September 27, 2022

No Pain, No Gain: A Conversation with Cam Ayala on His Life-changing Surgery

Inside This Episode

Former Bachelorette contestant Cam Ayala opens up to Eric Huffman about a decision that will change his life overnight and hopefully put an end once and for all to the pain he's endured for over a decade. Cam also shares how his ongoing struggle with Lymphedema and the upcoming surgery have brought him closer to God than ever before.

To hear Cam's full story, listen to Season 4 episode: “Will You Accept This Rose?”

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Click here to watch our full video interview with Cam Ayala

Episode Transcript

Eric Huffman: Maybe God family, this is Eric Huffman and I hope that you're enjoying Season 5 as much as we are so far. Our mission here at Maybe God is to create a community for doubtful believers and hopeful skeptics who are bold and courageous enough to seek answers to their questions. And we're so excited to have all these new ways to do just that, from our new YouTube channel to our upcoming documentaries that tackle some of the biggest issues that we all struggle with related to God and faith.

Now starting this season, our team is working really hard to release weekly episodes on our podcast platform so that you don't have to wait that long for more great stories and conversations. Once a month, you'll hear the kind of full-length thematic episodes that you've been used to with our compelling experts and stories. Then on the weeks that we don't release these new full-length episodes, we'll have equally compelling, unedited conversations coming to you straight from our Maybe God's studio.

I'm so excited about the guests that we've got lined up this season for these Maybe God conversations. And for our first-ever conversation, we have this gripping and raw conversation that I had recently with Cam Ayala, who was our guest on Maybe God's Season 4 episode called Will You Accept This Rose? Cam and I sat down for this conversation back in June, just days before a surgery that changed his life forever. So take a listen to our first ever Maybe God conversation.

So today I'm in the Maybe God studio with our Season 4 Maybe God podcast guest, Cam Ayala. What's up, Cam?

Cam Ayala: Hey, Eric.

Eric Huffman: Glad you're here, man. Cam's episode if you heard it, featured Cam and Bachelor star-

Cam Ayala: Ben Higgins.

Eric Huffman: Ben Higgins, the man. It was released almost a year ago.

Cam Ayala: Yeah, yeah, it was.

Eric Huffman: Seems like longer than that.

Cam Ayala: It's COVID times.

Eric Huffman: It's been a year, and a lot has happened in Cam's life since then. So, Cam, welcome back. Man, I'm glad you're here.

Cam Ayala: Thank you. Thank you. 

Eric Huffman: So just remind us briefly, as briefly as possible, because I know how much you love talking about this, about your experience on The Bachelorette show.

Cam Ayala: Goodness, it was about three years ago that it all went down. I was on the season of The Bachelorette with Hannah Brown. People know her as Alabama Hannah. Long story short, it started very well. I got the first rose before the first impression rose. And that had never happened before.

Eric Huffman: I don't know what that means but that sounds amazing.

Cam Ayala: Yeah, I guess so. Basically, that was my way into the public light and reality TV. Honestly, when I was out there and getting that first rose, I felt affirmed very quickly, and that honestly was the curse because there was a very large target placed on my back between the men and the house.

About three weeks into the journey there, I decided to open up to the bachelorette about my chronic disease called lymphedema, which we'll get into that a little bit later on. But as I opened up to her, some of the other guys in the mansion felt necessary to approach her after that conversation and basically accused me of fabricating this medical sob story so I could get what they refer to as a pity rose. And unfortunately, she believed the guy's narrative and I was sent home that night.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, if you didn't listen to that episode and the whole story, it's gut-wrenching, even if you're not a like a Bachelor, Bachelorette franchise fan. Because it's more than just a show. You know, it's your life. And you were really destroyed publicly.

Cam Ayala: Yeah. And most contestants really for any reality show, you're not truly prepared for life after the show. Because of the advent of social media, you're basically granting literally millions of people worldwide access into your life right by way of sending direct messages to you. So that range from death threats to just getting crazy memes created about me. Even people who I grew up really enjoying like Jimmy Kimmel and David Spade, for example, they both roasted me pretty bad on their show.

Eric Huffman: Did they really?

Cam Ayala: Yeah. If you go on YouTube, you can find those clips. Even just some of the scenes where the whole pity rose thing, that's all on YouTube. I'm sure you can find that. And if that wasn't enough, I felt that I really liked to the pain and suffering in that environment enough to go and do Bachelor in Paradise some two months later.

