Temporary Parishioners: Cancer Patients And Their Families

Seattle has quietly and quickly become one of the world's centers for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. And First Hill is the center of most of that action.

Seattle? Of course, for Seattle has been a surprising home for many of the leaders of medicine, far out of proportion to the size of the population and our allegedly isolated place in the world. In the last decade or so we have had three of our physicians honored as winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, the last being Dr. E. Donnell Thomas for his work with cancer patients. Most of his clinical work has been at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, just two blocks east of the Cathedral.

It is this physical closeness that brings us a spiritual closeness as well, for our parish serves as the parish away from home for the many cancer patients and their families who come to Seattle, and who may be here for three or more months. And the patients and their families come from all over the country and all over the world. Most of them speak English, but a surprising number do not, for cancer is an equal opportunity disease, striking its victims everywhere, females and males from all ages, races, and nationalities.

It is God's gift to us as a parish to be present here and now, at a time when great strides are being made in the treatment of this scourge, in a city where great leadership is being shown in the attack. The patients and their families are a great blessing and a great opportunity for us, to be present to them in their time of great need, to pray with them in good times and bad, to share the sacraments with them. We have no way to determine how many of these temporary parishioners are with us at any one time, but we do know that they are always present with us, unseen perhaps, frequently unknown as patients or family, but a constant source of inspiration to us and in constant need of our prayers and support.

Occasionally, our relationship extends over the months into the years, from the bad times to the good. One of our temporary parishioners, now apparently cured of his malignancy, will return to our parish the first part of next year to marry the nurse who cared for him. Good times, indeed, an example of the blessings that these patients and their families bring to us, even if we seldom know about them.

Father Richard Ward is the Priest Associate for St. James Cathedral. Prior to becoming a priest he was a physician and anesthesiologist in the Seattle area.

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