See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

See Part 16 here.

The Visit

I got on a plane at around 7 p.m.  I landed in Phoenix at about 9 p.m., but with time difference, that means I was in the air for about five hours. When I landed, I linked up with my sister and her children. We jumped straight in the car and took the three-hour drive into Yuma.

By the time we got to another relative’s house, it was one in the morning, and I was exhausted. I went straight into a room, said my prayers, read my Bible and passed out.

We drove to my parents house the next day.  Mom answered the door. I tend to seem unsympathetic.  I might actually be unsympathetic. I’ve always confessed I’ve never been the most sympathetic person. I am, however, empathetic, not like one of the characters in one of my books, but still fairly able to understand the emotional temperature of the room.

I say all of this because my arrival wasn’t some made-for-tv sort of moment where we hugged and cried. That’s just not how our family works. I hugged her. It was startling to see how much weight she’d lost. To be clear, she didn’t look frail, except she’d lost a lot of muscle weight in her legs, which causes her to have trouble standing after sitting down.

She still looked like mom. I honestly had this mental picture of her having been shaved bald.  That wasn’t the case. The sides of her head had clearly been shaved, but it had grown back in the time since her surgery. Honestly, she looked much better than the mental picture I had in my mind.

We all sat down.  My first concern was talking to my mom. I asked her how she was. I asked her about the new procedure she was about to start. Then, I asked her if she was ready for it.

“Yeah.”

Talking to my mom is a bit tricky.  What I knew right away was that my mom is still in there. She’s still mom.  She’s restless and relentless. She wants a clean house. She wants to talk to and play with her grandkids. I think her lack of ability to communicate, and the physical toll this illness has taken, caused her to feel like she’s a burden.  The woman who was obviously the back-bone to my entire family wasn’t happy needing help.

While mom is still mom, it seems like someone took her entire lexicon and scrambled it. She knows what she means, but she’s using words that don’t match her intended meaning.  She’ll use one familial term when she means the other.  She’ll use one adjective and mean something else. Then she has a few words that sort of sound like placeholders for a lot of other words. “Flaming (or flame)” is the one I remember most. She might be talking about her carpets or a bedroom or even the walls.  This means that talking to her requires a lot of patience and a great deal of translation. However, she’s very good at answering questions, so I quickly realized asking her yes/no questions was a good approach.

That day was a lot of conversation, but it was also incredibly mundane. Were it not for my mom’s struggle with word choice, it would have been like any other visit. She sat there while my dad and I watched the game. My nephew played around the house while my niece reclined on a chair, working on her phone.

In the last segment, I talked about my mantra. Listen, and be supportive. So once Mom said she was ready to take on this new challenge, I looked at my dad, sister, and mom, and said, “So we’re all on the same page. We’re going to do this treatment and see how it goes.”

Seeing my mom walk around and talk and play with her grandchildren really boosted my mood. I think it helped my sister too. I have it easy. I saw mom up and about, complaining that her house wasn’t clean “enough.” I’ve never had to take her to a hospital. I’ve never had to see her lie in a bed, unable to move a limb or even most of her body. For those in my family who had to sit through that, I can’t even imagine the worry that would bring.

Once we started talking about how we got to this point, the reason the problem existed served to become the source of friction in the family. There are actually other sources of friction, but the one causing the most pressure was the manner in which one describes what’s happening.

The surgeon said the tumor had grown and that it was inoperable. This is the individual my sister trusts.  Why not? He’s the doctor who performed that first surgery on my mother.

The oncologist said that the MRI was inconclusive. The swelling and fluid in my mother’s brain was simply too bad for us to really know what was going on. This is the individual my father would quote.

Early on in this testimony, I mentioned my mom qualified for a new, experimental treatment. I’m not speaking on the overall effectiveness of this treatment, but it didn’t work for my mother. She consistently needed to be checked in to the hospital for various side effects. The worst issue wasn’t caused by that as I understand it.  The biggest issue always happened when they tried to ween my mom off the steroids. Please do not take this as a statement of my opinion of the experimental treatment. I don’t have nearly enough data.  All I know is what happened this time with my mom.