Eric Huffman: Bro.

Cam Ayala: But I think my whole goal for that was really just this whole search for redemption, right? Because I think in times in life when people regardless if they're on reality TV or they're just maybe getting out of a bad relationship or a bad career, redemption can be that key to give them clarity, closure, and a path forward. So I was literally going into Paradise thinking, Okay, "Well, it couldn't get much worse than the Bachelorette. I'll let the viewers go back and watch at their own discretion. But-

Eric Huffman: But it got worse.

Cam Ayala: It did. Not so much filming and through that experience, but mostly internally for me when I got home. Because I'm sure a lot of people are aware when you're out there filming, we don't have our phones, we don't have any connection to our friends and family and people you can confine into. You're literally at the mercy of trusting your fellow contestants, which there's a lot of strategery in that and obviously within the production team.

So when you get sent back home, you're really kind of left to your own device to cope however you feel is going to be effective. And I'm sure we can dig into that a little bit deeper.

Eric Huffman: Sure. And we did some in the episode on Season 4. I do recommend that whoever's watching this now, if you haven't listened to that episode, I mean, you really shared your heart on that, and the whole story behind, you know, the concerted effort among the producers really, and not just the other contestants. But every season needs a villain-

Cam Ayala: Right.

Eric Huffman: ...and you were that guy. What made it worse was how you were, in part, villainized because of something that was really real to you and you were vulnerable about, this struggle with lymphedema.

Cam Ayala: Right.

Eric Huffman: Just tell us again or remind us what lymphedema is.

Cam Ayala: Just high level, there's actually two types of lymphedema. There's primary and secondary. Secondary is a little bit more common. But just high level what lymphedema means is, first of all, we all... everybody has a lymphatic system. It's responsible for moving fluid in and out of our body that is directly correlated to our immune system.

So if you have a compromised lymphatic system, oftentimes the symptoms are severe swelling in any extremity. It can really be all over your body. There's patients in head and neck but for me, I was born with primary lymphedema and it really impacts my right leg. It swells substantially, daily pain, it requires daily management of wearing medical grade compression garments, not the cool compression like Lulu lemon leggings, but like medical grade. I mean, you can see I'm wearing one now.

You have to be smart about certain activities you do because that can exacerbate the swelling. Living in Houston when it's really hot and humid, which is 364 days out of the year, that feels like at times, that can make symptoms worse. But secondary lymphedema is more common.

I know your mother has battled breast cancer and that's one of the most common incidences it's patients have had Chemo, radiation or any surgical intervention where they remove lymph nodes, for example. That's why you'll see a lot of women with breast cancer, they develop secondary lymphedema as a result of that treatment.

And the unfortunate part of lymphedema, primary or secondary, is it's progressive in nature and there's currently no cure for it. So you really just have to manage the symptoms. And for a lot of specially cancer patients, it's a souvenir of the cancer that they don't want. They won the cancer battle, but now they have this lifelong battle of dealing with a painful condition, lymphedema.

Eric Huffman: You shared a ton about your... I mean, going way back into your adolescence.

Cam Ayala: Yeah, age 11 is when it all started.

Eric Huffman: It's been a long struggle for you. And this past year has brought a lot of change since we talked on the Maybe God Podcast.

Cam Ayala: Yes.

Eric Huffman: Just kind of walk us through the last year, the highlights and lowlights.

Cam Ayala: So last year, as we were wrapping up our episode, the big thing that I was going up to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio for was to meet with a couple of specialists to basically come to some sort of consensus as to what a total knee replacement be the best treatment and course of action or would something a little bit more radical, a planned above knee amputation.

In 2016 is when I was first kind of given a potential prognosis of an amputation. But I've been trying to avoid that like the plague. Nobody wants to lose a limb, especially when you have to opt into the surgery.

Eric Huffman: Of course. 

Cam Ayala: So after meeting with those specialists in Cleveland Clinic, we determined that the best course of action moving forward was a total knee replacement. Because, you know, a knee replacement is reversible, but it's a little less radical than an amputation.

Eric Huffman: You went into that with a lot of hope.

Cam Ayala: A lot of hope. And you put hopes in a lot of these doctors and specialists. I didn't go to medical school. I think the older I get, I realized that these doctors and specialists are just human beings. And that's why they call it practicing medicine. No one has perfected medicine.

