“A Journey of Recovery” by Joan and Doug Dodge

Paper doves symbolizing peace hang from the ceiling under a mural at the Church of the Most Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Lviv, Ukraine. Credit: SOPA Images Limited/Alamy Live News

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 22, 2022

Celebration Circle asked if I wanted to share my illness and year-long recovery process.  Some events I remember clearly while others I have forgotten completely.

Also, my journey was a journey that my husband, Doug, was on too. He is going to share his experience being a caregiver too.

Thinking about last year, some specific areas seem to “pop out” for me.  There is still mystery to me as to how all the pieces fit together.  

These “pop out” areas include changes I’ve seen in myself over this last year.

Some changes include:

  • Recognizing myself as being in a transition time or “liminal” space this last year—more about liminal space later 
  • Acknowledging that there have been changes in me–physically, mentally, and spiritually throughout this process of recovery,
  • Accepting a new developmental stage of life by moving from role work to soul work
  • Trusting the presence of a Holy Spirit and the support of many persons who embodied comfort, caring, and their own wisdom


Our Gospel reading from John this morning (John 14:23-29) came from a time just before the death of Jesus when he was meeting with his disciples for the last time.  Jesus was trying to help them understand a dual reality– he was leaving them but would not leave them abandoned or alone.   Jesus was trying to prepare and assure them that they wouldn’t be deserted after his crucifixion. Of course, the disciples asked all kinds of questions.  Jesus in this preparation period for his departure promised to send another—an Advocate or Comforter, a Spirit of Truth—an entity that will help them to continue his work.

 (John 14:25) Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit will teach you everything, and remind you all that I have said to you”. 

Jesus knew that after his death, there would be a period in which his friends and disciples would experience a period of helplessness, confusion, and fear…not knowing what they should do to carry on his ministry.  The disciples would be in an uncertain and frightening time after Jesus’ death.

My own journey of living in a space of helplessness, confusion, and fear started

last January 2021 when I was diagnosed with a ductal cancer—a somewhat rare cancer of a bile duct between the small intestine and my pancreas. 

At the end of February, I had a sudden Whipple procedure — a complicated and long surgery.  After 10 days at Georgetown Hospital with no visitors allowed due to COVID, I came home to recover. My family, you all–the Seekers, and various, in-home caregivers began my in-home rehab process.

My healing journey has had numerous ups and downs along the way.  It took a long time for my stomach to heal itself so that I could eat and enjoy food again.

This recovery journey over the last year has been one of living in “liminal” space.  

Author and Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr in an article, “All Transformation Takes Place in Liminal Space,” described liminal space as

“where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown.  There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not sure of the new existence.” “It is the ultimate teachable space.” “It is that grace time when we are not certain, or not in control, when something new can happen.”

Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 135–138.

I did have a few learnings from my time in liminal space.   In a recent book, The Inner Work of Age:  Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig, the author talks about a serious and/or major illness as one of the “divine messengers.” It is the opportunity be in that liminal space to focus on the shifting of a developmental life period from role work to soul work. The author points to some worthwhile questions for reflection:

  • Who was I before this illness?
  • Who am I now, during this illness? 
  • Who will I be after this illness? (p.161)

Other learnings include the following:

  • Becoming aware of the importance of eating and eating with others and not just seeing food as nourishment but as important social relationships.
  • Focusing on just the current day and that day only.  Not knowing what the future may bring.  There are still days that I don’t feel well, and my balance and walking are still unsteady.  How can I trust myself in walking?
  • Living in the tension between what I would like to do and my physical inability to do some things even if I want to do them.
  • Recognizing and allowing the need for support from others, both emotional and physical supports.   
  • Letting go of control of many things and then reclaiming them again as I recover and gain strength
  • Depending on the support of others and a Holy Spirit or healing energy for comfort, caring, and wisdom

This past year has been one in which I have needed support of others in many ways—my family, of course, with Doug as one of my caregivers, my daughter, Liz, who is my major health advocate and her family, my son, Brian, and spouse, Lauren, who both had positive ideas for self-healing, you all—Seekers—with prayers and also dinners.  I also had a variety of home health aides who did everything for me including brushing my teeth when I couldn’t do simple tasks for myself, as well as my friends and colleagues who were encouraging along the way and offered ideas, treats, positive words to tempt my eating and, of course, all the medical staff. 

Relying on and trusting the capabilities of all these persons was not easy because it meant that I had to be dependent – It was hard moving my sense of self from being a helper and independent person to needing help and extreme dependency on others.  

I am recovering slowly but surely. Despite the ups and downs, I have felt that there has been a healing Spirit or energy that has flowed to me from these support persons and through prayers by Seekers and various other folks. Every person embodied the Holy Spirit or Comforter in some way over the course of my journey this last year.  They may not see or understand themselves as a Holy Spirit, but they were.

The Bible’s wisdom tradition also helped me to see the Holy Spirit and support from others as the voices of love, knowledge, and insight that have been present from the first. 

Two quotes from that wisdom tradition.

Wisdom is bright and does not grow dim.
By those who love her she is readily seen,
And found by those who look for her.

Wisdom 6:12

Although she is but one, she can do all things,
And while remaining in herself
She renews all things.

Wisdom 7:27

Doug’s Thoughts on Caregiving

Joan’s illness and all that went into her treatment was difficult for the “Dodge caretakers.”  My daughter, Liz, was a major resource for us both, as she was available to help take care of Joan after she got home and served as her medical advocate along the way.

I’m not sure when Joan began to exhibit the most serious symptoms. It was sometime in early-February.  Doctors identified a tumor on the top of the duodenum and between it and the pancreas.  Joan underwent an eight-hour surgery to remove the tumor. Her surgeon reported that the surgery went well. While it was good news that the surgery went well, the difficulty was, because of COVD, we could not be with Joan during her 10-day stay in the hospital.  

When she came home, we set up a hospital bed on the first floor in the den.  All during this time, Joan was not able to eat.  A feeding tube was recommended by her doctors and the insertion of the feeding in late August was really the beginning of Joan’s recovery.

The several weeks after Joan got home were very difficult in part because she couldn’t eat, and she also needed full-time care which fell on me and Liz and to some extent our son, Brian. 

Being a caregiver, as any of you have done it know, is very difficult. I felt the fear as to whether Joan was going to survive, the burden of all the demands for care, and the guilt for having those feelings. 

We received a lot of support from the Seekers community in the form of meals, some respite, and prayers.  We finally got a caregiver who came 5 days a week for 5 hours a day. Having the caregiver there, lifted to some extent the burden of the care that Joan needed.

I did a lot of praying during the weeks that Joan was ill.  However, because of the various setbacks, I began to think that the prayers weren’t working.  Given her miraculous recovery, I now believe that my prayers and the prayers of the Seekers community contributed to her healing and recovery. Joan is doing quite well now.

 Thank you for your prayers and support

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