For the past three decades, I have lived with a disease called Achalasia. Basically, this is a rare disorder that causes the muscles at the base of the esophagus to become spastic, resulting in difficulties getting food to pass through to my stomach. About 28 years ago I had surgery to address this problem and, as my increased girth over time has demonstrated, eating became less of a problem. As long as I remained calm and focused, I was able to eat whatever I wanted. The problem, however, is that Achalasia is a progressive disease and over time the operation grew less effective. About a year ago I began to have difficulties eating once again. I lost a bunch of weight, but I also began to look as cute as a newborn puppy.
A couple of months ago, my body began to itch. I'm not talking about that mosquito-bite or heat rash kind of itch. I'm talking about claw-at-your-skin-can't-sleep-at-night kind of itching. It felt like snakes were crawling beneath my skin and nothing I did brought relief. After trying everything I knew to do, I finally went to the doctor. It turned out that my liver enzymes had become extremely elevated and the itching was caused by excessive bile not being processed in the liver. Who knew the liver worked that way? I certainly didn't! So for the next 21 days I engaged in a series of tests to identify and remove the cause of my discomfort. Finally, it was determined that a gall stone had broken loose from a pile of others collecting in my gall bladder and was blocking my bile duct. What a relief to know the cause of that 21-day itch! The plan was to have a simple procedure to remove the stone and vacuum out all the bile that had accumulated due to the blockage. This would soon be followed by another simply operation to remove the gall bladder and its accumulation of stones. Easy-peezy! .
On march 31 I appeared at Seattle's Swedish Hospital expecting to be vacuumed out and on track for clear eyes and itch-free living. I had really begun to look pretty rough at that point! My eyes were the color of a yellow highlighter and even with the medication the doctor prescribed to stop the itching I was scratching like a junkie who just discovered the best damn heroin on the planet!! To make matters worse, I learned that scratching, like yawning, was contagious. When you scratch people around you start to scratch as well. After a few minutes with me the whole room was scratching like a hoard of fleas had just been released!! I wanted, needed, expected relief when I went to the hospital that morning.
As sometimes happens in our lives, the universe shifts beyond our control in what feels like the blink of an eye. As I struggled to regain consciousness in the recovery room, I was informed that I would not be going home that day and was being transferred to another room. When I got settled in my new bed, my spouse came in and told me a cancerous tumor had been discovered on my bile duct during the procedure. There was going to be some organ cutting, chemotherapy, and radiation in my future. Things suddenly grew bigger than itchy skin and yellow eyes. Life got very real and precious all of a sudden and for the first time in my life I could not feel the ground beneath my soul. Nothing in any of my lives before or then had prepared me to connect the word "cancer" with any part of my self as I had imagined that self emerging.
Needless to say, the days since have been an adventure into emotions and processes for which I was not prepared. I went from wondering what to expect as I stepped into that pivotal age of 65 to wondering what mysteries waited around the upcoming corners of my life. At the same time, I can only give God thanks and praise for that 21-day itch and for the many challenges that have danced across my path this past year. Here's how good God has been: the esophageal thing made me lose weight, which improved the overall state of my health; the renegade gall stone blocked the bile duct and led to the discovery of the tumor, which is very small at this point; the chapters of entire event together made me realize how many friends I have around the country and brought to the surface how much I love my family, my spouse, and my friends. Through it all, I came to understand the love of God in new and exciting ways. For all of this I am deeply grateful.
God continues to be in charge of the things around us and constantly fills our lives with surprising tidbits of a reality that at once confounds and comforts us. After 65 years of life, I have finally learned to stop asking God for explanations and, rather, receive the blessings revealed in each and every experience with grace and humility. So often we search the crevasses of our past for reasons why bad things happen to good people. We assume the challenges and discomforts we encounter are the result of something we have or have not done, consequences of how or whom we are. We search for someone or something to blame. Well, if I have learned nothing else in all these years, I have learned that God simply does not work like that. Life happens to all of us and through it all God stands in the center cheering us on. Through it all, God is faithful. I am comforted to know that through it all I am ready and able to walk THROUGH whatever valleys I encounter; I am excited to feast at the table God is preparing in the presence of negativity and challenges, knowing without a doubt that surely goodness and mercy are following me like a loyal and devoted puppy! I am scheduled for an operation on May 3rd to remove that tumor. Recovery will continue for quite some time due to the complicated process of the surgery and treatment for the cancer. This is a journey and an adventure into a new dimension of living. Join me in praying that I have the grace and humility to receive God's healing love and peace. Stay tuned, stay hopeful, stay in faith, and stay with me!! I have always found strength in the beauty and wonder of others, so let me know how your lives are doing as well!
Renee McCoy is a writer, anthropologist, preacher, and artist living in Seattle, Washington. Her life has been focused on bringing the good news of God's unconditional love to others and working to support and encourage others to celebrate the wonder of being created in God's image. At the core of her soul is the unwavering belief that we are all remarkable individuals who come together to support one another as we journey to wholeness and the fulfillment of our unique purposes in this life.