Dean Keith Joyce of Fredericton signs a giant “get well soon” card at General Synod for Bishop Victoria Matthews who withdrew from the primatial election after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
“This timing leaves a lot to be desired.” That was the first thought that crossed Bishop Victoria Matthews’ mind when her doctor broke the bad news recently that she had breast cancer and needed surgery right away.
She was, after all, in the thick of things: running the diocese of Edmonton and getting ready for General Synod, where she would have been the first woman nominee for primate (head archbishop) not just in the Anglican Church of Canada but the worldwide Anglican Communion.
In mid-May, Bishop Matthews announced her withdrawal from the primatial election. She also withdrew her name as a candidate for diocesan bishop of Toronto, which held an episcopal election June 12.
A busy life rudely interrupted by a debilitating disease that would force her into disability leave for at least a year was not something she hoped for, she said in an interview before the surgery. That is, until she recalled what centuries of Christians before her had constantly reminded themselves: that this life is all about getting ready for the next.
Her diagnosis “is not terminal or anything,” said Bishop Matthews, 50. “But it does make you realize that no life goes on forever.”
On June 2 Bishop Matthews underwent a double mastectomy. A General Synod delegate from the diocese of Edmonton reported to the gathering that Bishop Matthews was doing well after the surgery. It was a radical procedure that she said she was ready for. “I’m enormously grateful for being a person of faith,” she said. “Facing the diagnosis and the shock of it – if I didn’t believe in something beyond myself I can’t imagine how I would have dealt with this.”
Asking God why she got breast cancer was not something that ever crossed her mind, said Bishop Matthews. “I have found myself absolutely surrounded by grace and the love of God as opposed to thinking, ‘how could this happen to me?'” Besides, she said, “I don’t believe God gives cancer. I believe in giving glory to God in any circumstance.”
There were no active symptoms of the cancer but she did notice “an abnormality” when she was in the shower, said Bishop Matthews. A visit to the doctor where a mammogram and ultrasound were conducted confirmed her worst suspicion.
After the mastectomy Bishop Matthews said she will need to undergo at least six months of chemotherapy and later, possibly radiation. But it is not something she is thinking or worrying about. “I have the support of the Christian community. In spite of being sick I’m very aware of God’s love,” she said.
She acknowledged that there will be some rough patches along the way: the after effects of breast cancer treatment are often painful. But she said she has told her close friends that “the road ahead is very dark but I have no doubt that the love of Christ will light the way.”