KATY GARNER thought at one time that her ordination on Saturday might never happen. Midway through her training, she had received a cancer diagnosis — for the second time — and her doctors had already warned her that a new attack could be life-threatening. When she told her principal at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, the Rt Revd Humphrey Southern, that she might not be able to continue, however, he replied: “Don’t be silly.”
Her seven-month treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London, successfully trialling a new drug to boost the immune system was documented for a BBC1 programme, The Big C & Me, screened just before her ordination in Portsmouth Cathedral.
Dr Garner will begin her ministry full-time in the Hampshire villages of East and West Meon, Langrish, and Warnford in a few weeks. Although the trial is over, she is still an in-patient receiving daily intravenous medication to counteract the side-effects.
“I have to come to terms with the fact I am stuck in the Marsden, and I am not with my parish, which is where I want to be,” she said. “I cannot leave until the side-effects go. I effectively had a 12-hour pass to go to Portsmouth. My final steps to ordination started at 6.30 a.m. in the Marsden, and I left Portsmouth around three, but I just could not stop smiling for the whole day.”
There was a shorter six-hour exeat the next day for Sunday service in West Meon, where she assisted the Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Lionel Stock. “It was so good, as I had missed the whole of the last term at Cuddesdon, and not done any corporate worship,” she said. “It was quite important to do that.”
Dr Garner, who is married and has three children, first felt the call to ordination in 2009. Her first diagnosis, however, forced a halt. “I thought God cannot possibly want me; I must be hearing something wrongly, because who would want an ordinand who is struggling like this? Surely not the Church.”
But her treatment was successful, and, in 2012, she started training. Then the second outbreak occurred. “I didn’t want people to spend money putting me through theological training only for my body to let me, and them, down. I see God in this situation, and I couldn’t have walked this journey without him. And having experience of what living with cancer is like does help you to minister to others.
“Now I have been given the summer to warm up gently — just going round the parishes having cups of tea with people, and getting to know them. Then, come the autumn, work starts with a vengeance.”
The episode of The Big C & Me featuring Dr Garner is available on the BBC iPlayer: www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07h5r7b/the-big-c-me-episode-3.