Pastor with breast cancer uses experience to relate to her congregants
ROCK FALLS – The Rev. Henrietta Milner is glad she had breast cancer.
Milner, 59, known as Pastor Hank at Immanuel Lutheran Church, said the sickness made her able to know what her congregants with cancer are going through, she said.
She has been able to use that insight quite a bit. Three of her congregants were diagnosed with cancer in the 6 weeks after her July diagnosis, and another, Montmorency fourth-grader Jessica Gordon, was diagnosed in January with Burkitt’s lymphoma.
“I think it’s been scary for the congregation, and it’s been scary for me,” she said of her illness.
Milner has been the church’s pastor for 14 years. Although she has a better sense of what her congregants are experiencing, she has had to try not to get too emotionally involved, she said.
“Just because I share this cancer thing, there’s a boundary for myself that I have to hold onto so my feelings don’t bleed all over the place,” she said. “I can’t just assume I know what they’re feeling.”
Milner discovered a lump in June, during a self-exam. She now encourages her congregants to perform self-exams, a task that she was lax about, she said.
“I get on my soapbox and say ‘Women, just do it,’” she said.
She had hoped it was just a cyst caused by her former habit of drinking one or two cups of coffee a day. Instead, she had stage 2 breast cancer and a choice to make: a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy.
She chose the mastectomy, knowing she would not be able to drive herself to radiation treatments. She also has retinitis pigmentosa, which prevents her from driving, and her children live out of town: Eric Milner, 26, lives in Rockton and Heather Meyer, 28, lives in Rochelle.
Her cancer was diagnosed as grade 9, the most aggressive, she said. The good thing about that type, she said, is that it usually responds well to chemotherapy.
She underwent six chemotherapy treatments and was put on an estrogen-blocking drug that she must take for 5 years.
Her church now is a place where people know they can freely talk about cancer, she said.
The church also has organized a Whiteside County Relay for Life team, the Spirit of Immanuel.
The team will participate in the upcoming Relay for Life fundraiser at Rock Falls High School’s Hinders Field. Milner will participate in the survivor lap, which involves one lap around the track.
Lee, Whiteside relays
In Whiteside County
Relay for Life of Whiteside County’s annual overnight walk will start at 4 p.m. June 2 at Rock Falls High School’s Hinders Field, 508 15th Ave.
Thirty-five teams have registered for the American Cancer Society fundraiser, and there’s still room for more.
In Lee County
The Relay For Life of Lee County begins at 6 p.m. June 8 at Dixon High School, 300 Lincoln Statue Drive.
There will be a luminaria ceremony around 9:15 p.m., and closing ceremonies at 5 a.m. June 9. This year’s theme is Mardi Gras.
Go to main.acsevents.org or call 815-229-1287 to sign up or for more information on either walk.