On Fathers

As a young girl, my family took many trips and vacations together. We would arrive somewhere and the family would begin climbing out of the van. No matter where we were, no matter what we were going to do, I would run up to my dad, grab his hand, and say, “Guess who?!” He never needed to guess, because he always knew it would be me.  We would wander around the museum, or park, or down the beach, and my small hand would stay in the strong, calloused hand of my father.  


Now that I am grown, I imagine my Heavenly Father often in terms of my relationship with my dad.  I imagine running up to Him, grabbing His hand, and calling out, “Guess who?” And, of course, my omniscient Heavenly Father does not need to guess, but I imagine the delight that it brings to His heart when I come running. We walk side by side through life, my small hand in His strong one.  


For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;

 it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” 

Isaiah 41:13

Life After Pheochromocytoma

I had an adrenalectomy on Friday, March 13th. Yes… Friday the 13th. My Grumpy Cat calendar was so appropriate for that day that I saved the calendar page and have it hanging on my fridge.



Many of you have probably read my post “Life with Pheochromocytoma”. I know that my dad has practically been my publicist as far as that post goes, telling lots of friends and extended family members that they can find some insight into my experiences if they search for that post here on my blog. 

But my life has changed so significantly in the five weeks since my surgery that it is definitely time for another update, this one celebrating all the ways that my life has changed. So here we go: Life AFTER Pheochromocytoma. 

Ready for surgery! Feeling so fortunate to still get into surgery just before hospitals postponed elective procedures.

First off, I feel INCREDIBLE! I can’t describe strongly enough how healthy I feel, how full of vitality. It turns out that living with a tumour for 4+ years really changes your baseline for what healthy feels like. For weeks 2-4 after surgery I would wake up, sure that I couldn’t feel better than the day before, only to be amazed at feeling better than I could remember feeling ever before. There was the obvious post-surgical recovery feeling better that I expected, but more than getting over incision pain and sleeping off side effects of anesthesia, I felt better, healthier, stronger every day. 


By every measure that I can take, my health has improved since surgery. My resting heart rate dropped 30 beats per minute in the five months that I was on alpha blockers, but in the weeks post surgery, even without any medication now, it has dropped 8-10 bpm further. Unlike many people with a pheochromocytoma, my blood pressure was never shockingly high. But on medication, I was getting readings generally in the 120s over 70s. Now it’s more like 95 over 65 – lower than most of the readings I was getting in the two weeks before surgery when my medication dose tripled! 


Since I’m not on medication any more, I don’t have the frustrating side effects that come along with pharmacology. Alpha blockers generally cause nasal congestion, and with the tumour, any decongestants (whether for the side effect or for a cold) were strictly off limits. After a couple of weeks without surgery, that congestion completely disappeared. I also had trouble with swelling in my feet and ankles, and this was particularly noticeable once my medication dose tripled. That has totally disappeared since surgery!


Of course there were my somewhat regular symptoms – a strange shaky feeling, an internal anxiety, a major spike in heart rate if something scared me, the inexplicable feeling that I attributed to blood sugar issues. They are all completely gone. I haven’t had any lab work done since surgery, especially given the COVID crisis, but I am completely sure that my adrenaline levels are back to normal just given how I feel. 


Those regular symptoms were pesky but didn’t feel life threatening – not like the massive spike in adrenaline I experienced every other month or so. I can only say what a relief it is to know I will never experience another one of those. I will never wake up again only to dread the next 48 hours, knowing the inevitability of worsening chest pain, tremors, hours of vomiting. It is an immense relief not to have to have the inner debate about whether or not I should go to the ER. (Even pre-diagnosis, it was an inner debate. I hated going to the ER when it meant being told that I was having a panic attack, when there was nothing that really helped me feel better, when I left with more questions than answers, and when the only positive things were being hooked up to a heart monitor and IV and knowing that at least if something went drastically wrong I was already at the hospital.) Especially in the midst of the current COVID pandemic when going to the ER feels scarier than staying home, it’s such a relief to be free from worrying about when the next episode will occur. 