And when you have a rare condition like lymphedema, there's a lot of unknown variables. When I had the knee replacement, that was very difficult because that even had more complications. I think the last we left off in the episode was I was battling a blood clot after the knee replacement surgery that required me to go to the emergency room. Maybe later on, we can talk a little bit more in-depth of how that had a profound impact on my relationship with Jesus in that moment. But fast forward this past year, the recovery has been living hell.

Eric Huffman: Really?

Cam Ayala: And it turns out, the reason why it's been so difficult is the knee replacement was not properly performed.

Eric Huffman: Oh.

Cam Ayala: So dealing with that chronic pain and almost kind of feeling weak because... I've been in the medical device sales and medical consulting world and the average patient like even in their 60s and 70s who get total knee replacements, they're typically back to their new normal in five to six months. So I was about a year out and I was still struggling to walk. I had to keep a crutch in my car, just nights of being woken up 2 a.m., 3 a.m. in pain and not being able to go back to sleep.

Eric Huffman: What did they do wrong? Can you talk a little about it?

Cam Ayala: Basically, the hardware was not adequately placed and the sizing of the hardware wasn't great. But the other part too is just the bone itself had been through so much trauma. That was my 16th surgery-

Eric Huffman: 16th surgery.

Cam Ayala: ...on that knee. So it's almost like you can't really blame a construction worker or contractor for doing a renovation on a home that already had a terrible foundation, whether it was from hurricane or termite. So I've gotten past the headspace of having resentment towards that surgeon because he really is and was a great man, incredible bedside manner. He basically did the best he could at that time given a really unfortunate and undesirable environment, which was the state of my knee.

Eric Huffman: Right. Wow, that's amazing that you've moved past the resentment, because that would seem to be something that would stick with most people, with me.

Cam Ayala: And there was some short moments where I had that resentment. But I also realized that wasn't going to put me in a path forward. If I stayed in that space of resentment, it would only cause me to be more stressed out, and it wouldn't get me to a place where I could truly heal and move forward with the next phase of my life, which I guess that's the segue into what's coming down. And now-

Eric Huffman: Well, first, have you had to have subsequent surgeries since that knee replacement?

Cam Ayala: No, I have not had subsequent surgeries. But what I have gone through is pretty extensive physical therapy. And with the physical therapy, I mean, one of my therapist, he's like this big bodybuilder guy. If you see a picture of him you'd be like, "Wow. That's who's working on you. It's called a manipulation, which basically means force bending the leg. I had a little joke with him, I said, "Dr. Craig, go grab the towel," because that would basically be my way of putting the towel veil over my head, and then biting into the other end of it so he couldn't see me cry.

Eric Huffman: My gosh!

Cam Ayala: Because I would literally be in tears at every appointment. And it's interesting, because when people go through some sort of recovery, specially post-op, they have this whole thing embedded in their minds: No pain, no gain. But there's a balance to that.

Eric Huffman: Of course.

Cam Ayala: And it's really tough to discern if you're having pain because your body's getting stronger, or if you're having pain because something is not right. And it took me getting six other opinions from orthopedic surgeons to determine that the past surgery, the knee replacement was not done right. So my body was telling me something was wrong.

Eric Huffman: Sure. It was one of those deals where the pain wasn't gain and it was just a warning sign.

Cam Ayala: Exactly.

Eric Huffman: So what were your options when that became clear?

Cam Ayala: Well, it was basically, "Hey, we can do a revision of the knee replacement, which was going to require an additional three surgeries. I've had 16 surgeries. What's 19? But you know, at that point, knowing that if I went the revision route, they would replace the existing hardware, put larger hardware in, and if at any point in time with that new, larger hardware, if that got infected... Which one thing with lymphedema patients we are prone to reoccurrence of infection and mine is a more severe case because I have infection of the bone.

So if that bone was to get infection, with the new, larger hardware, that means amputation was inevitable and the residual limb becomes much shorter. And just so the viewers know, that when the limb is shorter, that's less of a surface area for the prosthetic. So for the new leg to grip onto. So it makes mobility even that much more challenging.

Eric Huffman: So as soon as I heard that prognosis that, okay, this could work, but it's not guaranteed to work, and if it does fail, the prosthetic process is going to be more difficult, immediately, that's where this light bulb went off and said, "No, I'm going to do the above knee amputation, a planned above knee amputation."

