THE Bishop of Swindon, Dr Lee Rayfield, has said that he “couldn’t help but see a blessing in everything that was happening” during his five-year journey from cancer diagnosis to cure.
Dr Rayfield, who was told that he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2013, and declared in full remission earlier this year, said that, despite the trials of chemotherapy and recovery, he had found the experience a spiritually fruitful one.
“This will sound very pious, but I couldn’t help but see a blessing in everything that was happening,” he said on Monday of last week.
He found out about the blood cancer in his lymph nodes just weeks before going on an extended sabbatical, which meant that his treatment did not require anyone to take on his diary commitments, and he had excellent fitness, because he had spent months training for a long-planned cycle ride from John o’Groat’s to Land’s End.
As he began chemotherapy, he also realised that he had just spent months working through a course on “emotionally healthy spirituality” in his private meditations each morning. These had included reflections on how to “enlarge your soul through grief and loss” and “explore times when you had difficult periods and see how you grew through them”.
“That work was like laying spiritual foundations which left me in a very strong place which I didn’t know I was going to need,” Dr Rayfield said.
Throughout the months of treatment, the Bishop was confined to working in his office, as he was at risk of catching a potentially fatal infection if he spent time with others.
Despite this, Dr Rayfield said that he felt that he was able to have even more impact in witnessing to God than before. One example that he offered was how his illness gave him the opportunity to write to the Radio 5 Live film-review show and explain his story and ultimate trust in God to see him through.
“It enabled me to describe my journey to other people, and tell them something about how the reality of my faith had come home,” he said.
Some of the other blessings were less tangible, however. He remembered waiting for an early biopsy test in an empty hospital room, feeling a “shiver of fear” as he realised that he could be about to find out that he was going to die.
After being told that he did not have a terminal condition, Dr Rayfield said that he suddenly realised that he had been given the “gift of recognising my mortality”.
“I would like to hold on to that. Knowing we are mortal is really, really important. I was fearful to start with, but then I realised I had been given a gift.
“I also realised I was ready to die, if that what was going to happen. I realised how important my faith was to me. I believed this stuff: in the resurrection, and a God you can trust even in the most difficult circumstances.”
Throughout the process, cycling has been a constant source of comfort and distraction, Dr Rayfield said. He regularly went out with his friends for 30-mile rides on the weekend, even while he was undergoing chemotherapy, which he said was the only time during his de facto quarantine when he was able to spend time with others.
To celebrate his final visit to hospital and full remission, he took part in a sponsored 100-mile cycle race on Sunday to raise money for Bloodwise, a charity that funds research into blood cancers such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“When I heard I had now been five years in remission, and was effectively cured, I wanted to do something to support those people who were still journeying with blood cancer, and particularly those who won’t ever be in full remission, or cured.”
The bishop completed the course in five hours and 42 minutes, three minutes under his target time.
Although he has already almost doubled his target of £400 — raising £795 — Dr Rayfield said he was still hoping to sign up more sponsors to give £5 each, as a way of sharing his journey — he rejects the cliché of a battle — with cancer.
To sponsor him, visit uk.virginmoneygiving.com/lee-rayfield-fed-PRLS-2019-35054.