A diagnosis of a terminal brain tumour at just 44 would be enough to shake most people’s faith but not for John Meteyard.
John, a conveyancing lawyer, and his wife Diane were given the devastating diagnosis and told it was unlikely he’d survive six months.
The family credit their strong Christian faith and the support of their churches for helping John to enjoy more than three years more.
Diane said: “Our family worship between two churches, St Mary’s at Portreath and the tea time service at Illogan Church. When John was diagnosed he felt very strongly that the Lord told him to let the doctors do their work, but that he also needed to ask our Christian friends to pray for him.
“What followed was completely amazing. Our own church quickly organised a 24 hour prayer vigil and as word spread we started to hear about different churches up and down this country, Canada, America, India, Africa and Australia all praying for John. It was completely amazing to be so wrapped up as a family in prayer.
“It was like everyone in our church families took a step forward and every time he had bad news, they took a step closer. It is difficult to tell our story without saying how our faith impacted on us.”
In an effort to beat the disease, John underwent surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy and went into remission but it was short lived and within months, John was experiencing visual problems culminating in him waking one morning to discover he had lost most of his sight. An urgent brain scan showed three new brain tumours, two of which were inoperable.
Despite having very aggressive treatment, he carried on working but eventually his body could no longer tolerate the chemotherapy and treatment came to an end. A follow-up brain scan had been proceeded by a warning that they should prepare for bad news. However, the scan results amazed everyone by showing that once again John was in remission and this time it lasted for 18 incredible months.
But this too came to an abrupt end when John came home from work and was immediately struck with a crippling headache and sickness. He was quickly admitted to hospital and a scan showed the reoccurrence of his aggressive malignant brain tumour. John had the option of staying in hospital or taking a bed a St Julia’s Hospice in Hayle. With John too ill to decide, Diane asked that he be moved to the hospice. It was the beginning of a six month on and off stay.
Ten days after John was admitted, Diane received a very early morning phone call to say he had suffered a seizure and was unresponsive. The family were asked to go to the hospice straight away. Diane, John’s children Becca and Matt and his sister were told it was very likely John would die that day, he only had a very slim chance of survival, but amazingly, while everyone was quietly embracing him and telling him how much they loved him, John woke up.
As John’s condition started to deteriorate rapidly and his life hung in the balance, doctors at the hospice asked the neurosurgical team in Derriford Hospital to perform life-prolonging surgery to remove some of the tumour. Diane said: “After surgery, his surgeon expressed his delight at how very well the surgery had gone – most of the tumour had been removed and John was transferred back to the hospice to recuperate following the surgery with the intention that he start a new course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Sadly, the expected improvement in John’s condition did not materialise and he showed marked signs of deterioration.”
Once he was finally stable enough he underwent a pre-treatment brain scan. A few days later Dr Debbie Stevens came to see John. The results of his latest scan were not good. But every time someone delivered bad news to John, he’d just say ‘that’s ok, I know where I am going’. John’s faith was very important to him and he never feared death, he just didn’t want to leave his family.
Knowing that his time was limited, John was desperate to go to church. “He was really missing being part of our church family. He knew he had only weeks left to live and the church were praying for him. A lot of our church family had come to visit and one lady was really faithful would come to the hospice and pray with John every day, something that many others would have done too but he wanted to go to church.”
Things came to a head when John wanted to attend a regular Sunday service but was warned he was too ill. However the hospice doctor questioned why the church couldn’t come to John instead and so at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, Diane called Rev Steve Robinson at Illogan Church asking if it would be possible to have a service at the hospice.
The very next day, a large number of the family’s church congregation turned up at the hospice filling not only the chapel but also the corridor and the visitors’ room. Diane said: “Having our church there was just amazing. To see so many people squeezed in was such an encouragement for John. Our children Becca, 20, and Matt, 17, took their usual spots as lead guitarist and bass player in the worship band and sat right in the middle of the congregation was John. It was brilliant.”
Rev Steven Robinson, rector of Illogan Parish, said: “John had been very instrumental in getting the teatime service off the ground. We decided that, although John couldn’t come to the teatime service, the tea time service could go to John! It was as simple as that. It was pretty last minute but it all worked out amazingly well and it was wonderful to be able to encourage John and the whole family in that way. At the same time John, Diane, Becca and Matt have been a tremendous encouragement to the whole church family through the example of their own strong faith even in the most difficult times.”
John was making good progress and seemed to be getting better. Diane said: “The improvement was such a mystery Dr Stevens asked for a new scan which showed the tumour had stopped growing. No one could explain this apart from all those people who’d been praying for John.”
Diane said: “Things were going so well it was decided John would come home. But then out of the blue he suffered a seizure. In a call from the oncologist I was told there was no hope of recovery, the tumour was now growing rapidly and John just had a few short days to live. It was a devastating blow.”
Sadly John lost his long and hard fight with cancer at 8.15pm on March 16, 2014.
“Something really awful happened to us as a family but we know God was with us. John would want to say that he never feared death. That was really important to him. It was important to him that everyone would know that God had a plan for him and this was his plan.
“And although John passed away, the manner of his passing touched many people. The doctors and nursing staff who looked after him at Treliske and Derriford hospitals, the community nursing staff and at the staff at the hospice were all challenged by his faith and his certainty that his death would not be the end for him. So even though in many ways this was the most dreadful experience of our lives, actually God has touched many people by John’s faith and his witness and by the manner of his death.”
A year on from John’s death, Diane says the support from her church hasn’t stopped. “They are still here right with us. All through John’s illness they met all our practical needs and supported us financially. Every night someone turned up with a meal for us. If we needed anything, they provided it and most importantly they prayed for us.”
Rev Robinson added: “The reason the church cared for the family the way they did by providing meals and so on, I think it is best summed up in the words of 1 John 4:19: ‘We love, because God first loved us’ and showed that love for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s this truth about the love of God in Christ Jesus that still sustains Diane, Becca and Matt.”