Eric Huffman: Planned as opposed to an emergency [inaudible 00:15:03] kind of thing.

Cam Ayala: Right. You know, there's, I guess, pros and cons to each of those scenarios. One thing with planned is it does give you a little bit of time to prepare, physically, mentally, spiritually. And there's a lot of logistics. There's like insurance pre-authorization, there's actually figuring out who's going to be the team that fabricates your prosthetic leg, figuring out what that leg is going to be. And then also just coming to grips with like you're losing a physical part of yourself, and there's emotional attachment to that.

Eric Huffman: Of course.

Cam Ayala: And then ultimately, like forging a path forward versus if you're a veteran, for example, or just a regular civilian and you're in an automobile accident, and you just have that trauma and you wake up in the recovery room and your limbs gone, you don't have that time to respond. So there's really pros and cons to both. Now looking at the watch here, it's 15 days-

Eric Huffman: Fifteen days to amputation.

Cam Ayala: ...till amputation.

Eric Huffman: Fifteen days.

Cam Ayala: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Two weeks and a day.

Cam Ayala: Two weeks and a day.

Eric Huffman: How does that feel?

Cam Ayala: I want to say bittersweet. But there's moments in every single day leading up to that that's more the bitterness.

Eric Huffman: Really?

Cam Ayala: I feel that—and again this is a feeling—the way the enemy has found its way to get into my headspace is moments when I'm the most confident, moments when or seasons in my life when I feel like I've got the strongest relationship with Jesus and my faith, that that's when the enemy finds ways to put those moments of doubts.

Even algorithmically in social media, I'll be scrolling, and then I'll see an old friend on a trip somewhere overseas and I see, you know, on other professional athletes living these crazy physical lives, and all these dreams and aspirations that I once had that were robbed me because of the lymphedema and all these surgeries. It does tend to cause me to spiral at times.

But I think one thing of consistency with my faith and processing the pain that I've already endured is really this acronym for pain that I came up with. And that's Persevering Against Internal Negativity. And having that headspace has really helped process pain and know that it's a teacher. And it doesn't have to be all negative, that the world or that your subconscious mind tries to tell you it is.

Eric Huffman: Honestly, Cam, I've been amazed at not only everything that you've been through, and how you've kept going, but how you've allowed it to be a teacher. And everybody can say that. It's a great slogan. Pain as a teacher. Yeah, great. But actually going through it, and being taught by it, and humbled by it and made better.

I was joking with some guys after our prayer group this morning that first time I met you was a cup of coffee. You have been coming to The Story for a while. And interestingly enough, your body was better then. You didn't have any apparent, you know, disability or any kind of anything's slowing you down physically. Not that I could see.

Cam Ayala: Sure.

Eric Huffman: I'm sure there were other things. But the lymphedema I guess, was obviously not what it became since-

Cam Ayala: Yeah, it was well managed at that time, for sure.

Eric Huffman: And your big conundrum in life at that point was finding a girl. You were a different person then, bro. I don't know that I've told you this. But I remember thinking at that coffee meeting, I was like, "This guy's got some growing up to do. If I'm a dad of a 20-something girl, I'm not letting her date him. I would not advise her to date this guy." Because, you know, the bachelorette thing and social media stuff, I just sensed in you—I'm sorry, bro, if this is just rude—but kind of a shallowness compared to who you are now.

Cam Ayala: And it was that. Truthfully it was.

Eric Huffman: And it wasn't even that long ago. That was pre-COVID. But not far before COVID.

Cam Ayala: Right. Yeah.

Eric Huffman: 2019 Maybe?

Cam Ayala: Yeah. End of 2019 because that's when I moved to Houston.

Eric Huffman: Right. And man, today, I mean, if I had a 20-somethings single daughter, I'm like, "Go to Cam. Go to Cam." It's watching a boy become a man. But I know that it was in part the circumstances of the pain that brought that man out of you and made you who you are today to just this great, man, a walking testament to fortitude and to faith.

Cam Ayala: Well, something you told me at that meeting in the coffee shop that did resonate, and still does. You basically said, "We got to pop open the hood of my spiritual life and get in there and figure this out." I didn't have a lot of questions that day that we met, and you didn't have a lot of answers, but it was kind of like the stepping point to not only getting more engaged with The Story, but...

