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,