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A Vocation Interrupted: Fr. Jonah Pollock’s Battle with Brain Cancer

Fr. Jonah Pollock, O.P., stands outside Hospital for Special Surgery. Photo by Gabriella Cerqueira

Fr. Jonah Pollock, O.P., is Executive Director of the Dominican Friars Healthcare Ministry of New York, which makes over 60,000 patient visits a year at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Hospital for Special Surgery, and New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

While discerning a call to the priesthood and religious life with the Dominican Friars, Fr. Jonah was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor.

How did you realize you had cancer?

I went to Notre Dame to visit my brother, who was a law student there. I was playing basketball with him when I mentioned I was experiencing momentary dizziness. He made me promise to get it checked out, and I did. Very much to my surprise it was a tumor the size of a golf ball in my brain stem.

How did your call to the priesthood develop during your illness?

They got most of [the tumor] out surgically, but about fifteen percent remained. It was too close to key nerves to remove. I had six weeks of radiation after that, which was tough: I lost a lot of weight and got very sick. During that hard time, I remember going to Mass and thinking, ‘I hope I survive so I can become a priest.’

The day I was diagnosed, I had a strong experience in prayer—reading the prologue of the Gospel of John. The eternal life of Christ that is given to us put things in perspective: the life I live in this world, whether it’s short or long, is not much compared to the eternal life that Christ lives and shares with us.

Do you draw on your battle with cancer in your ministry?

My experience of cancer as a person of faith, the questions and prayer it inspired, and the ways God brought me through it, have been extraordinarily beneficial for my ministry, especially at the [Memorial Sloan Kettering] Cancer Center.

God brought good out of my illness. God can be trusted to always bring good out of evil, not just in a cosmic sense, but for each person.

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