You know, there's a lot of people like marketers, for example, they always say, Start with the why. And in my mind, it was not just like, "Okay, well, why am I meeting with Pastor Eric here today?" You were the first pastor I had coffee with. I grew up going to church in the most traditional sense, holidays and there was a season where we were going more regularly but I hadn't had a meeting with the pastor like you in over two decades.

So part impartial and people can go back to the podcast and listen to it. But what brought me to The Story was trying to woo a certain girl who was a member of The Story. So I'm like, "Well, if I get in with Pastor Eric, maybe he can put in a word for me."

Eric Huffman: Bro, that happens all the time. People use me. "If I meet with the pastor, my wife won't be mad at me. She'll see that I'm trying."

Cam Ayala: Right. Right. Almost like going to therapy, right? Like, "I'm trying." But God did plant the seed that day. And I didn't know at the time what it was gonna grow to be. Obviously, as this conversation unfolds, and we can talk maybe about the day of the blood clot where that was rock bottom from a physical perspective, but a mountain peak of my faith.

Eric Huffman: Our team is following you around for the next couple of weeks, leading up to the big surgery date on the 22nd of June. We'll be following you around afterward as well to tell the whole story. We're making a short documentary film of Cam's journey. As you look ahead, Cam, what is it about the next two weeks and then the follow-up to your surgery that let's say that scares you the most?

Cam Ayala: Well, for starters, I admittedly do have a lot of PTSD from my time on The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise, rightfully so. So allowing myself to be vulnerable again, in front of cameras, even in this documentary-style medium took a lot of wrestling with my own self-doubt.

But right now, with a documentary, you know, there's a center focus of, you know, a character or a person, if you will. And what I want to make very clear, like, Yes, this is my story, but I'm not the center focus of this. Jesus is the center focus of this.

I know that anytime you're going through any type of adversity, especially for younger people, we try to find inspiration in other people who've gone through it. So if anything else, the piece can inspire other children or teens or young adults who are struggling with their faith, or maybe they have a physical disability, or just suffering in general, whether it's chronic or seasonal, that they can, you know, gain some glimmer of inspiration and hope just from my story.

Which the other thing too that's daunting about a documentary versus a feature film is we don't know how this is going to end. With medicine and surgery, there's a lot of complications that can arise. So to answer your question, what scares you the most? It is the fear of the unknown, of something potentially going wrong in this upcoming surgery, the enemy getting into my head, and having that bitterness towards God that I used to have when I was going through all of these other surgeries for the past eight years.

I mean, for lack of better words, atheist. I didn't believe in God. I turned my back on Him. I tried to go through everything on my terms and that did not serve me well.

Eric Huffman: And it's interesting, even when you met with me the first time, you weren't an atheist then.

Cam Ayala: I was a skeptic.

Eric Huffman: You were a skeptic. But even the belief you had about God was almost like God was useful to you. Maybe you were using God like you used me that day to get the girl.

Cam Ayala: Sure. Yeah, absolutely.

Eric Huffman: It's like we keep God around so He's handy when we struggle. And now to hear you say that this documentary, this project, this whole thing is about Jesus first, that's just another sign to me that you've switched seats with God. Like no longer is God your wingman. You've properly put yourself under His authority, guidance, providence. That's the shift I've seen in you.

Cam Ayala: Pastor Kale had this conversation with me. It was probably about a year ago as well, and it was during, I think, my second session at Leading Men, and we started talking about the dynamics of our faith through the lens of the analogy of banking. You have deposits and withdrawals, right?

And for me, for my relationship with God, it was all withdrawals. What can you give me God? What can you give me? How can you be with me in this season of pain? I wasn't giving any glory to Him. I wasn't reading the Bible. I wasn't going to church consistently. I wasn't trying to be an active disciple. I wasn't trying to lead by example with my close group of friends who've known me most of my life and know the other side of me, the partier side, the womanizer side.

So when that dynamic was brought to my attention, you know, having that conscious awareness of that, the relationship with Jesus is no different than that of a marriage or any other friendship, right? You need to wrestle with Him. When you have doubts, talk about those doubts. Don't just brush it under the rug and have nothing but happy optimistic posts on your social media.

We were talking about this earlier this morning, you know, "too blessed to be stressed or depressed". And there's some truth to that but that's not sustainable and honestly it's not realistic.

