Learning From My Cancer

My scar is beginning to heal, my staples have been removed, and I am starting to get back to life. A new life, one that has cancer forever written on its medical chart.

Just this week, I had a tearful conversation with a physicians assistant who just lost a thirty-something to the exact same diagnosis. A constant reminder of the grace I have been shown.

I went swimming for the first time last week and actually went for my first run in six weeks; it was humbling. The whole experience has been incredibly humbling. But humility hasn’t been the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

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They say writing is hard. They say life is hard. While I would have to agree with both, I’d say that living what you write is even harder.

For a guy who writes about living a rich life, I knew I would have to engage the pillars of my message at some point. These principles sound great on paper and even better when Im able to speak about them: embrace broken, invest in others, choose gratitude, and learn to balance humility and confidence. I believe in them and, to some extent, I believed I was living them.

At thirty-two, I was loving life with my wife and three boys under the age of four. I was on the heels of my second half Ironman, my insurance practice was growing steadily, and I was months away from my first book publication. Then, life happened. And like it does most of the time, life happened in the most sudden and inconvenient way. I never thought it would look like this.

A cancer diagnosis. A freight train of reality barreling down upon me, and I’m tied to the tracks.

Cancer? Me?

Yet, there I was. In the midst of a diagnosis that called me to live out my writing. Curiously, my writing began as a response to my own aunt’s cancer diagnosis and battle, one that led me to respect her dignity and grace as she traversed chemotherapy and eventually, death.

Now, as the proverbial tables were turned, the mirror reflecting my own image, would I respond in the same manner? Would gratitude and confidence line my conversations; would my response be generosity and humility?

Sure, it’s easy to say, “It’s just skin cancer,” when it’s someone else, but when you read the literature they give you, phrases like “fifteen percent survival rate” and “spreading malignant melanoma” feel a bit weighty. Add to that stories of people, people just like you, who recently lost their thirty-something-year-old friend to the exact same diagnosis.

A new conjunction, What if, wreaks havoc on your mental fortress, regardless of how grounded you are in your faith: What if it has already spread? What if it comes back? What if they didn’t get all of it? These thoughts play out like a broken record from a one-hit wonder that you can’t seem to quiet.

Your faith calls you to be still and rest in scripture. Passages like Paul’s “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” from Philippians feel comforting – for the other guy; you didn’t envision them playing out in your own life. At least I didn’t.

There’s the awkward explanation of why you can’t pick your boys up for days following the surgery. “Daddy’s boo-boo,” becomes a common phrase and you have to constantly show them your four-inch incision, closed shut with twenty-seven staples.

There’s the sleeping and the bathing and the care, all simple inconveniences that remind you of your condition. A life interrupted, broken by circumstances, some beyond our control and others the reckless effects of our actions.

For those who can’t relate, I remember you. I was there too. You’re Superman and Wonder Woman. Nothing can stop you. Youre not broken and if you were, youd fix it. Be careful. C. S. Lewis said, “Pride is spiritual cancer.” It eats away at the soul until either by death or simple default humility finds you.

For many of us, we don’t have to look very far to see the broken shards of our life, we step on them constantly, our feet a bloody mess from encountering them daily. I’m with you. I am you.

As I sat there, humility having moved me into my living room, I pondered through the tears and I came to this conclusion.

I still have a choice.

“How am I going to respond?”

From the pain of my own diagnosis, I can tell you, your life will be determined by the answer to this question. I had to make that decision for myself; I still have to make it every day. You may not be there yet. Whether you’re unwilling or unable, at some point, you must.

Someone else’s hope rests upon your response to your story; to your brokenness. Choose hope.

Because here’s the good news: by Him, all of the cancer has been removed. Every single ounce has been redeemed. He falls to His knees, grabs a wet towel, and begins washing the blood away from our feet. He invites us, “Follow me,” a simple command with a complex application. Still, He loves us enough to allow us to choose. And we must choose.

In my own story, the doctor gave me a dose of perspective along with my prognosis.

“You were one half of one millimeter away from having your lymph nodes tested. The good news is that all of your cancer is gone.” He said it with such certainty, like he was hopeful.

For me, the battle is still real. When I fail to fight, it causes a turning in my stomach that becomes waves of panic and anxiety. One half of one millimeter is like the width of a credit card. I have to choose to fight with the strength found in the hope from above.

But this has become the hard part. Being cured of cancer wasn’t as newsworthy as one would suspect. It was hard being given the diagnosis and the surgery brought plenty of inconveniences, but the hardest part for me about surviving cancer is: Why me?

Why did so many other people get different news? Will I be able to gladly sing, “I’m cancer free, knowing good and well someone else is headed to a consultation with an oncologist?

I’m again led to my conclusion above.

“How am I going to respond?”

I choose hope and I choose love, because that’s what He died for.

MH

 

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  • Wow Matt, what a powerful story you have shared. Thank you for being transparent and authentic in telling it. I’m thankful to hear that you are cancer free. What a powerful lesson that none of us knows what tomorrow holds, no matter our age or perceived “health.”

    • Chris – we are all stewarding a story. Glad to know there’s men like you who are walking that road in faith. Thank you for your contribution.

  • Great story Matt – I am glad you have came through the battle. It is easy talk about a great life it is another thing to live it out when our circumstances try and tell a different story. – Sounds like you lived it well. Thanks for sharing the “real” of living a rich life.

    • Thanks Jon. The battle is one that rears its head from time to time – trying to fight well. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and share a few words. Live Richly!

  • Tom Morris

    This is maybe the best prose yet in the ever rich process of your new writing life. You have a true gift, and we’re all grateful that you’re sharing it!

    • Someone told me to grab a pen. Blame him. Thanks Tom!

  • Deborah L. Sheneman

    I loved this Matt. Every journey that God is allowing into your life and all the truth He is pouring into you to share with others will truly bring honor and glory to Him. Keep shining for Jesus! Love you.

    • Thanks Aunt Debbie, hope to see y’all soon.

  • I love this post, Matt! So often I wonder what my reaction would be to news like that. I’ve been so fortunate to be healthy and have a healthy husband and kids. I try so hard not to take it for granted and remember that every day could be our last. But I guess I’ll never know what my reaction will be unless I’m in the situation myself. I pray that I would carry the hope that I know.

    • Unfortunately, Corie, our health is something we do take for granted. It’s extremely challenging, but incredibly freeing to fully trust in Him. I wish I could say that I’m there, but I’m not. I think the key becomes living within that hope, always.

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