As true as that statement is, my sister worried that this approach might be just another excuse to try another experimental treatment. If anyone suspected that, I can only imagine how much distrust and anger that would generate.  I don’t know. I literally have no idea. I’ve never met the oncologist, but while listening, I realized that was my sister’s opinion. I don’t have time to investigate the motives of this oncologist, so again, please don’t take this as a statement of truth.  The only verified truth of what you’re reading here is what my sister felt.

So when facing a new round of treatment, how natural would it be to feel that it might just be a new thing to try? If one believes a doctor is just looking to push the boundaries of science, who would volunteer their mother to be the lead subject?

My dad offered the most logical source of relief. This treatment, avastin infusion, is a normal, FDA-approved treatment. It’s not experimental.  In fact, regardless of possible motives or which of the two sources of information was correct, this treatment is the solution.

Avastin (more scientifically called Bevacizumab), is indeed used as treatment of gioblastoma. It is used specifically for brain tumors that were resistant to previous treatments.

The link I gave you, a link to the NPS Medicinewise website, gives the eye-crossing science of it, but here’s what I know I know.

Avastin essentially cuts off the blood (and therefore the food) supply to tumors. This should stop, or at least slow, the tumor’s growth. It also reduces swelling, which is what the steroids were for. The problem with steroids is that using that much for that long on my mother would eventually just contribute to the problem. So this treatment should work against the tumor while reducing the swelling that’s causing problems.

The plan is to administer a few (three) treatments and then take another MRI to see how things are going.

Knowing this was a normal, FDA-approved course of action put my sister a bit more at ease. I sat there, listening to the discussion. Frankly, I got pretty upset at the team caring for my mom. Being in the military taught me something about communication: When you can, go straight to the source. My frustration was that two people even spoke to my family. I’d be fine with the whole team being in the room to answer specific questions, but man would my family be a lot less stressed if one guy gave us one situation and then provided the list of options to which my father referred when I called him the day before. I’m not saying they’re horrible people or anything.  This conflict had way more to do with the team’s communication skills than their medical skill.

Frustration or no frustration, it provided a very clear line in which my family could stand on opposite sides.

The first task was making sure everyone was supportive of the current course of action. We got there pretty quickly.  I’m still not sure how well I did anything else.

It’s difficult because my family hans’t been united for a very long time. My biological father molested one of my sisters. That divorce did a lot of damage. It damaged our faith:

When my mom was about to move us out, the church we attended at the time saw fit to visit (en mass). They told her, and I still remember the quote.

“You need to get over it and keep your marriage together.”

They argued the sanctity of marriage to my mother, who was trying to get our family (and the rest of her daughters, three of which still lived at home) away from this person who committed this awful act.

I feel compelled to explain something. Matthew 5:32 makes one thing perfectly clear, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  That word “except” starts the most important prepositional phrase ever in terms of divorce and Christianity. No, a person is not obligated to get a divorce, but my mother was in every Biblical right to divorce my bio-dad.

Apparently that church forgot to read that particular verse in the Bible. As I’ve read and studied the Bible, I’ve come to see that church was (I have no idea what it’s doing these days) sadly misguided in their actions and woefully inaccurate in its doctrine. My greatest obstruction in my walk with Jesus is without a doubt false teachers. I encountered more, but this particular event was what drove the wedge between my family and the Church (if not God Himself).

My bio-dad’s abuse fractured our family: The chain of events that started on that day only got worse and worse, particularly for my sister.  This sister is not the one with whom our mother stayed. I have a lot of sisters.  I commonly call this sister my oldest, but that’s only accurate in terms of siblings I spent a large portion of my life with. Each time something happened, more wedges were driven. We were separated from people we love. The desire for acceptance and attention became critical. Our motivation was validation through gifts and words of affection.