Eric Huffman: It's not biblical. I mean, it's not fully biblical. Sure, not being depressed is a blessing. Sure, great, especially if you struggle with depression. But the Bible talks about struggle as blessing and pain and persecution and all of it as blessing. How have you experienced that?

Cam Ayala: Well, so we'll bring it back to the last year when I was recovering from the knee replacement, I had the blood clot. And when I was recovering at my parents' house, I was in the worst physical pain in my entire life. I literally hadn't slept more than an hour a day for two weeks. So sleep deprived. I was on so much pain medication that wasn't even working, but I couldn't eat anything. I couldn't even really move my leg. Any slight movement, I'm talking inches, would just send me through the roof in pain.

And in that particular afternoon, I knew that something else was wrong because I started running a fever. And no one has poured battery acid on my leg before but I can imagine it was pretty close because literally the bone was deteriorating away and the blood clot was making the pain pretty severe.

Eric Huffman: Wow

Cam Ayala: So when the EMS came to take me to the emergency room, one of the paramedics had to basically sedate me with a ketamine infusion. And for those who don't know, that's a horse tranquilizer, but it's also used in anesthesia, and actually also in therapeutic settings for PTSD, pain, and other trauma. And I've never had any experience with that before. But in that moment, within four seconds, literally I could almost feel physiologically, my soul leaving my body.

And at that point in time, you know, I had been going to The Story, I had been doing some of men's small groups, but I hadn't had that moment yet where the Holy Spirit just really captivated me. And being in that, I don't want to call it a near-death experience but being in that moment of so all-encompassing pain... I don't want to use excruciating pain because I wasn't at the cross, right?

Eric Huffman: There you go.

Cam Ayala: But the most terrific, terrifying pain, that's where literally, I could feel the presence of God. I had this vision of him reaching down. Like I was drowning in the sea of pain and Him pulling me up. And in that moment, I knew my life would never be the same again.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Cam Ayala: And when I was recovering there in the hospital, I was so blessed that all of my nurses were believers, so every night they would pray with me. And even with going through that terrible pain as I was recovering from the blood clot, I just had this peace about me. And I talked about this on the podcast with you but my whole headspace at that point was God wouldn't put me through anything that He couldn't get me through.

Eric Huffman: Man, I figured there was a turning moment because the change I've seen in you has been so extreme. But I've never heard that specific story. And recently we talked about how pain sort of intersects with or runs parallel to faith in a way that... and even lifestyle. Like the more pain you experience for Christ, the less sin there is in your life, which sounds... That literally what it says, right? 1 Peter 4. Have you experienced that phenomenon?

Cam Ayala: Yeah. Just a practical example. When I started to be more public about my faith on social media, for example, I was losing followers. I always struggle with that word "followers" because I am not Jesus. I don't like how it's called that. But I guess people who had followed my journey and honestly-

Eric Huffman: I want to call them voyeurs.

Cam Ayala: Yeah, voyeurs. Right.

Eric Huffman: That's what they are.

Cam Ayala: These voyeurs were mostly interested in probably Bachelor, Bachelorette-related stuff, but I've quickly used that platform for lymphedema awareness, and now sharing my testimony, my growing relationship with Jesus. As a result, I have lost a lot of those people who once supported me.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Cam Ayala: But I think really, for my purpose of all of this is, you know, it's quality over quantity. I yearn for these deeper, meaningful conversations and connections with people because I know that's where true change and positive change can transform people's lives.

Eric Huffman: I think you got a taste of fame, and by the grace of God, it scorched you, it destroyed you. That experience did. But again, by the grace of God, because you still have this special, unique gift to connect. And I don't say that to float your ego, but you still have the gift of words, of presence. You look like Bradley Cooper—that doesn't hurt. You still have all that going for you and yet you've seen through the sham that is empty fame and glory and you still want to be in the spotlight, but not for you anymore.

Cam Ayala: Right. And this is what I will tell all listeners. Fame and this gratification on being a social media influencer, for example, it is a lie. I know a lot of people in Bachelor franchise and in other sectors of entertainment, who literally have millions of followers, and I know those people are the most unhappy.

