Priest Battling Leukemia Passes Away After Being Ordained & Offering Services In Hospital Room For 23 Days; How Faith Can Help During Cancer

Published Apr 26, 2021

Shelby Black

Faith During Cancer

  • Father Livinius Esomchi Nnamani had been battling leukemia for 2 years and was ordained to the priesthood in his hospital room. For the 23 days prior to his passing he held mass services from the hospital.
  • Leukemia is a cancer of the cells in bone marrow that grow into white blood cells. The body can produce too many which makes them little help fighting infections.
  • Many cancer survivors have told SurvivorNet that faith and religion have been powerful tools in helping them cope during a cancer fight.

The inspiring Father Livinius Esomchi Nnamani has passed away at 31-years-old after a battle with leukemia. He was ordained to the priesthood nearly a month ago in his hospital room and held mass services up until his passing. For many people, turning to faith can be a powerful resource for coping during a cancer fight.

For the 23 days up until his passing, Father Nnamani dedicated his time to the priesthood despite an ongoing battle with leukemia (a type of blood cancer). He had been battling the disease for two years and receiving care in Italy, and had been a dedicated man of faith in his home country of Nigeria.

He was scheduled to be ordained later this year, but when his condition took a turn for the worse he contacted the Vatican’s Pope Francis to ask for the date to be moved up. Pope Francis agreed, and Father Nnamani was ordained on April 1 in his hospital room. For the next few weeks, Father Nnamani held mass services in that same hospital room. He passed away on April 23.

Related: The Triumph of Hope & Faith Renewed– Why Easter Is So Heartfelt For Cancer Survivors

Father Davide Carbonaro hosted Father Nnamani in Italy reflected on what he had learned from the priest. “I have thought a lot about my priestly life: Livinius may not have had the opportunity that I had to proclaim the Gospel and serve the people of God, but the Lord chose him in this very special priesthood by uniting them with him,” Carbonaro said.

Ovarian cancer survivor Annie Tolentino says religion and prayer helped her battle cancer

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is a cancer of the early cells in bone marrow that grow into white blood cells. Problems arise when your body starts making too many of these cells. Because the new cells are abnormal and don’t work like they should, they’re of little help in protecting you against infections. There are different subtypes of leukemia. These are broken down based on the maturity of the white blood cells they affect, and the type of cells they start from.

Related: Blood Cancer is Different From Other Cancers—Some Treatments Are, Too

Acute leukemia happens when the cancer cells are immature and can’t do their job. Chronic leukemia is when most of the abnormal cells are mature, but they still don’t work as well as healthy white blood cells. Myeloid leukemias start in myeloid cells, the type of cells that become white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. Lymphocytic leukemias start from the cells that produce lymphocytes. Since there are different subtypes within this cancer, it’s important to consult your doctor and get the right diagnosis in order to make treatment decisions.

Dr. Nina Shah explains how blood cancer is different than other cancers

Power of Faith During a Cancer Fight

During a cancer fight, it’s important to find ways to cope with the complex web of feelings you may be experiencing. For many people, turning to faith has helped them keep their spirits high and continue fighting through cancer. This was the case for ovarian cancer survivor Monica Layton, whose church congregation helped her both spiritually and physically as she battled cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic and then went through recovery.

“[I’ve] gone to the same church for a long time, so it’s like another family that really supports me,” Layton told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “We’re Episcopalian, and when I was having surgery my priest came to the hospital and stayed and prayed with my family the whole time—and it was a long surgery. And then he came back to the hospital every day to pray with me.”

Related: How to Cope When Recurrence Rattles Your Faith At The Age of 25—Two-Time Colon Cancer Survivor Danielle Ripley-Burgess Shares Her Story

In addition to praying for her, Layton’s church also sent gifts of encouragement such as flowers, cards, a prayer blanket, and constant visits. No matter where she was, Layton constantly felt supported by the people in her church. “They were so kind. I think my faith has been very important, crucial for me. Just the prayer really helps, I think,” Layton said.

Ovarian cancer survivor Monica Layton shares how her church was her biggest support system

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