Life & Health Theology

Meditations on Surgery I: Discovery & Research

January 14, 2010

This upcoming Monday I will be having a J-pouch Surgery at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. The purpose is to remove my colon and thereby prevent my genetic disease, Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), from developing into colon cancer. Since not many people get to experience this sort of thing, I have decided that I ought to chronicle the event and my thoughts on this blog. Some of this will perhaps serve to convey updates while I recover, but I mostly want to record my mental and spiritual journey during this time for reflection. With that preface I will begin in this post by attempting to recount the process that has lead me to surgery.

It initially began shortly after my father went to be with the Lord in December of ’03 (my senior year of high school). We knew that the cancer he died from was genetically passed down to him from his mother (who died when I was still a baby). So each of us older children had a scoping done and found that we each had numerous polyps in our colons, and thus the sign of FAP. I don’t honestly remember much of this because my senior year was a big blur for me in my memory — I only recall bits and pieces. From what I understand, the doctors encouraged each of us to have our colons taken out soon since our insurance was planning on dropping us now that we had a “pre-existing medical condition.” My older sister was the only one that really considered taking her colon out, but decided not to because of polyps in her stomach and duodenum as well. I honestly didn’t want to decide at the time, especially with the recent circumstances — I wanted to be normal. My non-decision was definitely a decision: no.

So I went off to college at Hillsdale hoping to have a normal college experience and deal with my FAP afterwards. I remember many of my close friends asking if I was going to have the surgery and keeping on to me about it (very much in love, not in any nagging way). I simply didn’t want to think about it. And I succeeded in that until after I graduated. I justified this in my mind because it was very difficult to get insurance with a “pre-existing” condition, especially when you don’t have much money. So I just didn’t think about it assuming that once I got out of college it would all fall together, or I would be healed already.

But my friends kept prodding me, and by God’s grace someone offered to pay for my colonoscopy in April of 2009. So after 5 years I was the first in my family to have any sort of testing done to check up on my colon and the polyps. Looking back on my journal entry that morning of my scoping, it read:

4/17/09  — Today I am getting a colonoscopy done. I started the morning off by singing some songs like “Surrender” by myself. I read this Psalm this morning and it seemed fitting:

“O LORD, make me know my end
and when is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!”
-Ps 39:4
Not surprisingly they found that I had numerous polyps in my colon, stomach, and duodenum. But I did not expect to find a 4cm pedunculated polyp on my ascending colon wall. The doctors took biopsies of several polyps, removed the large polyp, and told me that they wanted to get some CT Scans done as well as a Thyroid Ultrasound, and that I ought to get going on this soon. My initial reaction was that I had no idea how I was going to pay for any of this at all. By God’s grace, he provided means for me to keep going and get the tests done that I needed.
What followed was many months of driving to Ann Arbor to have tests done, and a lot of sitting in the hospital waiting for my next appointment. I became very familiar with U of M and Ann Arbor from visiting so often on my own. I felt odd, usually being the youngest one in the Medical Procedures Unit, or waiting in the Radiology waiting room. I can’t fully explain the feeling, but it felt wrong, or almost embarrassing at times — like I didn’t belong and was intruding. And when I wasn’t the youngest one there, it was the fact that all the people younger than me had family there with them. I often wished I had someone to make my appointments for me, accompany me to the Hospital, or simple go through this with me. Most of my friends were supportive, but encouragement over the phone does not hold a candle to simple presence. I simply wanted to have someone like Job’s friends to merely “sit” there with me.
This was a particularly difficult time for me because the majority of my close friends had graduated and moved out of state, and my family was all back home in Texas. No one should have to deal with medical issues on their own like that. I was swimming in an ocean of insurance and appointments that I had never dealt with before, and I was doing it all alone, right out of college. I wanted rest but couldn’t seem to find it anywhere.
I especially remember the day I went to receive the results of my biopsies — to see if I had cancer. That morning I sang, “Be Still My Soul” several times before I left. I can still vividly remember the office that I sat in while I waited for my physician to meet with me. It seemed like time stood still while I waited for them to call my name. As I waited I remember reading the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I wrote in my journal:
I read [their] story… and it struck me of their faith in God. They “yielded up their bodies” (Dan. 3:28) rather than worship another god. LORD, give me the faith to yield up my body, my colon, to You in all of this. And also say, “God is able to save me, but even if not, I will trust this is His plan. My God’s arm is not too short to ransom me. He may give, He may take, but I will bless Him.”

After I was called back to the office I had to wait at least 40 more minutes in the doctor’s office before he came in. That short time seemed an agonizing eternity to me, and every attempt to read or divert my mind failed. No one should ever have to wait in a doctor’s office alone to hear that news, wondering whether it will be good or bad… But I wasn’t alone. I’m never really alone. My Lord and Savior was with me. I knew that, but I was finding that knowing that didn’t change the way I felt. I do think God used those hospital visits and this whole ordeal to teach me to trust him, and to loosen my grip on my will being done. I had to turn to God for comfort — it seemed I had nowhere else to go. In hindsight, I am thankful for God’s growing me through this, but I would have preferred it be different.

There was no cancer, thank the Lord. But they still had an urgency for me to take my colon out in order to prevent any from developing in the near future. And so I began another long journey of researching the various types of surgeries (IRA, J-Pouch, etc.) and seeking counsel on whether or not to go forward this option. I talked to dozens of people and meet with the elders at my church back home and here, hoping to find wisdom in “the abundance of counselors.” I also spent countless hours navigating the insurance waters in an attempt to have my medical bills covered. I applied to medicaid only to get denied (which was quite an interesting and humbling experience) and applied for more things than I can remember during that time. I read article upon article and talked to dozens of patients and people in various stages of dealing with FAP, Ulceritive Colitis, and many other bowel diseases. In the end I felt God leading me to point that having my colon removed was the wise option for me, and in his infinite grace and sovereignty he provided for all of my expenses, as well as an opportunity to have the head of the surgery department at U of M do my surgery.

Looking back it has been a longer journey than I imagined, and it seems only the beginning. There is much I have left out, and much I have forgotten, but God has used it all for his glory. I pray he will continue to do so as I prepare for Monday, and as I recover over the next month. God definitely has shown me how “fleeting” my life is — and I know that is a good thing, although it has come at a price.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply