WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Fr. Mike Mireau, here shown with his dog Nemo, says he is undergoing both chemotherapy and Nemotherapy.
Since 2008, Father Mike Mireau has been posting his online homilies and rants on diverse topics such as premarital sex, Star Wars, attacks on the family and the overabundance of vampire programs.
This past month, however, his video rants have turned highly personal. He has been speaking candidly about the football-sized, cancerous tumour growing in his abdomen.
Mireau first spoke of this in a medical log, uploaded Feb. 10. Back in November, he noticed firmness in his pelvic region, which drew the immediate attention of his physician. This discovery led to a series of medical tests, ultrasounds, x-rays and a CAT scan. He was diagnosed with cancer in early February.
The tumour was eventually diagnosed as a desmoplastic small round blue cell tumour – a rapidly-growing, soft tissue cancerous sarcoma. This rare cancer mostly targets young adult males.
At the outset, he was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumour. Instead, the doctor arranged for six to eight weeks of chemotherapy. Rather than taking a self-pitying approach, Mireau's attitude is faith-filled and trusting.
"My prognosis is very uncertain," admitted Mireau, who commonly goes by the moniker "Father Catfish" and is the district chaplain for Edmonton Catholic Schools. "The intention right now is to stop the tumour from growing and, if possible, shrink it and make it a candidate for debulking surgery. The priority is just to stop its growth, if possible."
He has published three similar videos, dated Feb. 17 (The Waiting is the Hardest Part), Feb. 24 (Miracle, Please) and March 3 (Goodbye, Hair). His rants can be viewed at www.fathercatfish.com.
"I am quite gratified that people have responded positively to the videos I've been putting out," Mireau said in an interview.
The affable priest has lived in the rectory of St. Pius X Church for about three years. He lives with his dachshund Nemo who, as Mireau puts it, provides him with "Nemo-therapy."
Throughout his priesthood, Mireau has been inspired by Henri Nouwen's book, The Wounded Healer. Published in 1972, the book addresses what it means to be a priest in the modern world.
Nouwen says in his book that a priest is "an articulator of inner events." In other words, he is a man who can articulate the movements of his inner life and can give names to his varied experiences, is not a victim of his own self, but is able to remove the obstacles that prevent the Spirit from entering.
Inspired by Nouwen, Mireau is not staying silent about his health. Instead, he is articulating his struggles on his personal website.
Nouwen's "approach is that priests as mediators are called to not only live their own faith lives, but to make their faith journeys public so that the people of God are witnessing how we live our lives and relate to them, and learn to see how God does work in their lives," Mireau said.
"That has always been my approach for as long as I've been ordained, and this would be no exception."
Beyond his call to the priesthood, Mireau says he is now called to be a priest who has cancer. His ministry is to respond to his illness as a priest, and to show others precisely what that means.
"I am trying to share the fact that faith helps, that having a sense of humour helps, that it's important not to get burdened by questions for which we have no answers like, 'Why is this happening to me?' Those are never helpful questions because they only end up increasing our anxiety," he said.
Mireau received his first chemotherapy treatment on Thursday, March 7. The weekend following this first treatment was one of the darker times in his journey. He felt more nauseous than expected, his mobility has been limited since and he did not have much strength.
His hope now is that the chemo will not deplete his energy so much that he is barred from fulfilling his ministry.
"Ideally, I'd like to do one Mass per weekend and still have some involvement with the schools as they finish up their year. I have to leave that in God's hands too. I still feel that I have something to give," said Mireau.
It would seem reasonable to ask, what is the point of all this suffering? If God is so good, why are people subjected to so much pain?
"When it comes to suffering, it's best to turn from that suffering and reach out to God for help. Not that suffering is God's will, but God has a way of turning that suffering into something that can be redemptive, something that can give life and hope to others," said Mireau.
People throughout the Edmonton Archdiocese have been praying for Mireau's health. He's also garnered support and positive comments via Facebook and Twitter. While the hardships that come with having a cancerous tumour do not make for an enjoyable journey, he remains confident in what he can achieve through God's grace.
"Apparently for some, it's actually helped them in their own suffering, and that would be my intention," said Mireau.
"It's not that I'm looking for adulation and affection for myself. I'm looking to assist others who are suffering in their own way to realize that we are continuing the journey of Jesus himself. This is the way of the cross."