We put on these metaphorical masks and we literally use filters and happy captioning and we put on these fifteen to one-minute video clips just as a snapshot into how perfect our lives are. One of my favorite images that I saw on, coincidentally, Instagram was of this flight, perfectly shiny apple, and it was looking in a mirror and you see the reflection of this apple. But then the shot was from behind the apple when you see a huge bite taken out of the apple. But no one sees that. No one sees the trauma, the pain, and the insecurities that lie in this pursuit of perfection.

Eric Huffman: Right. And what you've done is you turned the apple around-

Cam Ayala: Yeah, this is me.

Eric Huffman: ...and you've shown everything good and bad. And you're willing to be uncomfortable and to make others uncomfortable because God has shown you something about discomfort and pain. It's like that's part of where meaning is found.

Cam Ayala: Right. Right. You know, we talked about this earlier this morning in our small group of Jesus lived a life of suffering even before the cross. And the Bible tells us to strive to be more like Him. So we have to lean into that suffering. That's why Romans 5:3-4 is now my new favorite Bible verse. And it's about rejoicing in suffering because through that rejoicing, you're building perseverance and character, which then ultimately leads to hope.

When you're going through seasons or moments of pain, and you don't have that to cling on to, you're just going to fall deeper into a pit of despair. And you cling on to things like I had in the past with alcohol, drugs, unfulfilling physical relationships to where, you know, it's not going to sustain you.

Eric Huffman: Was the tattoo finished?

Cam Ayala: It's never finished. But I do have the verse on there.

Eric Huffman: Romans 5.

Cam Ayala: Romans 5:3-4. What I want people to understand about pain, other than it being a teacher, is that there's going to be moments where the pain feels way too overwhelming. And that's okay. Like, God wants you to wrestle in the relationship with Him.

I think another thing that scares me about this upcoming surgery is that the pain may be so intense that all of this conversation that we're having now past podcasts, past relationships that I've formed at the church and in the community, I could become someone else. That is scary to me because, you know, we don't know how it's going to end up. But I think that's what faith is about is it trusting that God has gone before you and that everything is going to be okay. And you even had a sermon about faith over fear. When there is a deficit of faith, there is a surplus of fear in the inverse as well.

Eric Huffman: That's right. When you're vulnerable enough to tell your story publicly, there's an accountability that comes with that. Whereas if you were pretending publicly that everything's fine going into the surgery, and not even telling the world about your surgery, but just having a superficial plastic faith for the world to see and, you know, go, "Ah, that's nice."

You lose your leg, you come out of that recovery, you could very well become a much different person. And yet you're choosing to tell the whole world about the other side of the apple and to show what that really looks like. And what will happen is the Spirit of God and the community of God surrounds you through it then. I think there's much less likelihood that this upcoming trial will have you or will change you fundamentally, or will wreck you in a bad way.

So, man, first of all, I'm just sorry, I don't know what else to say. I know you're receiving this suffering as a blessing, and I applaud that. And I think that's biblically on point. But I'm sorry. I was going through an airport the other day, I was in Atlanta, and there was a guy there, who's a little older than you, somewhere between my age and yours, and had a family with him. I don't know why but he had lost a leg just above the knee and had a prosthetic.

I'll be real with you, it looked like he had just received the prosthetic, like it was his first time walking on it or something because it was a struggle. And I just started crying right there in the airport looking at this man and thinking of you really. Because I've grown to love you. And we've got a whole story like that very few other guys have been a part of. And the thought of you having to endure it more breaks my heart.

Cam Ayala: Well, again, one of the other key deciding factors as to why I've decided to move forward with this amputation again, it's not about me. Because I've been through the chronic pain and I think we've talked about this before the whole analogy of putting on your oxygen mask first before helping others. I have to do this for myself now so I can be a potential present spouse, a present father.

I was talking to another friend a couple days ago and she was asking me like, "Well, you know, how are you coming to peace in terms of this?" And I said, "Well, there's one incident in particular where I was at my sister's house and I was bending over to pick up my one year old niece, and there was just a moment where I was scared that I was going to drop her because my leg was going to give out on me." And I don't want that fear for her. I don't want that fear for my future kids. I want to be the active of dad who's coaching Little League and not yelling at umpires.

Eric Huffman: That doesn't exist.

Cam Ayala: I know. I'm gonna be that Dad. I can tell you right now and I'm overly competitive. But again, taking care of myself proactively now, I have the hope and optimism that that is gonna make me a better man in the long run.

