Thankful for Cancer | A Story to Remind You Not to Skip Thanksgiving

At the age of thirty-two, I was diagnosed with spreading malignant melanoma.

That moment was a turning point in my life—a pivotal intersection of the way I wanted my life to go and my new reality. When the doctor’s eyes connected with mine as she gave me my diagnosis, it pierced me in a way I had never experienced. For the first time in my life I faced my own mortality. I can honestly say that I wasn’t afraid of dying. I was afraid that I hadn’t really lived.

As a father to three, I was busy raising my family, running a business and trying to live a good life. But beneath that facade I wondered if I had missed something. I was a faithful Christian. But as I wrestled with my diagnosis, I wondered if I was really trusting God or just living a comfortable existence. Would my kids remember me as a great father, or a guy who was too busy for them? Would my co-workers and friends miss my presence, or was I forgettable?

That may seem terribly narcissistic, but it’s honestly how I felt at the time. In hindsight, some of those questions were rooted in my own pride, but that didn’t make them any less potent. It’s the hard questions that force you to get honest.

In time, God began to give me clarity. He helped me weed through the questions as a farmer would sift wheat. The line between that which mattered and that which didn’t became painfully clear. I was overwhelmed by the temporary nature of life—as if I were seeing for the first time. And in that moment of raw honesty, I realized that there were countless unimportant things directing my path. Beneath the cancer, something magnificent was waiting. Like God had given me the most beautiful gift wrapped in ugly paper.

My diagnosis was a catalyst to discover my true identity. Cancer stripped away the facade and God showed me who I was underneath. It was, and still is, a painful process. But it was absolutely necessary. Through the pain, His promise was delivered. It’s been years now, but I still battle the mental barrage and anxiety that my cancer will return.

But today, in the shadow of another Thanksgiving, I praise God that I am cancer free.

Don’t Skip Thanksgiving

In recent years, it seems like we’ve skipped Thanksgiving. We throw away the Jack-O-Lanterns and head straight for the Christmas lights. But after my cancer scare, I’ve embraced a much deeper appreciation for the holiday. I guess it’s because I’m truly thankful for my diagnosis. It took cancer to wake me up to true life.

I have a four-inch scar on my right side that reminds me of the blessing of life that I still have. And every time I see it, I’m filled with inexplicable gratitude because not everyone’s story turned out like mine. That’s a sobering thought, one that refreshes my perspective. The truth is there are countless families that will spend this holiday without someone they love.

So for me, when the kids are out of control, I’m simply thankful that I get to hear their laughter. When the turkey is overcooked, I’m grateful for another meal. And when the in-laws push my buttons, I’m just glad that I still have buttons to push. Thankfulness is found in the hard things as well.

Don’t skip giving thanks. Even when it’s the hard stuff.

PraiseGiving

I wept with my wife the night we learned of my diagnosis. We were unsure of how far my condition had progressed and we were scared. Yet in the midst of those tears, I told my wife that I was weeping, not because of what I was fearful of losing, but because of the wonderful blessings I had experienced. The pain had brought everything into perspective. In a weird way, cancer taught me what it meant to praise God.

The quiet process of facing my fears and trading them for the fear of the Lord has had a profound impact on me. Curiously enough, it has caused praise to flow from my heart. And that praise has produced joy. As odd as it might sound, God used pain to bring about joy. But isn’t that a picture of the gospel?

This Thanksgiving, pause with me for a moment and let gratitude sink in. Even to the deep down painful places where you’ve refused it’s presence. If you’re willing, it will change you. And in that place, you will discover joy.

From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

MH

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  • This brought tears to my eyes. I think you know my thoughts on gratitude, so all I can say is that while we don’t exactly have the picture perfect image of Thanksgiving happening in your first illustration, we are definitely far from living out the image in the second. The holiday season is especially difficult after loss, but that doesn’t mean that on Thanksgiving I lose that sense of gratitude. We are instructed in scripture to be “thankful in all circumstances”. Thanksgiving may look a little different these days, but there is still much to be thankful for.

    • Sarah, I pray that you, Ron, and Moira will have an incredibly special Thanksgiving this year. Thank you for your words.

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  • Steve Long

    Matt, you remind us to life simply, love fully and give abundantly. This was a prayer for grace. Thank you!