Mom fought to keep us together. Mom fought to make sure we got along. I don’t know if my siblings share this opinion, but I feel that what happened was we all chose to compete for her affection rather than love. It’s shown in various ways. The most common would be to raise ourselves up by speaking ill about the others. I am easily as guilty of this as anyone else in my family.  Rather than being good children and good siblings, we competed to be the best child.

How I wish we’d studied the Lord’s Supper at some point.  How could we though? We’d already been poisoned against God’s words by a list of false teachers.

During the Lord’s Supper, the apostles began a competition to determine who among them was the best. Jesus responded to this debate by washing the feet of each of his apostles. When every one of Jesus’s most trusted disciples were fighting over being the greatest, Jesus showed them the way by doing the most demeaning, humiliating service that could be done in this time. See Luke 22, Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 20.

Here we are, nearly 30 years later. When my family got that news, words were said. Feelings were hurt. Yes, I know that’s passive voice.  To make the phrase active, let’s say, accurately, that relatives did things and/or said things to each other that hurt. I don’t need to (or want to) list the accusations or perceived offenses.  What I want is for you readers to try and imagine how a family hardened by nearly 30 years of stress  would react when the  central foundation of that family is the person we’re fighting over.

My efforts are to change the wording of this. Rather than fighting over, I hope to get to a place where we’re fighting with her.

For those families split by atrocity, whatever it may be, I ask you to be sure that your focus is on the family as a unit. It was hard for my mom. I didn’t make it easy. I was a prideful, hateful little bastard. I wasn’t exactly an angel before the divorce, and when it happened I, who bear a tremendous physical resemblance to the bio-dad, felt powerless, and I sought power by lying and undermining everyone I could. Even when I realized how selfish and hateful that course of action was, I still sought to be the most loved so that I felt like I was the least like the man who I still recognize because the face in the mirror is hauntingly, agonizingly so much like the face of the man I still struggle to forgive.

Those are my wrongs. Those are my crimes, and in this tale I focus on what I am doing and what I can do to be better.

All of my siblings struggle with this history. I’ve found immense comfort in studying the Bible and applying what it has taught me. So once we all acknowledged that this course of action was the right one for mom, I did the only think I knew was right.

I asked what I could do to help, and I did it. Then I had to keep working with my sisters to at least act like the children we should be.

 


 

Questions and Revelations

You actually want to forgive that molester? 

That’s the real problem. You see, the fact is, I know I should. We should forgive others, so that we are forgiven (Matthew 6:14).  That verse doesn’t say, “unless he did something really bad.” In fact one of the biggest issues facing the world today is the idea that there are “lesser sins” and “greater sins.” The simple fact is, sin is detestable to God (Proverbs 6:16) That particular reference provided six things the Lord expressly hates.

We are saved because Jesus took that wrath upon himself, cleansing us with his blood, speaking for us to God so that he may pass over the judgement for which we are all deserving.

We protest sins we don’t like, but we don’t reproach ourselves of the sins we commit because we think them “less offensive” to God.

When the divorce was fresh, and later, when the bio-dad died, I truly struggled with the idea that I might see him one day in Heaven. We picture Heaven as this blissful place where we see all the people we like, and none of the people we hate.  But God isn’t that small. We humans judge and classify things that are small in comparison to the universe as a whole.  We elevate ourselves higher, when the fact is, on any scale, we’re nothing.

So I’ve known my whole life that I should forgive. I’ve even said I forgive. Gotten over, is the more accurate term.  Think about it. Were you ever close to someone. Did someone that close to you ever do something to you that you just couldn’t get over?  It may be the case.  God, however, can get over anything. I say again, anything.  Does that mean the bio-dad is in Heaven? I don’t know.  I’ll let you know when I see you there, if you are saved.

The fact is, Heaven will be filled with the saved. I know for a fact there are people I love who don’t have a ticket. It doesn’t make me not love them, but the ticket into Heaven was bought by the blood of Jesus, and only those who acknowledge that and accept him into their hearts will get one. That means that when I get there, I might see bio-dad. He certainly proclaimed his salvation.  Many have, but that’s not necessarily the truth.