During major episodes, especially pre-diagnosis, ECGs showed a temporary heart arrhythmia called Long QT. I made several trips to a cardiologist, did a stress test, and wore a holter monitor for a long weekend. Now I am empowered knowing that despite the stress to my heart during the major episodes of adrenaline, my heart is healthy and wasn’t damaged by the tumour. In fact, now, without the tumour, I can actually get my heart rate up during exercise without feeling like I’m endangering myself. 


No more holter monitors! I wore this one for 72 hours on a weekend when my family went to the beach. No swimming for me! And my poor skin is of course allergic to the stickers…

I want to end by noting how incredibly fortunate I am and how blessed I feel for the timing of my surgery. COVID19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO on March 11. On March 12, the Ontario government announced that schools would be closed for two weeks after March break. My surgery was on the 13th. Two days later, the Ontario government announced that it would be asking hospitals to cancel elective surgeries to clear hospital beds for the impending COVID crisis. Elective surgeries aren’t surgeries that people are choosing to have, by the way. They are non-emergency surgeries – surgeries that are scheduled ahead of time. My post-op appointment ended up happening through a phone call with my surgeon, and when I told him how fortunate I felt just to have actually had my surgery, he told me that even his cancer surgeries have been postponed indefinitely. Knowing how I felt in the time leading up to surgery, I can only imagine what it would be like to have had a surgery delayed and not to know when it will finally happen. I can only imagine what my mental health would be if I were once again waiting and fearing for my health in the meantime. I empathize so deeply with anyone in this situation. 

Please enjoy this picture of me with my sister just hours after surgery. Barely conscious, extremely groggy and nauseous. Last time feeling this bad because of the pheochromocytoma!!!


The sun is already past its highest point in the sky by the time we set out. The air is hot and dusty, and I can feel the heat of the road through my sandals. Cleopas and I had meant to set out earlier, but the morning had been… strange. 

Scenes from the last week flash through my head. 

Palm branches waving as voices shout Hosanna! Tables of money changers flipping over in the temple as the teacher declares, “My house will be a house of prayer!” Crowds following us as we follow the teacher. Quiet moments with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, as he teaches us strange and mysterious things. 

Celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus lifts up a piece of bread, breaks it, and says, “This is my body, broken for you.” A cup. “This is my blood, poured out for you.” 

Soldiers in the garden. Pilate, washing his hands. The nails. The cross. A final spear thrust from a soldier; blood and water pouring out. Darkness descending over the land. 

Darkness in our hearts. 


For quite a while, the only sound is the plodding of our footsteps. Cleopas and I are in no hurry. Certainly, we have been away from Emmaus for longer than we intended; the events in Jerusalem three days ago kept us beyond the Passover. And then suddenly it was the arrival of the Sabbath and we could not travel home. I think back to the Sabbath prayer. Peter’s hands shaking as he lit the candles. His voice shaking, too, as he sang the blessing. “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam…” Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe…

I hold so firmly to this conviction, that Yahweh is indeed ruler of the universe. But I no longer hold any certainty over what his plans may be. Last Sunday crowds gathered around us to shout Hosanna and it seemed as if the whole nation recognized Jesus as the Messiah that Yahweh finally sent to redeem us… Now those hopes have died within us. 

Finally I cannot stand the silence any longer. “Cleopas, what can God be doing?” I ask. My voice betrays my desperation. “Surely Jesus was the Messiah… We saw how he healed people, taught with authority, revealed the scriptures to us. But now I do not understand what God intends for us to do. Our teacher… our friend. He is gone.” 

Cleopas’s first response is a long sigh. “I too wonder what Yahweh is doing. And what of the stories of the women this morning? Mary, Joanna, Mary Magdalene. What can they have meant by their words?”

A fierce urge to defend my friends rises up in me, but I too was confused when they returned this morning as we were preparing to leave. They told us of going to the tomb to prepare our friend’s body for burial. Instead, they found the tomb empty except for two men, filled with glowing light, asking them why they expected to find Jesus. These women are my friends. I know they would not make up a story. Could they have imagined it? None of us have slept much in days. Could they all have imagined the same thing though?

Cleopas and I are talking through the details of their story, when suddenly our footsteps are not the only thing I hear. I turn and see a fellow traveller catching up behind us. He is alone, without any provisions. Probably, like us, he had attended a Passover feast in Jerusalem. 

