Cancer survivor recalls hectic life

David Guiliano never let cancer stop him from fulfilling the biggest role with the United Church of Canada.

Against a backdrop of colourful vestments

Against a backdrop of colourful vestments

David Guiliano never let cancer stop him from fulfilling the biggest role with the United Church of Canada.

Cancer taught him some valuable lessons while serving as the 39th moderator of one of Canada’s largest Christian denominations.

Guiliano was a guest speaker at a three-day seminar, entitled Fear, Faith and Finding God in the Midst of a Hectic Life, at Kasota East Camp on Sylvan Lake. The seminar ends today and was attended by about 30 people, mostly clergy.

Guiliano had served 19 years with St. John’s United Church in Marathon, Ont. when he was nominated and elected to the top post. At 46, he was one of the United Church’s youngest spiritual leaders.

But shortly after, he learned the benign tumour on the left side of his head had turned malignant and was identified as sarcoma, a type of cancer that develops from certain tissues like bone. He had previously undergone about eight surgeries to remove the benign tumour.

Guiliano found himself on a new journey that would teach him what it meant to be vulnerable. And he could see how the United Church was experiencing its own vulnerability.

“It was a lens through which I looked at what was happening in our communities and in our churches,” said Guiliano, 50, on Wednesday. “I was trying to help the United Church reflect. . . where churches used to be centre of culture. Businesspeople and so on would come to church, where newspapers would cover the sermon every week. That’s all changing.”

Through his experience, he hoped the United Church would reconcile itself with this new reality and grow from it.

“We could begin to imagine the gifts that we have to live out in the world,” Guiliano said.

When he wasn’t having radiation treatments or surgery, Guiliano continued to travel with his job, sometimes internationally. He practised faithfulness.

He wasn’t scared of cancer or the possibility of dying. Guiliano was more worried about whether he would have the energy to get the work done he needed to do as head leader.

Guiliano also never questioned why this happened to him during a time when he was playing such a pivotal role in the church. He dismisses any thought that God gave him cancer.

“There are those who would say that God did this to teach someone, to punish them, to make them a better person,” he said. “I don’t believe God does this.”

Instead he believes there are so many variables for becoming ill, from genetics to the environment.

“We live in a universe where there is predictability and unpredictability — where there is freedom for choices.”

It’s not the ‘why?” that matters so much, he added, but how that person responds to illness.

“Will it serve a power of goodness, love, generosity in the world? Or will it serve a power of fear, anxiety and selfishness?”

Being faithful to God doesn’t mean that nothing ever bad happens to you, Guiliano added.

“I wouldn’t want to tell (cancer patients) what to do in life, but for me, I tried to welcome cancer as a teacher,” he said. “I would want to say (to them), ‘God did not do this to you.’ God is present when we are healthy, when we are sick.”

Sporting a large bump above his left eyebrow, Guiliano said he is physically well.

Guiliano passed on the moderator’s torch to Mardi Tindal of Brantford, Ont. last August. He felt “very peaceful” by the job he had done and continues to serve his congregation in Marathon.