Does that mean I’ll rage out or I’ll hit him. No, because when Jesus returns, all of our sin, including the hate and resentment I feel, will leave me. We’ll all be like Jesus.

Some non-believers use this as justification to remain apart from God. They say, “I could never believe in a God who could forgive a killer.”

There it is again, a mortal elevating one sin above another. A man who lies is every bit as offensive to God as one who kills. I actually wrote a short-story on that years ago. I knew even then that sin is sin, and it’s wrong. It is equally offensive to God regardless of its classification.

I argue it is better to have a God who can forgive anyone of any sin. I feel this way because I’ve done some seriously wrong stuff in my life. I’ve stolen. I’ve fornicated. No, I’ve never killed.

I feared my bio-dad’s crime so much that I realized later in life that I avoided relationships.  I sought out pornography and strip clubs because I was terrified that one day whatever disease or insanity that struck bio-dad, and let’s not forget his bio-dad, the rapist, would visit me.  I kept thinking, “Well, you know, the bio-dad had several daughters, so maybe some strange thing happened in his brain to make him this way.”

For the record, even if that is/was the case, we still choose to sin. Our lusts, no matter how dark, are symbols of our humanity. Our faith is demonstrated in how we resist temptation.  For a long time, I resisted it by being shy. I resisted it by hiding from the possibility.

I think I’m a good uncle. In my arrogance, I happen to feel pretty strongly that I represent all the best things an uncle should be. But what made me fight to be such a great uncle wasn’t just my love for my nieces and nephews.  They were what I felt I was allowed to have in my life. I honestly felt I didn’t deserve love or children because my biological track record had disqualified me. I “could handle” nieces and nephews. I “could handle” being in the “friend zone.”

I have never once felt the desire to molest a child. I’ve never looked at a kid and been tempted. In fact, to this day I’m careful. I hug. I never kiss on the lips.  I fought for decades to avoid a temptation I’ve never felt, and what it cost me was time I can’t get back.

It took me a while to realize most of the children I know today have no memory of the bio-dad.  They’ve no clue at all who he was or what he did. All they know is their Uncle Matt.  I have a young cousin who get’s mad at me from time to time.  You see, I fly her around like  an airplane, and this airplane is very disappointing when it lacks the energy to keep her flying around endlessly.

My nephew gets mad I won’t tickle fight 24/7.

My other niece loves drawing with her uncle.

Saleah liked listening to me play guitar and sing. She loved watching TV with me. Now she’s off to college.

For decades, I struggled with avoiding a man I could never be. All it did was keep me from being the man I can be.

I have an opportunity now. I have this woman I mean to marry one day (soon), and she has three boys of her own. I see a lot of my concerns in them, and I intend to make sure they don’t live their whole lives trying to not be someone.

Our vow to not have sex until marriage (which is currently the only line remaining to cross), is important to me for that reason. I want to endure the temptation of having sex with her to show my faith to God’s will and my trust in him. It shows control of myself.

Whoever we are, God forgives. Whoever we are, Jesus saves. We show our faith and increase our bounty in Heaven by bearing fruit (helping to save others) and resisting temptation (whatever it may be).  Please know that you can never simply push on sinning thinking, “God will forgive me.” Sanctification is the reduction of sin in our lives so that we may be more Holy each day. This means I need to be less of a prideful jerk, and whatever your sin is, no matter how “small” or “large” you think it is, you need to repent and stop.

If we do, no matter who we are, we’ll be forgiven, and we’ll all see each other when Christ returns. We may even see people we hated in this life. If that happens, we’ll be incapable of hate, so we won’t hate them in the next.

For those of you who feel this probability is why one shouldn’t turn to God, I ask you to consider that you may see some people you don’t like, but is there really anyone you like less than Satan? Would you really risk hanging with him for the rest of eternity simply to avoid seeing anyone else? I wouldn’t. He’s the source of evil. He’s who introduced us to sin in the first place.

 

This incredibly long section is still only a part of the larger, but to help you understand where I come from and how hard it is for our family to unite, I had to explain how  we got to this point.

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading

Matt

13 thoughts on “Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 17

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