I move toward Cleopas on the path, leaving ample room for him to pass us by and continue on his way. Instead, as he catches up to us, he falls into step with us. 

“What an intense conversation you were having,” he says. “I am interrupting.”

I sort of smile to indicate that it is okay. I don’t need to have this conversation with a stranger, though. Cleopas must feel the same. He only nods his head. 

“What were you talking about?” our fellow pilgrim asks. 

I’m shocked that he has no idea. What must the whole nation be talking about by now? “Have you not been in Jerusalem as we were?” I ask, astonished. “You must be the only one who has not heard about the events there these past days.” He doesn’t reply. 

“About Jesus of Nazareth!” I explain. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people! We know he was sent by God, but the chief priests and rulers had him sentenced to death and he was crucified. We had… “ My voice breaks. “We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.” Suddenly it’s difficult for me to see through the tears in my eyes. My heart is breaking like my voice, and I cannot continue talking. 

Cleopas takes over as we move steadily down the road. “Something else happened that we do not understand. This morning, some of our friends went to take care of the teacher’s body since there was no time before Sabbath began. They went to the tomb early this morning but when they returned, they told us they had not found the body but instead saw a vision of angels!”

Our fellow traveller pauses in his walking and turns, looking first at me, then Cleopas. “Do you not remember all that the prophets have spoken?” he asks, his voice intense. “As Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.’ Or do you not remember the words of the prophet Zecharaiah? ‘Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem. Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey.’ And the prophet Isaiah foretold…”

Mile by mile, this fellow pilgrim goes through the scriptures with us, starting with Moses and working through the prophets. My heart begins to warm again, a feeling I have not had since before the teacher died. The same feeling I used to have when he would teach. It is not much, like the first lightening of the sky before dawn. But it is noticeable, especially given the darkness of my heart these last three days. 

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam… Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe. I think again of the words that start our Jewish prayers, words that just a few days ago were so hard to say. But this man has explained the scriptures in a way that make me see how the last few days’ events were God’s plan from long ago. A plan I do not fully understand, but a plan nonetheless.

All too soon, we crest the final hill and see our village laid out in the valley below us. Our fellow pilgrim continues in his explanation all the way to the door of our house, and then turns to walk on. “Do not go!” I blurt. 

“Indeed, do not continue your journey tonight,” Cleopas echos. “It is almost evening. Stay, break bread with us, and rest here tonight. The day is almost over.”

Cleopas and our visitor sit at the table while I gather a humble meal for us. I join them, setting down bread and then sitting down carefully, my tired body groaning in protest after the day’s long walk. 

Cleopas invites our guest to pray the blessing over our food. He lifts up the bread, breaks it, and gives thanks. “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, hamotzi lehem min ha-aretz.” Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

And suddenly I think of other hands lifting up bread. “This is my body, broken for you.” Hands lifting up bread and giving thanks, then feeding a hillside full of people. A strange energy shifts in the room. In my heart. I look from the hands holding the bread to the man’s face. I know this man. I know this man. But how can this be…. I study his face. Is it disappointment I see, that we did not recognize him? Is it annoyance that he had to explain to us again things that he had taught? 

No. It is a face shining with love. 

My body, suddenly tired no longer, jumps up from the table. And in that moment, Jesus disappears. Cleopas and I look at each other with amazement. Our teacher, our friend, the Messiah… alive! Tears fill my eyes anew, but these are tears of joy. 

“But how? How did we not know him?” I exclaim. “And yet… Cleopas, surely my heart was burning within me while he revealed the scriptures to us!”

Cleopas nods his head. “ How could we not have known our Lord? And yet, as you say, it was my heart that began to know him as he taught us.”

“But it was in the breaking of bread that my eyes knew him… just as he broke bread with us before.”

Cleopas rises from the table. “We must go tell the others!” he declares. 

“We must!” I agree. “But first…” I gesture to the bread. Cleopas and I each pick up a piece of the bread left behind at the spot where Jesus was sitting. This is my body, broken for you, I think again. We eat. Tears stream down my face. I do not understand all of this yet. But I say again, as we eat, “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam…” Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe…