In the previous posts, Lauren Chandler answered my questions about her life as a pastor's wife. Today, she talks with me about her husband Matt's cancer, what the past year has been like for the Chandlers, and how it has changed her.
Tell me about the events of Thanksgiving Day 2009 from your perspective. What did you see and feel that day?
I was making breakfast and getting some dishes ready for Thanksgiving lunch, I heard a crash in the living room. Because I knew Matt was in there with all three kids, I thought it strange that I didn't hear anything from him like "it's okay", etc. All I heard was Audrey say, "Daddy?"
I walked in the room and noticed that some things had fallen off the room divider we have in the corner next to the fireplace. I looked down and saw Matt on the ground. My first thought was Shoot, he hit his head on something. He looked like he was trying to get up but then I realized he was seizing. I searched his head to find a wound of some sort and saw nothing. I rolled him on his side so that his tongue wouldn't block his airway. My mind was amazingly clear (which has also proven to be a curse now). I blocked Audrey and Reid's view of Matt with my body and had Audrey grab my phone. Thankfully, Norah was in her johnny jump-up (which Matt had just put her in before he seized--praise God he wasn't holding her when it happened).
I called 911 and since we live so close to the fire department, I could hear the ambulance turn on it's sirens. I called my parents to come get the kids. They were there almost instantly. I waved the fire truck/ambulance down. Matt had stopped seizing at this point and was breathing heavily (almost like a snore). He reflexively tried to get up (but he was not lucid). The EMT's came in and assessed him. They put him on the gurney and wheeled him to the ambulance. His eyes were open and he had some control over his body but "Matt" wasn't there. He looked at me but there was no "recognition". This was heartbreaking.
The EMT's tried almost unsuccessfully to start an IV. He was very combative and even hit one of the EMTs!! They had to tie restraints around his arms. It was wild. Funny to look back on now but surreal in the moment. I told the EMT's "He's not normally like this."
They finally got an IV started (after they gave him some drugs to calm him down).
When we pulled into the ER and they unloaded him, he saw me and recognized me for the first time. He asked me what had happened and I told him. His response was, "Oh honey, I'm so sorry." (Break my heart!)
They settled us into a room and we waited as Matt slowly became more and more lucid. He asked the same few questions and made the same remarks over and over: "I feel like I just woke up here. I don't remember anything....what happened??" I would tell him: "You had a seizure, baby. I was in the kitchen, heard a crash and saw you seizing in the living room." Matt: "where were the kids?" Me: "They were in the living room with you." Matt (tearing up): "Are they okay?" Me: "Yes, baby." This exact conversation happened about 6 or 7 times.
He had a CT scan and an MRI. The MRI showed some kind of small mass. We were told to see the neurosurgeon soon and that he would be on anti-seizure meds until he got in to see him.
Word got out almost instantly about Matt’s seizure. Were you surprised at the international awareness about and response to Matt’s illness?
I think we had some idea of the scope of his influence because of the podcast. Matt would receive emails from all over the world about how the Lord was using him to speak truth to hearts thousands of miles away. However, we had no idea how many people were "invested" in our lives, how many people truly cared about what was happening to us.
What has it been like to experience suffering on a very public stage?
Humbling. There are so many other stories of suffering that are much more tragic and heart-wrenching than ours. There are stories of people who are exercising greater faith that are known by only a few people. I've wondered, why us? Not: why would this happen to us, but: why would God trust us with this platform? Many have shared with us how our journey has positively impacted their walks with the Lord and we are grateful to know this, but we are acutely aware that we are still sinful human beings saved by grace alone through faith alone. Anything worthy of imitation in us has strictly been a work of the Holy Spirit.
How have you tried to help, serve, and love Matt through this time?
In the beginning, I loved him by just being with him. I remember not wanting him out of my sight for very long. How much I loved him was revealed when he had absolutely nothing to offer me. It was sweet for me to see that. Afterwards, helping, serving and loving him was fleshed out in preparing organic, healthy meals, arranging the shipment of his chemo and simply being attentive to his needs (not too different from before).
