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Not a Weight-Loss Method

Yup.  That’s me about 43 years and 15 pounds ago.  At the time, I lived in Salzburg, Austria and on this particular day, some friends and I had gone for a walk and a picnic in the gardens surrounding the magnificent palace of Hellbrunn.

My beautiful picture

Well, I’m back to that Salzburg weight, but not because of some virtuous exercise discipline.  On April 6, I had surgery to remove a cancerous tonsil and a host of malignant lymph nodes from my neck. I woke up in post op with a shunt to drain fluid from the site of the neck incision and a feeding tube through my right nostril to by-pass the swollen oropharynx so I could obtain nutrition. “Ensure” kept me alive for the 10 days I endured the feeding tube, with my wife dutifully following a regular regime of pumping the fluid through the tube and directly into my stomach by means of a syringe.  In one week, I’d shed 15 pounds.  I DO NOT recommend this method of weight loss!

My news, however, is very good.  The brilliant surgeon managed clear margins around the tumorous tonsil and excised all the malignant lymph nodes.  The radiation treatments I’ll undergo aim to eradicate any possible microscopic left-overs. And the radiation oncologist tells me that 92% of the folks with my “profile” are doing “quite well” after two years.  In other words, the prognosis is excellent. Such information made it easier for me to laugh when my wife inserted the syringe into my feeding tube and as she pressed the liquid through, said, “Care for a little filet mignon?”

During the time leading up to the surgery, I read a blessing penned by the late poet, John O’Donohue, entitled, “For a Friend on the Arrival of Illness.” I won’t try to duplicate his penetrating poetry, but in that particular blessing he challenged me to regard this surgery process as a Teacher.  What might I learn from this time of surgery and recovery?  Might this be an opportunity of further growth?  Might this be a time that as the body shrinks, the soul expands?

My attitude hasn’t reflected this ideal perfectly.  I have learned some things, though.  I’m going to share those lessons over the next few weeks and I invite you to come along with me. Share with me your own observations and what illness might have taught you.

Next week, I’m going to talk about the miracle of swallowing.

By Drexel Rayford

Drexel has been senior pastor of four churches in Kentucky and Virginia, a psychiatric ward chaplain, denominational bureaucrat, and an erstwhile indie singer/songwriter/story-teller and seeker of authentic human vocation. Currently, Drexel is working at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center in the capacity of The Support Team Network manager, a hospital-based community partnership aimed at nurturing healing communities for discharged patients. He loves kayaking, road cycling, hiking, and all kinds of photography, but he loves his wife Vicki and blended family of three adult children more. He holds a Ph.D. in the Psychology of Religion and a pastoral counseling certificate from the University of Louisville, Department of Psychiatry.

2 replies on “Not a Weight-Loss Method”

I am truly inspired by your mention of John O’Donohue. Every challenge in life i have found to be a teacher to explore greater possibilities. Turning trials and tragedy into missions to help and assist others. Embracing it and letting it go! Learning from it and sharing ti empower others is a strong part of the healing process. Thanks for sharing.


Thank you for your insights, Loretta, particularly since you know so well what you’re talking about. I’ve been inspired by your example and am proud to know you.


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