Post-Diagnosis Letter to My Congregation

Jason Micheli —  February 13, 2015 — 33 Comments

lightstock_70038_small_user_2741517Dear friends, HEWHOMUSTNOTBENAMED and random visitors,

As you may already know, I’m going on my 10th year at Aldersgate Church and in all that time I’ve taken 1 paternity leave, several long potty breaks and, count them, 0 vacations.

Working with a man like Dennis Perry, a man whose name will go down in history with names like Michael Scott, Gomer Pyle and Roscoe Peco Train, I simply couldn’t afford to take time off of work. I cared too much about you all to allow you to suffer long under Dennis tired, broken body, diminished mental faculties and antiquated job skills.

I couldn’t even get away and let Dennis ‘phone it in’ at work because even then, I knew, the phone in question would be a rotary phone.

Just think, there’d you be, waiting as long for Dennis to complete a thought as it takes to dial a number with a 9 and a 0 in the area code. People of Aldersgate, I just couldn’t do that to you. I love you too much.

Fortunately for you all, Hedy’s arrival on staff has made me as irrelevant, ineffectual and archaic-seeming as Dennis has proven these past many years, which is lucky for me because, now, like Bilbo Baggins, I’m going to be away for a while.

If you skipped church last Sunday, are not on social media or were just trapped under something heavy this week then you might not have heard already that I have the ‘C’ word.

No, no that ‘C’ word. Don’t be so vulgar. This is church.

No, I have that other ‘C’ word.


The irony in all this is the first thing that hit me too: this past year Aldersgate has had a healthy, in-shape pastor and his name was Dennis Perry. I’m never exercising again.

To make a long story short, I’ve suffered abdominal pains since the early fall, pains I chalked up to too much coffee in my stomach, too much fat in my diet or too many church people in my schedule.

That most of you didn’t even know I was suffering such pains, I attribute to a virility that makes Lee Marvin look like Judy Garland.

Last Thursday I had a CAT scan of my abdomen, which showed that my pain was caused by an intussusception, a rare condition (for adults) where my small intestine had inverted and was ‘telescoping’ in on itself. Ali and I met with a surgeon on Friday morning who explained the surgery and warned us as well that she was concerned about what could be causing the intussusception.

The surgeon had hoped she could do the procedure laparoscopically, but when I woke up on Monday evening, feeling like someone had gone at my gut with an electric Thanksgiving knife and a battery acid chaser, I suspected it had been a bigger surgery.

In fact, they removed about 3 inches of my intestine to correct the inversion, and they also removed from my small intestine a 10 by 10 inch tumor baby, whom I’ve since taken to calling- affectionately- ‘Larry.’

Let that sink in: 10 by 10 inches. I can now say I understand what women go through in child birth, which I think should make me even more appealing to the ladies (if such a feat is even possible).

A 10 by 10 inch tumor baby, unlike a real baby, however is not an occasion for cigars and balloons.

The pathologist took initial slides of the tumor immediately after surgery and on Tuesday the oncologist told Ali and me that, even without the exact biopsy results, he knew:

I had a lymphoma that fell somewhere among 5 rare cancers of the blood.

You can imagine how we took that news. I went to the doctor last week thinking I had a gall stone or an ulcer. The idea that my body, which has always been a source of pride in me and arousal in women- the idea that my body was now trying to kill me was a complete shock to us. The idea that if I do nothing at all I’ll swiftly be dead was an even bigger shock.

We cried.

A lot.

I made lots of apologies for all the ways I’ve been a crappy husband because I assumed we had all the time in the world.

Finally, we dried our eyes and told our boys, Gabriel and Alexander, that Daddy has cancer, which is what was making his tummy sick, that I’m still sick and that the doctors are going to work to make me better but it’s going to take a long time and I’ll be sicker in the meantime.

Today is Friday. We met with the oncologist last evening. It turns out:

I have Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a rare, non-Hodgkins form of B cell lymphoma that typically only organ music-loving people the age of the 8:30 service get. Its spread through the GI System and bone marrow.


I like to think I’m unique in all things and it turns out I am in diseases as well.

Because it’s a rare, aggressive lymphoma, I’ll be fighting it likewise. I will begin 4 two-part phases of aggressive chemotherapy this coming Friday- not much of a break I know.

Each phase will last approximately a month. The lymphoma has spread to the rest of my system so I’ll definitely be hospitalized again for the first phase as the oncologist wants to monitor my kidneys. Hopefully, hospitalization won’t be necessary for the succeeding treatments. At the end of the 4 phase treatment, it’s likely I will need to undergo bone marrow transplants as well.

All in all, I think its safe to say 2015 will be an exceptionally crappy year for the Micheli household. The Nats better freaking make it out of the first round because I’m not going to have much else going for me this year.