Eric Huffman: And I believe that it will. I also believe ironically enough that if it is God's plan for you to get married and have kids, the kind of woman you will meet having gone through what you've gone through the way that you have, will be like a light shining in darkness. Whereas before, the Cam I met at a cup of coffee few years ago, the kind of woman that would have been right for that man or that boy, I would say, not so much.

I think this whole test has grown you up and prepared you for everything God has in store for you, which is better than you can imagine at this point as you looked down the barrel of this 15-day period before your surgery. But Cam I love you and your community here at Maybe God and at The Story Church, your family. You're just not alone in this.

Cam Ayala: And that's another thing that has been so special about my relationship with The Story and this community is, you know, they always say you don't get to choose your family because you're just born into it. But The Story is the family that I chose and you guys accepted me, just like a family would.

I'm just so blessed to have that as a foundation and to be able to lean into it, not only when I'm having doubts about my faith but to grow those relationships and just hear from so many extraordinary individuals with different walks of life, married single, different sexual identities. I mean, it's a beautiful thing. I mean, it truly feels like just a gumbo of believers. And skeptics too, right? I mean, if we're not having questions about our faith, I mean, we're not being genuine in our pursuit to be like Jesus.

Eric Huffman: Right. Absolutely.

Cam Ayala: I still have a lot of questions.

Eric Huffman: Do you?

Cam Ayala: I do.

Eric Huffman: Do you want to get into them? Or maybe another episode.

Cam Ayala: No. I thought about this the other day. I feel that the dynamic of a relationship between someone in church and their pastor is like you are like my Siri or Alexa.

Eric Huffman: Oh, right.

Cam Ayala: There's laziness, and people ask questions, and you'll spit out answers biblically. But I need to have a relationship with God and Jesus that doesn't involve this automation and laziness. It needs to be sincere, even if it's just two seconds out of the day, and just thanking God. "Thank you for that green light. Thank you for this cup of coffee. Thank you for, you know, still having my hair." Right?

Eric Huffman: Yeah, it's beautiful. I will say. Thank you even for the pain. That's where you get. That's where it gets real as you've learned and shared with us today. One thing I love about you, and we'll wrap with this, is the sense of humor you've been able to maintain through this, bro. Is that part of your coping mechanisms?

Cam Ayala: It totally is. I think when you can add levity to serious situations, it does help you get over it faster. A lot of my friends at the Jewish faith, they would tell me the origins, especially coming off of the Holocaust, some of the funniest comedians are Jewish.

Eric Huffman: That's right.

Cam Ayala: So, for me, adding levity and a sense of humor is not necessarily just a coping mechanism, but it also makes it easier for people around me to process, right?

Eric Huffman: Yes.

Cam Ayala: Because having a conversation with someone saying, "Hey, I'm about to lose my leg," I can just see kind of the life sucked out of them. I'm like, "No, don't worry about it. I already got a hashtag. It's Camputation. Don't call me Lieutenant Cam. Just stuff like that.

Eric Huffman: Lieutenant Cam.

Cam Ayala: Forrest Gump reference, for the millennials. And it's not just to make light of the situation, but it's to let people know that I'm going to be okay. I'm going to be great.

Eric Huffman: Amen.

Cam Ayala: Because God has already gone before me in this situation.

Eric Huffman: Amen. What's the name of the hospital you're going to next week or this week?

Cam Ayala: Oh, CHOP. I'm literally going to CHOP. It's Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. I couldn't have picked a better hospital.

Eric Huffman: You remember when we were praying with our men's group a couple of months ago?

Cam Ayala: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: And the oldest guy in the group was saying the most profound and serious prayer. And then he said something about like, "Lord, and keep the doctors at CHOP..." And he was like, "Oh, my God."

Cam Ayala: I definitely remember that moment. But, you know, as I'm gonna continue to say, I've already done the legwork. I'm gonna go out on my limb here and though this is my last leg to stand on, God is gonna pull me through.

Eric Huffman: I love it. I love it. You're just full of euphemisms and puns. Fun. That's great. Keep laughing, Cam. Keep believing and leaning on people that God will surround you and of course, leaning on God Himself.

Cam Ayala: Amen.

Eric Huffman: He never lets us down.

Cam's surgery went as expected, but his life since then has been anything but predictable. If you want to follow the rest of Cam's journey, head to our YouTube channel, subscribe and hit the notification bell to be alerted as we release new updates. Thanks for listening, Maybe God fam.