My name is Matthew. I'm a city manager and I live in Ellensburg, Wash., with my wife and two children. We love doing outdoor things like camping and bike riding and treasure our annual trip to Disneyland. We are all proper Disney nerds!
Two years ago, I found out I had cancer the day before leaving on our annual Disney trip. While lathering my neck for an old-fashioned razor shave, my barber noticed a big rock-hard lump. While she froze in terror, I immediately realized it was probably cancer and would explain the mysterious symptoms I'd been experiencing.
On Valentine's Day, 2013, a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma was confirmed. I was confused, but not scared at first. I remember thinking that getting treatment as soon as possible would be beneficial.
The first oncologist we visited was not at Virginia Mason and it was an awful experience. His office was dark and bleak. He sat me down and, without talking to me at all, began detailing a litany of procedures, exams and the like that I would need. When my wife and I left, we were scared and felt very alone.
I went to work the next day in a daze. A friend came by who had heard about my diagnosis and recommended I go to Virginia Mason for treatment. I called right away and found out I could be seen that weekend. It was an answer to my prayers.
From the start, I knew I was in the right place. I had done research before my appointment and found out how good the program was and that I would be seeing one of the top oncologists in the Pacific Northwest. He walked in and his first words were that while I had cancer, and we would treat that, he wanted to know about me as a person and human being. He asked about my hopes, my fears, whether I planned to have more kids and how chemotherapy might impact that.
He also went over a much smaller list of tests, letting me know that in his opinion the tests the other oncologist wanted (such as a bone marrow biopsy) were most likely not needed. He explained the benefits of a ‘port’ over other infusion methods and I left hopeful and confident we would beat Hodgkin’s!
My cancer treatment was "surreal" in a good way. Virginia Mason has gone to great lengths to make the experience as comfortable and stress-free as possible. I had several chemotherapy regimens and a stem cell transplant. It was a huge and unique benefit that all my care was provided in the same facility and test results were always returned the same day. I never had to ‘go home and wait.’ As anyone who has faced cancer knows, a long wait for test results is just dreadful!
Everyone we met — from the janitors, to the volunteer concierge cart folks, to people in radiology, general surgery and all throughout the organization — they all had passionately embraced a culture of service, positivity, safety and professionalism. We had a seemingly tireless team of health care professionals who fought the good fight with us, comforted us and helped us heal both emotionally and physically.
My daughter has severe anxiety disorder, so you might imagine what my diagnosis and treatment did to her. Virginia Mason staff went out of their way to include her where appropriate, empower her to help, and to understand the process. I could go on for quite some time bragging about so many amazing people at Virginia Mason!
All that said, it wasn't an easy road. I remember just after one of my chemotherapy treatments that my kids woke me up one day and said, "Dad, we are so sorry to bother you, we know you're sick, but can you please make us some breakfast? We don't know how." That broke my heart. My sweet kids, so compassionate and needing something so simple that was almost impossible for me to do.
This experience has taught me so much about the journey of life we are all on. I find myself wanting to give back, to comfort and help others as they face a cancer diagnosis. People tell me I am way more relaxed and ‘laid back.' Having faced the shadow of death helps you figure out what's truly important.
I think I am in a "new normal." I am considered cancer free but I don’t want to forget the experience that has gotten me to this point. Today, I am grateful for everything and take nothing for granted, not one single moment…