Fr. Steve’s updates

Monday, February 15, 2010

Compared with my first treatment cycle, I’m sleeping better this time around but am more queasy and still getting around slowly.

By the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12 :1

In my religious congregation, it’s customary to start out each morning with an act of oblation – an offering of our day and life to God to cooperate in the work God wants to accomplish through us.

Carpe diem is the Latin phrase meaning – “Seize the day”.

I normally approach a day wanting to squeeze so much out of it. These days I just want to pass the day, get it over with and get closer to a time I feel energetic and whole. But, we can only offer God who we are and what we have in the moment.

God takes me just as I am, and being able to only give a little each day, is a humbling reminder of the need to turn things over to God, who’s really the one in charge. When I accept that, there are still many things I can do to love God and serve others, no matter how I feel.

I went to the office for a couple of hours in the morning, mostly to read mail and reply to lots of messages.

After lunch, I managed another visit up to the business office for afternoon break and just to check up on folks. Becky from accounting approached me from behind and didn’t recognize me at first – the sides of my head now almost match my slick top! We joked as I “reintroduced” myself.

The snowboarders on the Olympics may have more height on their jumps and more style points, but they don’t have more fun than our kids who took advantage of the snow and scrambled up and down the hills leading down to the football field. It would be nice for them to dream big, like earning a gold medal.

For now, it’s most important that they exercise and enjoy those moments of laughter and camaraderie.

Their laughter sure enriches my life.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The second cycle of chemo is finished! The roads coming back home were an icy mess. Fr. Bill had to slow down to 30 MPH in stretches. But, we made it home safely.

The hospital lobby features a piano where people are invited to play and lift up the spirits of patients, their families and the staff.

When I walked through the lobby on the first day of treatment, a man was playing “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” a most beautiful and reassuring hymn.

While waiting for the first appointment, I walked by an empty table that held a partially completed 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

I’ve seen families and individuals working on the picture to pass the time. I just had a few minutes, but I stopped and found where one small piece fit.

It’s like a lot of things in life – with many people, often unseen, working together, we can accomplish bigger tasks … if only we all take a small part.

… we can accomplish bigger tasks … if only we all take a small part

The doctors put my last three blood tests on a graph on the computer. They showed me how the blood cell counts dropped so low the first week, but built back up to a normal and healthy range – good news as the treatments continue.

When one of the nurses came in to change IV bags, she asked where I was from and what I did. We found out that she is a donor to St. Joseph’s – she even had one of our appointment calendars in her purse! Whenever I meet people whom I’ve only gotten to thank by mail, it’s a special treat to express that thanks more personally.

I did get to see the first part of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on TV. I was impressed by the respect and inclusion of the First Nations of Canada in welcoming the athletes and telling the story of this continent. Part of our South Dakota mission statement asks us to be builders of respect and unity between the Lakota people and other traditions, which we strive to do.

I know how my body responded to the first round and know I’ll have to stay low key for several days.

This morning it was enough to get up and get ready for church, which is such a strength for me Sunday after Sunday. One of the songs today was very upbeat at a point where I wasn’t feeling very good at all, but I sang along with as much energy as I could afford.

Church has a way of expressing so many different emotions. When you’re down, a happy song can help me remember the good times and remind me I won’t feel so punk forever.

And, when I’m self satisfied, sometimes a hymn that focuses on our need for forgiveness and reconciliation is a reminder that I have still have plenty of work to do spiritually.

I don’t feel too good now, but I know this is just a stage, and I have strong faith there are better times ahead.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Hello dear friends! We’ve received word from Fr. Steve.

He and Fr. Bill made it safely to the hospital for Fr. Steve’s treatments.

All went well yesterday. Fr. Steve will have another chemo appointment today and hopes to return home to St. Joseph’s on Saturday.

Another round of winter weather is expected to hit our area this weekend, so your extra prayers for their safe travels are appreciated!

Of course, all the support you’re showing for Fr. Steve’s continued healing also means so much to him. God bless!

Fr. Steve’s updates

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chamberlain is a small town of about 2600 people, but it’s the biggest town for 65 miles in any direction.

We have a small community hospital here and dedicated doctors. But what many of us in rural America face when it comes to health care is long hours of travel for services that go beyond the basics, and in my case, that includes chemo and radiation.

So my bags are packed, and with Fr. Bill accompanying me, we’re off this afternoon on a half day trip to the hospital.

I’ll likely be out of touch the next couple of days but will update this blog when I get back, hopefully on Saturday.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Today, we held our annual Healing Camp for students who lost a family member in the past year.

On South Dakota Indian reservations, the life expectancy for a man is a mere 59 years and for women about 70. Our students face grief and loss much more often than the culture I grew up in.

So, we’ve developed a day of activities and sharing to help students work through this difficult time of grief.

I started the group off with an opening prayer and met them again at the end of the day to close with prayer. In between, our staff ran all the rest of the process and activities.

One cultural tradition that helps Lakota people in their grieving is the “Wiping of the Tears” ceremony.

We had a prayer leader from the Lower Brule reservation come in and hold this ceremony for our little ones. As tears are symbolically wiped away, amid support from the community, it acknowledges the reality of loss, but also encourages mourners to take part in community activities again.

Yes there are tears. But, laughter and togetherness help heal.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Monday, February 8, 2010

Today’s mail brought in another batch of bills and forms from doctors, the hospital and the insurance company.

