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My colon cancer has been good for me, Bishop of Sheffield tells his diocese

28 November 2022

Facebook/Diocese of Sheffield

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, delivers the presidential address to his diocesan synod, on Saturday

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, delivers the presidential address to his diocesan synod, on Saturday

THE Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, has marked his five-year anniversary in the diocese with the revelation that his arrival in Sheffield coincided with a diagnosis of colon cancer.

In a remarkable address to his diocesan synod on Saturday, Dr Wilcox said that the disease has exactly tracked his time in Sheffield, to the point that he received a voicemail about his chemo- and radiotherapy during his consecration in York Minster in June 2017.

One of the things that had prompted Dr Wilcox to tell his story now was that, at the start of November, he had been signed off by the colorectal specialists, as five years have passed since his treatment. “I am no longer meaningfully at risk of a recurrence of the disease,” he said.

He also, though, wanted to make a point about disability. His treatment had included surgery. “A colostomy has an unhelpful and unnecessary stigma, and I hope that being open about my situation might help and encourage others.”

Every bishop has a medical examination before their nomination to a see is announced publicly. Dr Wilcox, who was then Dean of Liverpool, said that his had been basically fine, beyond a question mark about his prostate, typical for men of his age. Thus his nomination to Sheffield was announced on 7 April 2017 (News, 13 April 2017).

“Merely as a precaution, he said, “a follow up colonoscopy had been scheduled five days later, on the Wednesday of Holy Week. That procedure was only minutes under way when the atmosphere in the operating theatre changed, and I knew I was in trouble. The consultant found a tumour.”

He described that Holy week as “a difficult few days . . . I knew I had cancer, but I did not know the extent, or how treatable it might be.”

He said, however, that he and his wife, Catherine Fox, “found that there was also an intense sense of the presence of God with us, and of gratitude: gratitude for the gift of life; for faith and hope and love”.

The diagnosis also proved pivotal to his sense of calling, Dr Wilcox said: he sensed that God was saying “that this illness was not raising the question whether I would be the Bishop of Sheffield; it was raising the question, what sort of bishop I would be.”

Specifically, it meant that “I would not be self-sufficient, but would be dependent on the expertise and skill of others, and dependent on the prayers and support of others; that I could not come through this experience, the experience of episcopacy, without others. I have embraced that calling gladly. As your bishop, I am not independent, I am not self-sufficient, I know my need of others, and that includes you.”

Dr Wilcox also sensed that “the challenge posed by the cancer was somehow preparatory for the challenges I would face in this ministry [in Sheffield].

He continued: “Of course, I had no idea about the pandemic, nor even about the full extent of the financial challenges which lay in store here, but I did sense that in Sheffield I would have to dig deeper, and toil harder for fruit — and the cancer somehow became a symbol of that, almost the word of the Lord to me.

“My colostomy has become for me a bit like Jacob’s limp, if you recall that story in Genesis 32, a daily reminder to me that life with God is often a struggle, more like a wrestling match than a stroll in the park. Ministry can be hard going.”

The experience had refined him spiritually, Dr Wilcox concluded. He said that the illness had made him more determined to make the most of every day that he has left and to take nothing for granted. “My illness has been good for me.”

 

Read Dr Wilcox’s diocesan address in full here

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