There probably are not enough hours in the day for the Rev. Stephen Hebert to tackle all that confronts him as a cancer research nurse, spiritual counselor to sometimes dying patients and church pastor.
Following a nursing shift one Monday in August, Hebert, 38, learned one of his parishioner’s had died.
“It has been a really tough day today,” he said following his shift.
Hebert, father of three, left the hospital to console the family and make service and funeral arrangements - one of the many dual roles he takes on as a pastor at Livingston United Methodist Church and nurse at our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical/Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center.
“I do have a very hectic schedule and there are times when it can change by a single phone call or event. I have to trust God and not fall victim to leaning on my own understanding ? If I acknowledge God in all that I do, he promises to keep my paths straight. Knowing this is what gets me through each day,” Hebert said.
A “call” from God put Hebert in touch with his life’s mission, he said. In 2006, Hebert and his wife, Stephanie, witnessed a tragic motorcycle accident in Lafayette while on their way to a wedding reception. Hebert reached out to a dying victim and dispensed both medical and spiritual support, he said.
“The injured fellow was in bad shape. I assessed him and knew the situation was grim. I couldn’t do anything to help him, my hands were tied. I was highly trained as a 15-year veteran surgery and scrub nurse, but I knew immediately that he was perishing. I talked to him for a minute while waiting on the ambulance, and then I laid hands on him and prayed. He died at the end of my prayer,” Hebert said.
In the following days, Hebert said he was too distraught to either sleep or eat. “? I prayed constantly asking God, ?why?’ He answered me seven days later by saying, “Stephen, I have made you into a good nurse that knows how to take care of people physically. Now, I want you to take care of them spiritually.”
Days following the accident, Hebert said, he began the process of becoming a licensed local pastor in the United Methodist church.
Looking back on his years as a young boy, Hebert said his medical training started much earlier. “It was hardwired into me. I used to do surgery on my teddy bears to find out what was inside. I still have one that I operated on a few times and he has stitches everywhere,” he said.
He earned several nursing degrees, including surgical registered nurse in 1997 and a registered nurse first assistant in 2001. In 2003, he worked on his master’s degree in health-care administration. He is also a part-time student at Asbury Theological Seminary.
His work at the hospital is a humbling experience that helps him stay focused on his mission, he said.
“Getting up each morning during my work week and coming to work and in contact with people that are fighting for their lives is by far one of the most humbling experiences one could ever have in a lifetime. Every time I find myself face to face with a patient and their family members, my small trials and troubles in life immediately go out of the window,” Hebert said.
Some of Hebert’s patients are also his church members. Part of his job is to conduct cancer related clinical trials for patients that come in to be treated.
Cancer patient Chris Henderson, of Maurepas, visited Mary Bird Perkins in August to meet with Hebert for an update on a new antibody therapy treatment for his disease, Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“You appreciate life a lot more when you realize you can die any day,” Henderson said.
The treatment, SGN-35, though not part of Hebert’s clinical trial treatments, could well be Henderson’s last resort because the cancer has not responded to prior medication, chemotherapy or radiation, Hebert said.
Henderson started the new cancer treatment recently. “This drug goes after the cancer cells,” Hebert told him.
Henderson said that thanks to help from Hebert, his spiritual outlook on life has changed.
“It’s a long battle but it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. I was headed down the wrong road. I’ve made a complete 360. Before, I didn’t believe in God at all. I was doing bad and I thought, what has God done for me. After finding out I had cancer, the very next morning they put me in emergency surgery. While in ICU, Stephen was there. Stephen saved me (spiritual salvation) on the day of my surgery and he’s been there for me in more than one way when it comes to treatments and the trusting in the Lord,” Henderson said.
Hebert said his work and his ministry parallel in many ways.
“I do minister to my patients on a regular basis, and in many ways they minister to me. Cancer and sin have a lot in common; both need intervention, and both need a cure,” he said.
Hebert said he also believes that everyone is called upon by the Lord.
“God has a call on all of our lives,” he said. “It’s just that we don’t all answer him.”