Last Sunday as I was preparing to preach in church, Kate called me before taking the stage to wish me a Happy Gastrectoversary! My second year without a stomach had gone by slipping under the radar of my memory bank which I think captures the normalcy I have found with my new way of life. Things are not what they were, and that is worth mourning for a season, but life has really gone on. Among my stomachless friends, we will say from time-to-time, “no stomach, no problem” when it comes to reclaiming bits and pieces of our old life. It’s our stomachless way of celebrating progress and the simple things: the glazed donut, walking a 100 ft which soon turned to a half-marathon run, the makeover, a complete new wardrobe, a new addition to the family, traveling, the perfectly drawn gibraltar, and the list could go on. This week Marne sent our group a hilarious message, “Sometimes I eat thin mints until I hit a terrible me sugar coma… wink emoticon.” 

It was a beautifully hilarious moment! This amazing group of people have made my stomachless life more than survivable, but enjoyable. Sure, it’s a bummer not being able to eat a pint of ice cream or a sleeve of thin mints, but weighing the cost sometimes makes it that much more pleasurable. Stomach cramps? They come and go. Blockages? they are annoying and painful, but pass. Chronic bowel obstructions? Well, I’ll be honest, this part really does still suck, but at least when I go to the hospital I know exactly what I need: pain meds, zofran because the pain meds make me super nauseous, phenergan because sometimes the pain is so bad I need to get knocked out, an IV for fluids, and four days NPO to clear out that bowel obstruction. “Boom. No stomach, no problem.”

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is written by a man who after being chained, beaten and arrested, encourages a group of people whom he loves dearly with these incredible words: “Rejoice in the LORD always! I will say it again: rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). I love these words because joy under all circumstances is a choice. It’s a choice that requires courage and perspective. It’s challenging and difficult, but without it, bitterness and resentment will grow like a weed in my soul.

Kate made a passing comment a few months back that has sat with me since, “I don’t think I have heard you have an honest-to-goodness-can’t-breathe-tear-wiping laugh in a long time.” Insert wide eyed emoji here.

Truth is, she’s right and has not been the only one to make that comment in some form over the past couple of years. For the past few summers I have had the privilege of leading a team of high school students and adults to serve with an incredible organization that does projects in Guatemala. Over the years we’ve made some incredible friends in Central America and have come to know each other well. Last summer one of our Guatemalan friends made a casual remark while we were waiting for building materials, “your face, it’s so serious. No more laughing oso panda?”

Maybe it is time to pay attention because it has become clear to everyone else except me that the slowest aspect of recovering life after a traumatic parting of ways with a stomach has not been the scars, but recovering my humor. Somewhere along the line, while I have had a great outlook on life in general, things have taken a bit of a serious turn.

Without question, cancer is serious, but I do not think it should suck the joy out of my life either, which is something I never considered as a side effect of life without a stomach. Overall am I content? Sure. But what happened to that rolling-on-the-ground-can’t-breathe laughter that is a huge part of my personality? I think there might be a picture of my humor on the back of a milk carton somewhere. I’ve spent almost two years now getting my body up-to-par. Many things are still a work in progress, but I think it is time to recover my personality and joy for life again. It is way too easy to get discouraged because like everyone else, it has been one step forward, two back, but I really want to focus on joy and contentment as the next, and perhaps longer, phase of my recovery.

I think the “seriousness” stems from coming to terms with my own mortality which gave me a sense of urgency to accomplish everything right here, right now, but I am beginning to wonder if a new lease on my life should not necessarily mean I need to move at breakneck speed either. My attitude has been to recover as much of my life as fast as I can, but what if I miss what actually matters along the way?

My faith has given me strength to face my everyday challenges these past couple years, but I tend to forget a huge portion of my faith is finding joy regardless of my situation. So tonight, Kate and I are celebrating our 8th anniversary a couple weeks early with an incredible meal at Gary Danko’s in San Francisco and if I have to sprinkle Norco on my duck breast to get through the meal without pain, I will continue to rejoice. No Stomach, no problem.

Grace and Peace,

Steve

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15 thoughts on “Rejoice, Always. Year Two.

