough I could make the drawing pins into a cross design. It was amazing as not only were there the right number, some were a brighter gold and there was exactly the right number of these to make the five centre points of the cross. The nursing staff commented upon my cross and on the morning of my operation an Episcopalian nurse asked if I would like her to pray with me. Then a couple of days after the operation a Greek Orthodox nurse said she had been nursing me in high dependency and was so thrilled I was improving and could she pray with me as well. On the day before I left hospital, when I was getting back on my feet, I went into St. Luke’s Chapel in me Hospital and was stunned at the backcloth to the altar. It was of the living water coming from the throne of God. With my experience during relaxation and meditation, I knew my story had come full circle.
I recovered and then faced chemotherapy which my surgeon said some experts would consider I should have, whilst others would say given the operation and results it would not be necessary. Having been not given it after my bowel cancer, I went ahead with some heart searching- If Jesus had given me such healing should I be looking for any extra confirmation? During my first dose a Chaplain came into my room. and assured me it was not contrary to Jesus’ healing but hand in hand with It. A book I later discovered by James Jones spoke of God using chemotherapy. So perhaps this was like that story of the things God sent a man to help and he rejected them one by one. When the person died they wanted to know why God hadn’t help but all the time He had sent lots of things. Maybe my lifelines were the experience of healing, the support of Jane, family and friends, the operation and the chemo- and I had accepted the lot! So the chemotherapy was his extra help as awful as it was, lasting for six months.
Jane could not share the chemo experience, one horror I am glad to say she was spared. Her operation had been so radical that her surgeon could not risk her body further with such drugs. But she did suffer so much with constant repair work/stints, drainage tubes relieving the jaundice and being constantly in and out of hospital, it had only given her a year more, but a year she used so well with her testimony of God’s love and in her own love and concern for others.
Why had I received full physical healing and not Jane? She often spoke of knowing she truly was healed, by meaning loved, accepted, redeemed, healing of mind and spiritual body. In the end. of course we are all here for a short time, and one thing cancer teaches you is that you are not. immortal.
Jane’s letters became less frequent, I wondered if I had added to the pressures on her and didn’t feel too anxious about reply dates. Michael and I kept in touch by e-mail. Bill and I constantly prayed for Jane and the suffering she was still enduring. In one card she wrote that another friend also called Rosemary was praying for her. She wrote that the friend said, “I was lifting you up to the Lord in prayer and He said “It’s all right, Rosemary, she is already lifted up. Jane is in the palm of my hand”. I did not hear from her at Christmas but later my friend Jenny told me that Jane was finding it hard to deal with the fact her time was now getting shorter and also of breaking that news to me. When I e-mailed to her in January 2002, her suffering had ended and God had taken her “home”. I was devastated for in truth she had become a sister over that period of time and it seemed to me that, part of her extra time in this world had been given in some small measure to support me. As I grew stronger she had grown weaker.
In one of her very last letters she said that to allow yourself to be loved by God she had discovered was the greatest truth. That we strive too much and should just let God love us, as he wants to.
I gave a sermon on Jesus changing water into wine at Cana and drew comparisons with my experience of receiving Jesus’ gift of healing water, and of the water of my illness being turned into me wine of spiritual growth. That. the growth in faith during such pain balanced the depth of pain. Through another friend, Sylvia, the Celtic faith became very strong to me, also mediation and Christian art. My sermon spoke of the water of our pain being turned into wine of our growth of faith. I dedicated my sermon to Jane and read out this prayer she had sent me:
Remember – with God,
Cancer is limited …
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope,
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace,
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot lessen the power of the Resurrection.
Jane had added “Amen!”
I speak to Jane privately in prayer, at church and light candles and have her name read out in All Souls services. I do know that she was meant to help me and I’m sure she helped others that without her illness she would not have met. In Cardinal Newman’s meditation, it. says “If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him”. She has gone to His nearer presence now whilst I and others who loved her dearly, remain here for God’s reasons. I have moved to Porlock and our church has seen a tremendous mission outreach and revival. When I was working with our curate on a presentation, I related my experience of receiving the living water in the form of the Samaritan woman and the water from Christ’s side, and he revealed to me his own experience of a clear vision of the blood from Christ’s body running down. into the Chalice at communion. Water and wine again brought together.
One day sister Jane and sister Rosemary will meet again in a joyful reunion. Jane, who gave of herself for our Lord and others when so very ill was a real Christian. Truly she is loved in. this world and the next.
Jane did indeed put in a great deal of effort to capture much of her experience in writing. She wrote a considerable volume of material covering the period from the first diagnosis in July 2000 right up to the middle of the eight month saga of hospital treatments beginning in May 2001. Her intention had been to publish it in some form. However, although it was all prepared on the computer, it was a private work which she did not wish me to see until it was finished. A couple of weeks before she died, Jane decided that it would not and indeed should not be published, so I helped her to delete all the files.
Those who know me will know that everything on my computer is thoroughly backed up and so there will be copies of the files on my archive CD’s. However, you will appreciate that I have no intention of recovering them, so the only written statements of Jane’s feelings are contained in those letters that friends such as Rosemary have retained.