I thought that 2016 would be the “year of no surgeries,” but alas that was not to be. I am home this week recovering from what I am hoping will be the last of the surgery-fest that has been my life for the past three years since my cancer diagnosis. The good news is that this round was not related to any newfound tumor, thank God. In 2013 I endured my first surgery that lasted 9.5 hours to remove the three cancerous tumors from my colon and liver. Before this I had never been under anesthesia before! Three months later in January of 2014 I had a surgery to remove my ileostomy bag and reconnect my colon…another lovely four days in the hospital. In September of 2014 I had surgery to remove the cancer that had now spread to my lung (another miraculous success). In June of 2015 I had the joy of having a simple outpatient surgery to remove the port that had been the pathway for all the chemo drugs injected into my body for the previous two years. In order to celebrate being cancer free, I began training for a triathlon and a half marathon and while riding my bike along the coast, I crashed and tore my ACL, resulting in two months of limping and knee surgery in December of 2015. Seriously, even though all these surgeries were successful, the recoveries were brutal. And even though the recoveries were tough, my body was strong and resilient, and I made it through every time. And why is that? Because an infinite God, who created the universe and spoke stars into existence, who knows each person by name, is an intimate God who is by my side and who gives me my strength.
Last week, surgery number six happened due to the massive incisional scar from my first cancer surgery. Over the past three years, I accrued scar tissue, an abdominal hernia, and weakened intestinal walls. This surgery was to repair all that, leading to four uncomfortable days in the hospital, but now I am home and recovering quickly and well. I was anxious and had to say many prayers and seek God’s Word as I prepared to go back under the knife. I knew I would be in the hospital again, and after three years of appointments, probes, scans, infusions, and surgeries, a hospital is not a happy place for me. (Is it a happy place for anyone?) I have gotten to the point where the smells, especially of saline and plastic, stir up a true anxiety in me and make me physically sick. The sounds-- the beeping of all the instruments, the announcements over the intercom, the constant interruptions, the coughing and the moaning from other patients….it all stirs up sickening emotions and fears. I pray, I breathe in and out, I listen to soothing music, I read God’s Word, I sleep fitfully, but it is all a whirlwind of creepy, crawly fear. I do all the things I am “supposed” to do. I think about all I am grateful for. I thank God that I have health care. I thank God that I have respected surgeons. I thank God for my friends and family. I thank God that he chose to keep me alive despite my dire diagnosis. I do all these things to refocus myself and it all still comes back to real fear, real anxiety, real pain, real struggle. And then, I have moments of relief. And rest. And refuge. I am reminded that God is by my side no matter how many times I take back my surrender, no matter how many times I return to fear, no matter how many times I return to anxious thoughts.
Why am I sharing all this? Why am I rehashing my three years of pain and struggle and reliving all the surgeries and recoveries and anxiety? Because when I return to my pain, when I recall my struggle, I am pointed back to the Savior. During my trials, it has not been in my strength that I have recovered, but because of His power and His strength. Yes, I am a survivor. I am a stage four metastasized cancer survivor. I am a walking miracle. But all the glory goes to God. He is my ultimate healer. He has brought the surgeons and doctors and nurses who treated me into my life. He has some crazy reason for why He wants me on earth a little longer. I am always in awe how God uses people. I am vulnerable, weak, fearful, anxious and controlling. And God still adores me. He wants me to love others. He accepts me for who I am and he forgives me every time my doubts and fears creep in. He reminds through his promises in His Word that I am chosen, loved, forgiven, and accepted. He reminds me I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. He points me to the cross and says, “Dear Kirsten, it is done.”
2016 did not end up being the “year of no surgeries.” But it did end up being another year of life. I will endure another recovery. I will be strong again. I will live each day with joy and gratitude. Not because I am strong and good. But because Jesus is. And He abides in me.
“But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.” Psalm 42:8