Trainee ministers fundraise for woman who lost tongue to cancer

Four weeks after giving birth, Jenny Stark was diagnosed with mouth cancer and in March had her tongue removed.

Church of Scotland trainee ministers rally to raise money for Maggie’s Dundee which helped colleague’s wife Church of Scotland

A group of trainee ministers have raised nearly £1,700 for a charity which provides support to the wife of a colleague who was diagnosed with cancer in December.

Four weeks after giving birth to her second child Isla last year, Jenny Stark was diagnosed with mouth cancer and underwent three operations before having her tongue removed in March 2022.

The procedure has had a profound impact on her ability to eat and speak and she is currently undergoing radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The mother of two is married to Ally, who is studying divinity at the University of St Andrews and currently on placement at Howe of Fife Parish Church.

His colleagues were part of a group of 18 people – mostly ministry candidates and probationer ministers – who walked across the Forth Road Bridge and back on Saturday, May 28, in aid of Maggie’s Dundee.

Mr Stark said the support they have received is an “outstanding example” of Christians coming together to “live out their faith and be a light in their communities” during difficult times.

He said: “News of Jenny’s diagnosis, especially so soon after Isla’s arrival, came as a real shock to us.

“Initially, I was worried about being able to continue in the immediate term on my calling to ordained ministry.

“We have, however, since experienced the most incredible groundswell of love and support, and from every direction.

“St Andrews University, Howe of Fife Church, the Church’s Faith Nurture Forum, my placement supervisor and those from across many other congregations with which we are connected have all been incredible.

“Their generous flexibility, prayer and support has allowed me to continue on this path during this most difficult of times.

“The practical support of family and friends has also been so wonderful, and continues to get us through.”

Mr Stark added that he and his wife were “blown away” by the efforts of his colleagues to raise so much money for the charity.

“The amazing sum of money that they have raised will go towards supporting other individuals and their families through their own difficult journeys,” he added, “I know just how valuable that will be, as the centre was such a support for us, especially in their provision of resources for talking to young children about cancer and hospital stays.

“The maxillofacial team at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee—and the NHS as a whole—have been simply amazing.”

Mrs Stark was given an iPad to help her communicate but hasn’t needed to use it yet because her speech is “remarkable” considering what she’s been through.

She is set to finish chemotherapy and radiotherapy in just over a week.

The sponsored walk was organised by Jillian Storrie of Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire who is due to start her ministry probation at St John’s Parish Church in Hamilton in a few months.

The 52-year-old said:  “Ally is part of my ministry training network group and while prayer support is wonderful, I wanted to do something practical to help the family.

“It was a perfect day, the weather was fantastic, and people loved getting together for a chat after not seeing each other for two years due to Covid-19 and supporting a great cause.”

Mrs Storrie said she could relate to Mr Stark’s dilemma over whether he should continue with his studies and ambition to become a minister after her 65-year-old husband was given a life-changing diagnosis.

She explained: “Just before I was about to start my first placement Bill came off his bike on a cycle path while we were in Oban in July 2020 and is now an in-complete tetraplegic.

“He spent five months in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital National Spinal Unit in Glasgow and has a spinal cord injury similar to the Superman actor, Christopher Reeves.

“I started my training as a mum to three grown up children and in the space of a day, I turned into a fulltime carer.

“So Ally and I can relate to life changing events that happen.

“Bill’s prognosis was he would never walk again but he does, albeit robotically and he cannot walk very far.

“He is very determined and was very fit before the accident.

“The power of prayer and all the support we receive from the faith community has made all the difference to our lives and gets us through, just like Ally and Jenny.”

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