How have you and Matt explained his illness to the kids and how has it affected them?
Audrey (almost 8) and Reid (5) have the most understanding. We explained that Daddy had a tumor in his brain that Dr. Barnett cut out. He would be taking medicine to keep it from coming back. We pray almost every night with them thanking God for healing Daddy. He ask God to continue to keep him healthy. The kids seemed to be more concerned with the loss of Matt's hair than the potential effects of cancer. However, there was one night when Audrey prayed, "God, I know that sometimes you choose to take people to be with you, but will you let Daddy stay with us a little bit longer?" We clued in that she was observing and understanding more than she let on. Today, life looks pretty normal so Matt's illness doesn't really occur to the kids.
What have been your biggest temptations as you’ve faced uncertainty this year and how have you dealt with them?
I think my biggest temptation has been making Plan B. I realize now it's a self-protective mechanism to keep me from feeling the fullness of where I am right now. Instead of asking God, what does trusting and obeying You in this moment look like, I was creating a plan in my mind of: if this happens, this is how I'll be prepared...this is what life will look like. Walking in biblical community was key in dealing with this. I was able to share where my heart and mind were self-protecting with trusted friends. They responded in love, pointing me to truth.
How has Matt’s cancer changed you?
The cancer has been like a sieve in which the Lord has sifted my heart. He has shown me the places onto which I still cling. He has shown me the labels I enjoy more than just being His child. He has asked me, do you really trust me? My theology has been tried and proven faithful. It is true that He works all things to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. It is true that there is nothing that can separate us from His love. It is true that He keeps him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him. It is true that He is in the heavens and does whatever pleases Him. It is true that He is the stability of our times.
How have you experienced God’s love and faithfulness through suffering?
I've experienced a sweet nearness with the Lord but I think the most profound way the Lord has shown His love to us has been through the prayers of His saints. Matt and I have felt carried on the shoulders of other believers. We felt peace when there was no way peace would be an appropriate response. We had hope when all signs pointed to despair. God has also been faithful in letting us see the fruit He is producing in sharing our journey with others. People have come to faith because of what the Lord has done in us...and not because Matt has gotten clear scans. It is overwhelming that He would use us this way!
What Scriptures have spoken to you most profoundly through this?
Romans 8:28, 38-39; Psalm 112:6 - 8; Psalm 107; Isaiah 33:6; Job 1
Tell about Thanksgiving 2010 and what that day meant to you.
Here's an excerpt from my blog about Thanksgiving 2010:
Thanksgiving Day 2009 rocked our world when Matt suffered a seizure and soon after we discovered he had anaplastic oligodendroglioma (malignant brain tumor). As I laid my head down to sleep that night I couldn't have imagined what yesterday, a whole year later, would look like.
It was so...normal.
Not long after Matt was released from the hospital and rehab, I remember lying in bed wondering what the new "normal" would be. I longed for the old "normal."
Yesterday was beautifully, wonderfully normal. And, I thank God for that. I thank Him that I've known the new normal and the old normal. I thank Him that I can appreciate the sweetness of predictability because I have felt Him sustaining me in the unsettling of the unimaginable happening.
Thanksgiving Day 2010 may have been boringly predictable for you or frighteningly not. My prayer is that you would know the Rock who is unshaken. There is nowhere else for us to stand.
"On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand."
What is Matt’s prognosis?
On paper, patients with anaplastic oligodendroglioma live an estimated 2-3 years after diagnosis. However, there are other factors that Matt has that can affect prognosis positively. For example, his resection was monumental. Dr. David Barnett did a stellar job in removing all visible tumor without affecting cognition and motor skills. He also has a chromosomal deletion that responds well to treatment. When all is said and done, his prognosis is unknown for the most part. There are patients with the same diagnosis who have lived beyond expectation. The beauty, though, is that we don't put our trust in statistics and prognoses, we put our trust in the Lord.
Thank you, Lauren, for your words of wisdom and for your graciousness in sharing them with us.