It was May 11, 2017, 8:30 am, UVA Medical Center. As I laid down on the operating table, the thought that was on my mind was the scripture from Revelation 4:8- Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty who was and is and is to come. I repeated that in my mind as I drifted off to sleep. The next thing I remember I was waking up from an 8 hour surgery.
Even as I wrote that last paragraph, it still seems surreal, almost like a dream. But it was no dream. About a month before I had been told I had a malignant tumor on my duodenum (small intestine) the size of a softball. This tumor had been discovered on a CT scan that I had when I was having some issues with kidney stones. The doctor called it an “incidental” finding. I corrected him and said it was divine intervention. At that point I had no symptoms or health issues because of this mass in my body. Had it not been found, it would have continued to grow and possibly spread. Surgery was recommended to remove it.
Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is something you think will always happen to someone else or at least when you’re much older than 51. When it happens to you it is very sobering and overwhelming. It makes you suddenly aware of just how fragile life is yet also how GREAT God is.
After the initial diagnosis, I went to the UVA cancer center to get a second opinion. The recommendation was the same – surgery. The staff there was incredible. Since this type of surgery is routine at UVA, they have the entire process laid out in a binder to where there were no unanswered questions. The fear of the unknown was gone. And I was extremely impressed with my surgeon, Dr. Zaydfudim. When he came to discuss the process with us, he gave up his comfortable chair to me while he sat on a trash can for an hour explaining everything. That impressed me and I knew then I had made the right choice. (And btw, the local surgeons were amazing as well but they did not have the extensive experience that UVA did).
The type of surgery I had was called Whipple Surgery (anyone over 40 is now probably thinking about Charmin bathroom tissue). In addition to removing the tumor, they removed my gallbladder and part of my pancreas. In simple terms,a basic reconstruction of my digestive system. I was in the UVA medical center for 5 days followed by a 2 month recovery period at home.
God has blessed me in so many ways during this challenging process I cannot possibly list them all. One of the main things he showed me is how often I was taking things for granted – my family, my friends, my health, even normal daily routines. When I was able to eat solid food again after the surgery, tears came to my eyes as I thanked God for the food and thought about how glibly I had been praying over my meals before. We should never take that or our health for granted.
The most incredible moment was leaving the hospital and going outside into the sunshine. Seeing the blue sky, green trees and grass and breathing the fresh outdoor air made me feel reborn. I imagine it as a foretaste of what heaven will be like.
Recovery at home was slow for the first couple of weeks. My wife Cindy was run ragged until I was strong enough to fend for myself again. I was on a walker for about 10 days which gave me a greater appreciation for what the elderly go through, including my Dad. Oh, and you know how pavement on a street looks smooth? It ain’t. On one walk I almost flipped over the bars when I hit a tiny rut in the street. On the plus side, I had a lot of down time to read books that had been sitting on my shelf for years. And taking naps when I wanted! (I could have gotten used to that!)
The result of all of this: my faith in the Lord has grown stronger and I know that whatever life brings my way, He will be by my side to see me through it. And it has given me a greater ability to understand what others go through when they have health challenges.
One mindset I had going into this was that it wouldn’t just be about me having surgery. I wanted something positive and beneficial to result from it and I prayed about that. To that end I was able to share my Christian faith with many of the medical and nursing staff at UVA (including my surgeon).
I was also honored to participate in a post-op respiratory study conducted by Daniel Rowley whom I am happy to have met and become good friends with. His study has the potential to help many others in the future and that alone is worth whatever challenges I went through. Isn’t it amazing how God works in what we would consider less than ideal situations?
I am happy to report that the through Dr. Z and his staff’s skill, I am cancer free. I will need to take a cancer preventive medication for a few years but do not need any other interaction like chemo. Praise the Lord! And I am able to eat what I want and have had no issues with the reconstruction (I may not be the six million dollar man but I do feel a bit like Steve Trevor which is great – except for a propensity to run in slow motion!). Also, I now like lemon cake and pie where I didn’t before. So that is new and interesting.
There are so many people that prayed for me and expressed concern for me that I am truly humbled. To say I was saturated in prayer would would be an understatement and I am truly thankful to have so many caring friends and family. I would not have been able to get through this without their help. While I cannot list them all, here are a few:
- My family (wife, son James, daughter Rachel) who took care of me.
- My mom who prayed continually for me and called me everyday to check on me.
- My sisters Cathy and Dana who provided great advice and moral support. And Cathy took me to my 2 pre-surgery visits to UVA.
- My church family at Preston Oaks Baptist Church who all gathered around me and prayed over/for me the Sunday before the surgery and afterwards.
- Fred Eichelman and his prayer posse.
- My dear friends at work who constantly checked on me through texts and phone calls. And whom I was told later got little work done the day of my surgery.
- My dear friend and sister in Christ Apolonia Davalos who is a prayer warrior and inspiration.
- Jenn Gotzon who was praying for me during the middle of the night when I was having a lot of back pain (thanks to the epidural).
- Allison Burnett who came to pick me up and take me home on quick notice when I was able to leave a day earlier than expected. Having been a nurse himself he was very helpful in organizing my departure.
And lastly but certainly not least, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who endured much more than I can imagine on the cross to set me free from sin so that I may have eternal life through his grace.
One of my favorite bible verses has always been from 1 Corinthians 15 and even more so after the surgery. It’s what I look forward to when this mortal body has finished running it’s course on this side of eternity and is in heaven with Jesus:
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[h]
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[i]
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving season.
(This was originally published in 2018.)