Living Well Through a Terminal Illness – Bill Brown

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

One couple’s commitment during their darkest days

“Every day we will seek to live well. We will make a commitment. Even the dark days to live it well.”

Jenny & Bill Brown

Jenny and I would have loved to have seen that physical cure and I remember Jenny saying, ‘I’ve still got more love to give.

Pastor Bill Brown was married 30 years when his wife Jenny was diagnosed with a debilitating illness. Once the initial shock had settled they vowed they would make the most of their remaining time together.

In this situation and faced with his ministry as a pastor, the dilemma for Bill was how as a pastor does he continue to help people grow in their faith when at the same time he is experiencing pain and grief on a daily basis?

Even though it’s been eight years since his wife Jenny died, Bill continues to value the influence and inspiration of her life in his everyday activities.

Multiple Sclerosis – the first diagnosis

Bill looked back on the couple’s remaining time together and how they spent that time as a married couple with four children. The children were still in their teens and early twenties when Jenny was diagnosed.

Jenny’s health was already a concern prior to the first of the more serious diagnoses that were to follow.

She had been quite unwell for a period of time. Her mobility was limited and then in January 2005 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

“During that following year there were quite a number of times in hospital.”

Bill recalled one of those early challenges as the two of them shared the injection duties required every second day.

“There were periods of really challenging times through that year and things seemed to be improving,” was Bill’s comment, but unfortunately any positive results were  short-lived.

Multiple Myeloma – the second diagnosis

“Early in 2006 her mobility was very limited and Jenny ended up in hospital in April. A week of tests ended with her being diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma.”

Bill could not see any reason why it should have happened. Multiple Myeloma is not related to Multiple Sclerosis.

“In fact the specialist wanted to check that he hadn’t missed anything a year earlier.

Multiple Myeloma is a blood cancer. No cure at the moment and some people have it for a number of years.

“But Jenny only had it for three-and-a half years before she passed away,” Bill said.

The Myeloma diagnosis on top of the Multiple Sclerosis situation was understandably very distressing for Bill and Jenny.

Chemotherapy, radiation, stem cells

“It wasn’t what we had planned. Jenny had just turned 50. But we made a commitment early on to say, whatever the future holds we will live it well.”

“Every day we will seek to live well. We will make a commitment. Even the dark days to live it well.”

No treatment was long term successful. Jenny had a whole range of different chemotherapy regimes.

“She had radiation, two stem cell transplants, but through it all we made a commitment to say whatever happens we will seek to live it well,” was their mantra.

Again, transcending the illness was Bill and Jenny’s commitment to serve Jesus well during this time.

“We wanted to represent Jesus well in whatever we did. There are things in life that come into our pathway and we wanted to make sure we responded well.”

‘Invest, bless, learn, grow’

“Even the difficult challenges of life we wanted to make a positive contribution to each other and in the context in which we found ourselves.”

Both Bill and Jenny didn’t want to be defined by what had happened to them. Rather they wanted to make a wise choice every day to live as well as they could.

Life would not be the same again.

We were introduced to people and situations we had never encountered before. And everyone was an opportunity to invest, bless, learn, and grow.

“We were optimists and wanted to make the most of every day.” But for Bill it was a struggle having to overcome doubts that emerged because of the affliction.

“I reckon doubts are the ‘ants in pants’ of faith and what you do about your doubts is really important.”

The importance of Scripture

“Let’s acknowledge them, let’s express them, let’s explore them and see if there are things we can learn and grow through this.”

When it came to doubts they found the Psalms were very comforting for them as the Scriptures were a priority in their marriage.

“The Scriptures were an important part of our daily lives, individually and as a couple and as a family.”

The Scriptures were to become even more important for the Browns during the illness.

“We would read them individually and together and there were many promises we looked at and explored. We used the laments of the Psalms as well and it was a way of saying, ‘What does the Scriptures mean in this situation?’”

“We wanted to pray for a miracle and we did pray for a miracle.”

‘We prayed for grace each day’

With the pair’s many connections to the Body of Christ, Bill said there were thousands of people praying in Australia and around the world for Jenny’s recovery.

“They were praying for Jenny to be healed physically. But it didn’t come.”

There were periods of respite but we prayed for grace each day and that came in bucket-loads.

But as a pastor, how was Bill to reconcile God’s Word of answered prayer, ‘For where two or more are gathered’, and a miracle of healing is being sought after, how did this effect his theology?

That was a challenge.

“We offered these prayers in Jesus name but we also submit to His Lordship and leadership and there maybe things we don’t understand in terms of human reasoning.”

‘We’re willing to trust You’

“There’s a lot of mystery about suffering. Even the Book of Job. It’s not so much about the mystery of suffering it’s also the mystery of God.”

“Jenny and I would have loved to have seen that physical cure and I remember Jenny saying, ‘I’ve still got more love to give.”

And yet we came to the point of saying, ‘Even though we don’t understand, and even though we can’t fully make sense of this, we’re willing to trust You.

Bill referred to a saying that he admits he’s still grappling with.

“That the love that planned Calvary can be trusted.”

There is a mystery about suffering that we couldn’t fully comprehend and it seemed that the answer to a physical cure was not there.”

‘We looked for meaning’

“Is it a cop out to say Jenny has been totally healed and is fully alive forever? We miss her greatly, but we had to live with that tension.”

Bill spoke about some of the other patients Jenny met in hospital whom they would never have met and shared with had she not been a patient.

We looked for meaning in that sort of way. There were doctors and medical staff who were an important part of our journey and became a part of our community.

Bill said there have been many people he and Jenny had the privilege of walking with because of their circumstances.

“That would never have been the case if this had not been our story.”


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