Thankfully, I’m one of the fortunate ones with good insurance. As an administrator, I deal with complex paperwork all the time, but I have to admit these forms can be intimidating.

I’m sensitive to the needs of people who don’t know how they’ll ever afford needed medicine or treatments, and those who get lost in the paperwork system or are denied coverage.

I had supper in the Afra Home, which is home to our 1st – 3rd grade girls.

As a way of promoting reading, I sat on the couch after supper and let the girls take turns reading stories, which all were excited to do.

The biggest difference I see between this semester and last is the progress the first graders have made with their vocabulary and comprehension skills.

During a break, one of the first graders started talking about her family.

Prior to St. Joseph’s, she spent a lot of time in a shelter. There were times as a kindergarten student when she was responsible for babysitting and caring for her three younger brothers and sisters for long periods of time.

Some of our kids have been through a lot, and I encourage them to talk it through with houseparents, teachers and counselors. The younger students freely talk about everything. The older students tend to hold more within and need to build trust so they can share.

I received a book in the mail today – the reflections of Cardinal Joseph Bernardine of Chicago, written during the months when he was dying of cancer.

I was in Chicago for graduate school during that time and admired the way he so openly and freely shared with people. During that journey, he found the ability to live so fully each day.

When you look around, you can always find people who inspire us with their love and compassion during the hard times they’re going through.

Catholic School Week

St. Joseph’s recently celebrated Catholic School Week.

Our event theme for Catholic Schools Week 2010 was Dividends for Life.

An essay contest was part of the celebration. Students were to reflect on what they’re learning at St. Joseph’s Indian School and how it provides them the dividends of faith, knowledge, discipline and morality.

Joe's essay

Read more essays by St. Joseph’s students!

Fr. Steve’s updates

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I had good energy today. Unfortunately, I know the next wave of chemo will hit soon. But, I also now know my body’s ability to fight back and overcome.

We had our monthly community meeting for the eight members of our Priests of the Sacred Heart community who work in our South Dakota mission. 

Some of us work in Chamberlain, while others tend the needs of the small churches on the Crow Creek and Lower Brule reservations.

It’s a morale boost to share prayer, stories and break bread together.

After our meeting Fr. Bill – who leads the Chamberlain parish – grilled up some brats and burgers … good Super Bowl fare! Even the non-football fans joined in the camaraderie of the game (and the new ads) as we talked and cheered and laughed.

These men have been great help to me by taking turns accompanying me to the doctor and through their prayer and support.

Today was also the first anniversary of a friend’s death, Fr. Justin. He served as my spiritual director and mentor during my seminary studies.

Fr. Justin was also a cancer survivor for many years and kept such a positive attitude about his illness. His other illness lead him to AA where he used his own struggles to reach out to so many trying to find sobriety and peace of mind.

We all face different limits and struggles, but God can find a way to help us be a blessing to others not just in spite of them, but actually through them.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The office is usually empty on Saturday mornings, and since there are no interruptions, it’s great time for me to go in finish lots of the 10 and 15 minute tasks that pile up. I felt a good surge of energy this morning, and actually found the bottom of my desk today!

Some of our students get checked out regularly and spend quality time with their families. Other students live four or five hours away from family or have home situations that don’t allow for a lot of family time.

For those reasons, we have a mentor program at St. Joseph’s, sort of like a big brother/ big sister match up.

I enjoy the chance to hear about life at school from a student’s perspective, so I support the program completely. Today, I took one of our students, RJ, downtown for a movie and a bite to eat.

Sixty of our staff members have also volunteered to take part in such a monthly activity with students who appreciate the outlet. To me, these selfless actions speak of the extra miles our staff is willing to go because they care about the well-being of our students.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Friday is my usual day off, a chance to get away and relax before the weekend duties.

With icy roads, and feeling tired, I opted just to stay home and read, exercise, and work on answering some of the many cards coming in.

I know I’m being prayed for in every corner of the country, in many different churches and denominations and among many prayer groups.

One prayer card sits before me and made me do a double take.

One of the sisters I used to work with sent me one of our St. Joseph’s Prayer for Healing Cards. It has my name as the one being prayed for, and my signature as the one leading the prayers.

I guess other folks who receive those cards these days can be reassured I’m praying extra hard for all the people on that list!

Fr. Steve’s updates

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I went up to the clinic for another blood draw today, and the white blood cell count must be climbing back to normal because they didn’t have to call back this time.

I’m feeling physically better each day, as I build up before the next cycle of chemo, but the biggest drawback is lack of energy, motivation and oomph.

When I feel really sick, I don’t feel guilty about not accomplishing much. But, now that I don’t feel “sick,” it seems like I should be doing more. But, I tire out so easily.

When mom and dad called to check in on me, Dad reminded me my main job right now is to get well. That’s a very boring job at this stage of the game, but Dad is right!

After school today, the 1st – 3rd grade honor roll students had a pizza party to celebrate their success.

I initially sat with some of the boys as we gathered around the tables, but once the video started playing, they ditched me to move closer to the action on the TV screen.

After a few minutes, two tender-hearted girls – Sasha and Jayda – saw I was sitting alone. They moved their chairs over to keep me company.  We watched some of the movie but also talked about school and families and many things.

How often I’m impressed by the kindness of a child!

The girls reminded me the importance of looking around a gathering and seeing who might be feeling alone or left out and reaching out to them.