Fr. Mike Mireau
Father Mike (Catfish) Mireau relates his current predicament to that of St. Thomas.
"About six months ago I was told that I was going to die, and now I'm looking at the prospect of life. As with St. Thomas, I'm not sure if I'm ready to believe it or not," said Mireau.
In November 2012, the likeable priest noticed an unpleasant firmness in his pelvic region. This drew the attention of his doctor, leading to a long series of medical tests, ultrasounds, X-rays and a CAT scan. He was diagnosed with cancer in February.
Earlier this year, he underwent weeks of chemotherapy. The good news is that the football-sized cancerous tumour in his abdomen has since been removed.
"I had a 20-pound tumour removed from my abdomen, attached to my intestine. The surgery was extremely successful. They took away about five inches of large intestine along with it, but all of my other organs remain, and that's great news. I have been in recovery ever since," said Mireau, the district chaplain for Edmonton Catholic Schools.
The tumour was removed Sept. 23, and he was discharged from the Grey Nuns Hospital Oct. 7. Since being home again, he said his focus is strictly on eating, sleeping and walking his dog.
"I have just been puttering around the house, trying to eat very slowly and hold food down. I'm trying to get my digestive system working again, that sort of thing," said Mireau.
Upon diagnosis, he was told that his particular kind of tumour was difficult to treat, and he would be unlikely to find a surgeon willing to risk doing the surgery. To do so would be too chancy.
But his doctors didn't take into account the power of prayer. People throughout the Edmonton Archdiocese have been praying for Mireau's health, and their prayers seem to have been answered.
"People have been supportive in many ways, and for that I'm grateful. They are astounded, I think in many ways, by the power of prayer," he said.
"In all honesty, my doctors' expectations of my survival have been quite low. Back in February, when I was given my initial diagnosis, I was essentially given a year to live."
A long series of coincidences - he calls them "providential events" – took place over the past six months, leading him to Dr. Diane Severin, a radiological oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute. She led him to his eventual surgeon, Dr. Erika Hasse.
"It was a miracle that I was able to find these doctors who would be willing to do this procedure," said Mireau, noting that she reevaluated his CAT scan and determined that his tumour was operable.
"Once Dr. Hasse determined that I had one large tumour, she felt confident to proceed. She is a very renowned and successful new surgeon, with a new technique called HIPEC. It involves administering chemotherapy directly into the tissue during surgery," he said.
HIPEC is Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy. This type of treatment is used when cancer has spread to the lining surfaces of the abdominal cavity, as was the case with Mireau.
Despite numerous advances in chemotherapy, the overall chance of chemotherapy being curative is still low, and the side effects are difficult for any patient to endure. However, when these cancers are confined to the peritoneal cavity, HIPEC is a viable option.
"I was very fortunate to have been given a referral to see Dr. Haase, otherwise I think I would be preparing for death at this moment," said Mireau.
Mireau still assists at weekend Mass at Annunciation Parish, but his other priestly duties have been cut back significantly. Recovery will be slow, and he expects to have a limited role with Edmonton Catholic Schools and in parish ministry for the next few months.
Updating his blog and walking his dog, Nemo, have proven therapeutic for him.
"It's good to get out in the fresh air, and enjoy the autumn colours. The blog helps me to contextualize everything in a prayerful understanding of what's been happening in my life. It's been a lot to digest, and a lot to handle," he said.
For those going through similar quandaries or health problems, he has advice to offer: "Always keep the faith, and remember that everything is temporary. The spirit of the beatitude is that God is with us even when we're suffering.
"Even in our darkest moments, we can have confidence that it's not going to last forever, and God is not going to let it remain as it is; God will intervene. He certainly has for me."