  1. Dear Steve,my name is Polina, i am 35 and i live far far away from you. I live in Russia. But my thankful heart is close to you! You saved me many times. You and your friends (Rachels, Marne) gave me hope, inspiration, strength when I was weak. Soon I will selebrate 1 year after gastroectomy and chemotherapy (I had stage 4 gastric cancer). Today I was angry with all challenges I had through the day like two shugarcrashes, vertigo, weakness. But your post saved me again. You should know, that you have friend in Russia, person, who is thinking of you and wishing the best to your wonderful family. I believe that you will have many enjoyable moments in the future.

    1. Wow! I am so humbled to have the opportunity to encourage you. I hope that you celebrate your first gastrectoversary well, I am sure it has been a difficult journey for you and hope there were more milestones than hurdles for you even through all the sugar-crashes and weakness. Best wishes and happy gastrectoversary my friend from Russia!

      1. I am an Australian and my op was almost 3 years ago now and I have been well every day and not suffered from all the things you have. My stomach was full of cancer and had broken through my stomach wall and into my liver so part of that was removed too. I also had breast cancer a year later. Every day is a delight for me and my life without a stomach is the best ever. I believe in God and this has put me on the right path for all this happiness I have each day. I eat anything I like but in very small doses and sugar has never been a problem for me. I only ever put a small amount of food into my mouth at a time and chew like mad……My life after no stomach is the best ever for me. I wish you all the happiness and future better “health” problems and love to your family who have also helped you to recover. Recovery is forever. I am 77 years old, my name is Julie Reid and live about 2 hours from Sydney.

  2. Hi Steve.
    I am scheduled for a TG next month due to being CDH1+. I have moments where I am confident in my decision and the next minute all clarity is gone. The uncertainties scare me. Your blog is inspirational. Reading of the complications you’ve experienced adds to my fear; but your outlook, such as your comment “it’s not what we face, it’s who we become when we face it” reassures me that it will be ok. So I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to share your story and wisdom. It is more helpful than you will ever know.

    1. I am so sorry that you also have the genetic mutation, but I will tell you that we get through this together. The journey is long, but their really is so much life to enjoy even without a stomach. My prayers are with you as you go in for your TG, please keep in touch and let me know how you are doing and if you have any questions as you walk through this journey! Having a community of people to help me navigate the complications made it a million times easier.

      1. Thank you. Obviously, I’m not very computer skilled as I see I commented twice … actually, I didn’t think the first went through! I will keep in touch as I’m sure that I will have many questions along the way. I’ve read through almost all of the journeys on the NSFC website. I see that you have many of them (Marne, Rachel, etc) listed as fellow CDH1 friends on your blog. I would like to ask if you all have some type of group email or communication method that allows you to connect with each other for advice/questions/etc without posting on each individual blog. Thank you.

  3. Hi Steve.
    I am scheduled for a TG next month due to CDH1+. I have been researching it as much as I can. One moment I am confident in my decision and the next minute all clarity is gone. The uncertainties scare me. I find your blog inspirational. Reading of all the complications you’ve experienced adds to my fear. Yet, your outlook, such as your comment of “it’s not what we face, it’s who we become when we face it” lets me know that it will be ok. Thank you for taking the time to share your story.

  4. Wow Steve I have followed you sporadically for the last year and a half, I am a 5 year survivor, total gastrectomy with chemo/ radiation followup. I AM CANCER FREE, just got my dismissal from my Dr last month. Just decided to look at you page again today. I too have struggled with the eating, hypoglycemia and wow weight loss I was down to 106,from 180, pretty scarry for me and my family. But 3 months ago started on Creon(pancreatic enzyme) and self manipulation for adhesion’s.-(had emergency adhesion surgery in June 2015)I have gained 20 pounds, I do not run marathons but I am a very busy Grama.I am also a Lover of our faithful God and love to see what you are doing, I recommended your church to a friend who was moving to your area.I know God is blessing you as you write , keep on! If you want more info on the self manipulation ask.
    Diane from Michigan where it is COLD.

    1. Wow Diane! I’m sooooooooo pumped to hear that you are CANCER FREE! The hypoglycemia is brutal and I often let my cravings get the best of me. I have never heard of croon, I’ll have to look it hope. Please have your friend get in touch with me if they are looking for a church! I’d love to meet them and even point them in the direction of some great churches in our area if they are looking for a home! Stay warm out there in Michigan! Thanks for reaching out!

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