In case you were wondering, I won’t be around much for the next 6 months.

I hope you continue to be around for us though. I’m not normally given to sappy, sentimental nonsense, but I can’t tell you how fortunate we feel to be going through this in a church and a community we’ve come to know so well. Already so many of you have been key to getting us through the dark nights we’ve had. We’re going to need you and we’re not the type to ask so don’t wait for us to ask. Just continue to do what you’ve been doing.

ImamPastorI like to yank Dennis’ chain but without him I’d probably still be in the corner crying and sucking my thumb.

I couldn’t have made it through this week without Dennis and I won’t make it through the weeks ahead without him, so cut him some slack. And even though you know I won’t be preaching for quite a while and you know he’s likely to bore you to tears, please show up at church anyway.

It might not surprise you, but my biggest fear- the thing that wakes me up in the middle of the night with panic attacks- has been about my boys. I don’t want to put them through this and I certainly don’t want them to lose me or the family they know. You can help on their end too. When you see them, please don’t ask about me or my cancer.

Please just treat them like normal kids because a normal life for them is my biggest goal in all of this.


I miss you all. I really do, and I wish I could be there today to say all this to you. And don’t sweat the God thing, people. Please. I never believed before that God does mean-ass stuff like this to people so I’m not hung up on God doing it to me. I don’t believe there’s any mysterious ‘reason’ other than the chromosomal one that cancer- however rare- is happening to me, and I don’t believe there’s a bigger plan behind all of this other than the same plan God has for all of us: to love and glorify him through Christ. I’ve just got to figure out how to do that given my new circumstances.

Finally, don’t pity me.

Cancer’s not all that bad.

For example, just as I was drifting off before surgery I heard one of the surgical staff say aloud: ‘We’re definitely going to need a bigger tube for the catheter…’

See, some dreams do come true. Even amidst nightmares.

– The End. 

PS:  I hope to hell not. 

Jason Micheli


33 responses to Post-Diagnosis Letter to My Congregation

  1. A shock. Jason, as a cradle Catholic trying to return to a spiritual life in my 50’s, I’ve treasured your insights and links. I’m going to miss your work while you fight this. I will be praying for your victory and quick recovery. Really.


  2. I am laughing through tears. We love you – adore you – so much. Yes. Agreed. We will feel our way – together – on how we can love and glorify Christ through this.

  3. Thanks for another great post, Jason. I had just commented that today was not a good day for news. Another friend went to the hospital today. Then I got your post. It made me laugh & then cry, & also also smile at hearing your voice.

    It also made me a bit curious – as you seem to have a little too much familiarity with rotary phones.

  4. Praise God your sense of humor remains unaffected! That is very comforting.

  5. You cannot imagine how much the 8:30 crowd cares.

  6. Thank you too for sharing. We care so much for you and were concerned. I too shead tears but chuckled as I read your message. I said praise God he has not lost his humor. Waiting to hear stories of your time in the hospital. Have no fear we will all pitch in at Aldersgate but you will be so missed.

  7. Jason, Glad you are keeping your sense of humor. We love you, miss you, and will do whatever we can to help you guys. Thank you for the update. We would love for you to continue to write to us, if you are up to it. And when you are not, we will keep writing to you. Because of the nature of the illness, we understand we cannot be there with you, but do understand, my friend, that you are not alone, and that we are there with you.

  8. You are so strong. I believe in you and your faith. Positive thoughts and prayers to you, Ali and the boys

  9. I don’t know you in person, Jason, but I am an avid reader of your blog and appreciate your ministry, your humor, and your take on the life of faith. You and your family will be in my prayers. I went through surgery, chemo, and radiation while on my seminary internship and am now a decade out TBTG. The “C” word sucks, but there will be moments of amazing grace, some weird humor, and even some joy in the journey–in addition to the tough parts. But you know that. Keep your sense of humor, laugh as much as possible (Monty Python helps) and take all the anti-nausea drugs they give you. Hang in there, dear brother-in-Christ.,

  10. This is Nate, a relatively recent newcomer to your blog and BIG FAN of yours. I hate to hear that you have cancer. My husband and I pray for successful treatment for you, minimal side effects, and lots of peace. You’ve got two more people in your corner rooting for you!

  11. Kelly Kennneally February 13, 2015 at 6:29 PM

    Jason — Tommy and all the Kenneallys are thinking positive thoughts for you! We look forward to seeing you back coaching baseball once you conquer this. Much love, Steve, Kelly, Will and Tommy

  12. Got it. Will do. They had just given you pain meds when you wrote the that last bit,….right?

  13. it is so good to hear from you Jason and we will miss you and pray and pray some more!.

