Family rocked by trauma humbled by kindness of Christian community

Trainee Church of Scotland ministers have raised nearly £1,700 for a charity which provides ongoing support to the wife of a colleague diagnosed with mouth cancer.

Jenny Stark was given the devastating news in December last year, four weeks after giving birth to her second child, Isla, and underwent three operations before having her tongue removed in March.

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

Stark Family
Ally and Jenny Stark with their two children.

The mother of two from Cellardyke in the East Neuk of Fife is married to Ally and the couple, who are both in their 30s, are parents to Ruaridh, 4.

Mr Stark 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 in aid of Maggie's Dundee.

The sponsored walk was organised by Jillian Storrie of Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire who set up an online Just Giving page to raise money for the cancer support charity which continues to support the Stark family and others like them.

Mr Stark said the love, prayer and 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.

Prayerful support

Reflecting on what his family have been through, 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."

Forth Road Bridge sponsored walk
Pictured are some of the people who took part in the walk. L-R Bill Storrie, Moira Taylor-Wintersgill, Steven Owens, Kerr Wintersgill, Darren Jalland, Jillian Storrie, Tommy Macgregor, Roger McAdoo, Kirsty Forsyth, Aaron Black, Eleanor Hamilton, Eilidh Westwood, Dawn Westwood, Michelle McAdoo, Jo Black.

Mr Stark said he and his wife were "blown away" by the efforts of his colleagues to raise so much money for Maggie's Dundee.

"It's so affirming to be sharing the road to ministry with such wonderful people and we're just so humbled and in awe of their kindness," he added.

"The amazing sum of money that they have raised will go towards supporting other individuals and their families through their own difficult journeys.

"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."

Sponsored walk

Mr Stark said his wife has been given an iPad to help her communicate but revealed that she hasn't needed to use it yet because her speech is "remarkable" considering what she's been through.

He added that she is currently just over a week away from finishing chemotherapy and radiotherapy and "continues to amaze" the doctors and everyone she meets.

Jillian Storrie and her husband Bill.
Jillian Storrie and her husband Bill.

Mrs Storrie, 52, who is due to start her ministry probation at St John's Parish Church in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire in a few months, said she is delighted that the sponsored walk has raised so much money so far.

"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," she explained.

"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."

The group started at the South Queensferry end of the road bridge and walked back before having lunch in South Queensferry Parish Church Hall.

Life changing

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."

Despite his injuries, Mr Storrie is continuing his work as an independent financial adviser.