Conversation: Jim Coy
Col. Jim Coy is a medical consultant for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Dr. Coy served two years as the national president of the Special Operations Medical Association and as the national surgeon of the Reserve Officers Association. He has served with numerous Special Forces and Special Operations units and was with the 3rd Group Army Special Forces during the 1991 Gulf War.
Coy is the author of the Eagle series books, which offer wisdom for life from nearly 500 of AmericaÕs heroes and leaders.
Coy battled cancer from 1978-1989. During four major surgeries, portions of his lower throat and jawbone were removed. Today he is considered cured. Coy spoke with Scott Harrup, associate editor, about those experiences. Coy can be reached at email@example.com.
tpe: How did the cancer first appear?
COY: It was a lesion on my tongue in 1978. It was operated on, my tongue was resected, and we thought I was cured.
tpe: The cancer came back at a critical point in your life.
COY: Vicki and I were married in 1982. Just months after our wedding, I found a lesion in the back of my throat. At first I was told it was probably nothing, but a biopsy came back positive.
tpe: That recurrence created a struggle for your faith.
COY: In previous years I had not been living for the Lord. Vicki and I both came from broken marriages. But when we married, we made a commitment to build our relationship on faith. So I was thinking, IÕve just started my life over again. IÕm trying to correct the path that I took for so long. And now this?
tpe: Your third bout of cancer was even more severe.
COY: I underwent surgery and radiation for the cancer in my throat and enjoyed about a seven-year reprieve. But in 1989 I was at a paratroopers school in Israel. I found a similar sore place in my throat.
Doctors confirmed cancer, and this time the surgery went all the way to the bone of my jaw. When they were preparing to do reconstructive surgery, they found they still needed to more radically attack the area of cancer. I lost much of my jaw.
tpe: At that point, how did you deal with repeated health crises?
COY: God was getting my attention. At first, I looked at the recurring cancer diagnosis and said, ÒWhy me?Ó In time, I learned to say, ÒWhy not me?Ó
I think the biggest turning point was the 10-hour surgery on my jaw. When I came out of that, it was like a light went on. I realized that just because I was living by faith didnÕt mean I was going to avoid heartache.
Vietnam veteran and well-known evangelist Dave Roever is a friend of mine, and I included him in one of my books. And he puts it this way. ÒLife isnÕt fair. But the really big question in life isnÕt, ÔIs it fair?Õ The really big question is, ÔHow am I going to deal with lifeÕs inequity?Õ Ó
Sometimes the difficulties in life, those things that get our attention, are painful but also powerfully redirect our steps and draw us closer to God.
tpe: You mention Dave Roever participating in a book with you. What have you been writing about?
COY: IÕve had the privilege of interviewing many of our nationÕs soldiers who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, as well as many others who have endured years as POWs. The books in the Gathering of Eagles series (www.agatheringofeagles.com) tell their stories and focus on the life lessons they learned through those experiences.
ThereÕs also a book that features interviews with many of our countryÕs great leaders in religion, politics and the military and their wisdom for life.
WeÕve been raising funds to send books to our men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many of the people in the books identify their faith in God as the key to their ability to survive under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
A lot of times, when I send these books to soldiers, I find that even those who wonÕt go to a chaplain or attend a chapel will still read the testimony of another uniformed heroÕs faith.
I pray the Eagle series books turn the heart of the reader to a love of nation and of God.
tpe: What are some common themes you encountered during those interviews?
COY: The books total about 500 interviews, and I found people saying some key truths in 500 different ways.
The experiences of the Medal of Honor recipients and the prisoners of war really stand out. Almost to the individual, I encountered very ordinary people who had little in life.
These are profoundly humble people who say, ÒI was placed in a situation or a circumstance and overcame it. And the reason I was able to overcome was through faith and hope.Ó
These people are the bravest of the brave. These are people who, when a grenade is thrown into their midst, will fall down on top of it to save the lives of the men around them. ItÕs an amazing thing. The Bible talks about the greatest love being that of someone willing to give his or her life for another.
The POW stories really reveal what it takes in our lives in order for us to overcome in the midst of long-term crisis. If you have seven or eight years to spend by yourself, if you have hardly any food at all, if you endure the absence of family and the people you love, and youÕre routinely tortured, youÕre going to be asking yourself all the why and what-if questions.
Invariably, these people told me, ÒGod was getting my attention É and He did.Ó And what those POWs are saying to the rest of us is, find out whatÕs really important in life. They discovered — after years of solitude contemplating lifeÕs priorities — that faith in God is important; a love of family is important; a love for our country is important.
I think weÕd best listen to them.