  14. As I am sure many are, I am for once in my life speechless and terribly saddened by your recent news. The McCones are praying for a speedy recovery, and will anxiously await your return. Jon has 10 years behind him with a rare cancer too. Youre a fighter, so you know what you have to do. We not only want you to perform Lauren’s wedding, we want you to dance at it. God bless

  15. Well….I’m hoping you bought a lottery ticket, you lucky bastard, you?

  16. Jason, your grace and humor was amazing to read. I was diagnosed with NHL (nothing as rare as yours) in 2010 and after undergoing six rounds of chemo was not cancer-free. I then went through an autologous stem cell transplant. In 2011 I was deemed to be in remission and continue to be to this day, although my oncologist will likely never use the word “cured”. Please know you will be lifted up in prayer.

    God bless you and your family.
    Ben Horrocks Asbury Memorial UMC Richmond District

  17. Thanks, Jason. Wishing you strength and wishing us all faith and strength. Much love.

  18. I don’t know you personally; I read your blog and appreciate you keeping it real. I am very saddened to hear that you are going through this.
    Grace and peace to you and your family.

  19. Jason, so sorry you have to go through this. We love you like crazy. You are a wonderful teacher for those lucky enough to be at Aldersgate or for those who have found your blog. You are also a wonderful friend to all. You have shown me by example what the transforming love of Jesus Christ can lead to and I thank you for that. I look forward to 2016 when I will join you in a return to Guatemala to see the secondary school that we will build to bring new hope to our friends there — God willing because I am one of those old folks .

  20. Jason, We were so very sorry to hear about your diagnosis and will lift you, your family and the medical professionals that will care for you up in prayer. We pray for God to give you strength and look forward to your return.
    Louise and Terry

  21. Jason, you are just remarkable! Of course I love you, but since you will be keeping Dennis busy and out of trouble, I also adore you. XOXO
    P. S. Pretty soon I’ll be eligible to attend 8:30.

  22. Many prayers for you. In my moms journey with ALS she made a tremendous faith impact on everyone she encountered. Doctors, nurses, strangers. Her mode of communication had to be a daily email journal. (Pre Facebook) the entries made us laugh and cry. She had almost 100 people following” her. Like you, she didn’t cut Dennis any slack when he was at WUMC. God be with you!

  23. Sheila Dawn Nash February 14, 2015 at 6:41 PM

    Dear Jason and Family–Was just having a phone call with my Son and Daughter in Law – I ask about Aldersgate U M Church – really stunned -as they told me of your condition-my mind immediately turned to Prayer. I shall be praying for you and your family. from down here in Huntington, WV……Sincerely, Sheila Dawn Nash- Mother of Clay Williamson

  24. I am keeping you in my prayers and hope that you will kick cancer’s ass!! I need you to keep taking care of my friend Teer, Juli, Jimmy, Jack and Elaine. Take care for the Lord will be with you every step of the way.

  25. Don’t know why my earlier comment did not post, but just know that you, Ali and the boys are constantly in my thoughts and prayers and we all know that YOU can kick this! ….and, of course?! the Nats are going to the playoffs AND the World Series this year. You need you to get well so you can get back to The Park:-)

  26. Jason,
    May God bless you and your family during this trial. Praying for your doctors for wisdom and discernment, praying to God for his intervention, praying for you and your family that Christ Jesus will surround you with his perfect love.

  27. Bobby Ray told us last Friday while we were worshiping together as simple church. We prayed for you that night and will continue to do. Thank you for being such a transformative means of God’s grace to those of us who look to you for pastory things here on the interwebs.

  28. Jason, Your humor is intact – what a blessing! The women of Aldersgate are much too sweet, and far too concerned about you to push back about your understanding and “experience” of child birth. Please understand that in “birthing” “Larry” you now have some experience in a Caesarean section, but until you pass “Larry” through that catheter of yours – you have no idea!

    You keep smiling and keep writing – we will remain busy praying for a miracle for you!

    Blessings & Cheers, Bill

  29. I love your ‘springtime’ family picture which is now on my desk among others… No, not your potty pictures.

  30. Jason, thanks for sharing so candidly about your illness and treatment. We are all shocked and concerned for you and your family as you prepare to take on this challenge. Know that you are surrounded by much love and prayers. Know of my special prayers for you and all those touched by your illness, your family, your congregation, and those who will treat you. May God sustain you with peace and power.

  31. Jason, just to let you know there’s a Sunday bible class at a Southern Baptist church in Riverside, Calif. praying for you to get well. You will be on their prayer board every Sunday. I hope to see you when I visit Aldersgate this year. God Bless, stay strong.

  32. Praying for you and your family, Jason. I appreciate the strength you show in being vulnerable in your weakness. Grateful also for the obviously loving community you have there at Aldersgate.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.