I recently passed two important days in my life, not the most important, but important nonetheless. One was on November 14th. That was my birthday. I turned 39 and the countdown to 40 has officially begun. The other was October 4th, which was the day I had what was essentially life-saving surgery that forever changed my life in so many ways.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in middle school. I fought off-and-on battles with the disease throughout middle school with many different medication, treatments, etc., with not-so-nice side effects. In high school, I was fairly fortunate because the disease went into remission and I was able to enjoy most of my high school years free from any major flare-ups.
That was definitely the calm before the storm. Shortly after graduating from high school, the disease came back with a vengeance. The Crohn’s began manifesting itself in ways that are not very appropriate to be detailed about. Over the next two years, my physical pain and malnutrition had increased to the point where my life was confined to a bathroom or a bed. I had lost close to 50 pounds in the span of about six months. I was dying.
I would have died had it not been for God’s kindness to me in giving me a mother who refused to bury her son and a doctor who pointed us in the right direction. Long story short, the only way to save my life was to remove all of the organs that the disease had ravaged. Therefore, on Friday, October 4, 1996, I had all of my large intestine removed (along with a few other things) and woke up from an eight-hour surgery with a permanent ileostomy. Although things didn’t get immediately better because I was so sick going into the surgery.
I stayed in somewhat of a remission for the next 10 years. Then in 2007, the disease returned and I had a second surgery to resect a small part of my small intestine and relocate my stoma. By God’s grace, I have been in remission since then.
As October 4th came around a few months ago, I realized that in two years I will have lived as long with an ostomy as I lived without one. That realization led to me thinking about the past 18 years with an ostomy and my battle with Crohn’s. And somehow I stumbled upon the #ostomy and #crohns hashtags of social media. You have to remember that eighteen years ago there were no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. As I searched #ostomy and #crohns, I found this world of people of which I am a part. I think seeing their statuses and pictures gave me the courage to post one of my own. So, I posted this picture on Instagram with the following: “My every-four-day routine for the past 18 years. Hard to believe that in only two years I will have lived life with an ostomy for as long as I lived without one. It has been a blessing of eternal proportions. It has been God’s kindness to me.” I believe every word of that post.
When one faces the reality of living life with a part of your intestines on the outside of your body while pooping into a bag the rest of your life, it can seem as if that’s the end of your life. It’s tempting to view it as a curse or something to be insecure about. However, the reality is – though it may take a while to admit this – that it is far from a curse and you have no reason to be insecure or embarrassed. It is a blessing. It was not the end of my life, but rather the means through which God has allowed me to live. I have lived for 18 years longer than I would have, and during those 18 years, my life has been forever changed by God’s grace to me. God has also given me the most amazing woman to spend the rest of my life with, to which I have been married to for almost 14 years. I have become the father to three amazing children and have had the privilege of being a pastor for the past 12 years and gaining the most amazing friends in the world.
The point is that I have lived and I am living and it has all been because of God’s kindness to me in giving me that opportunity through an ostomy. So, whether you are on the eve of a surgery that looks so ominous or, like me, a seasoned Ostomate, your ostomy is a gift. It is literally a life-saver. Therefore, be thankful for your ostomy and, with gratitude, live… because that’s its purpose.