32 Things for Which I Am Thankful
Matt and I lived in Western Australia for 10.5 years. We started our own cattle feedyard and grew our business nicely until environmental activists and an out-of-control Department of Environment and Conservation put us out of business. We lost our entire lives’ savings, plus Lindley – our honorary family member and operations manager – to suicide.
We fought through a corrupt court system for years prior and two years beyond shutting down. I’ve always said it was the most awful, negative, horrible experience I had ever been through. I HATED the entire thing.
But I would often say to myself (and others around me), “It’s okay. We are together, we’re healthy, we have four happy and healthy kids, and we choose happiness.” Or “As long as we have our health, we can do anything.”
Having been back in the States now for more than 5 years, we were dealt a blow recently when Matt was diagnosed with Metastatic Squamous Cell Carcinoma. He had noticed a lump on his right-side neck. After lots of tests and procedures, it appears that the primary is an inoperable lesion behind a remnant tonsil. He’ll start radiation and chemo soon.
I’m a big believer in PMA – Positive Mental Attitude. But I can tell you, I’ve not been a very good adherent to that faith these last few weeks. So, I decided at last to follow my own advice. I’m going to count my blessings. There are many.
- I HAVE a husband! After 3 separate tragedies in the last week alone in which accidents claimed lives instantaneously, I looked at Matt Thursday as we were driving to or from an appointment and said, “I have you today. I have you right now. I’m so very glad.”
- I have a husband whom I love – and even like! I have a husband worth mourning. November 1 will be our 20th anniversary, which I reckon is about the 1/3 mark of our total married life. I want those 40 more years. But even if I don’t get them, what a 20 we’ve had!
- Automatic washing machines. Wow! Pop the clothes in, and walk away while they do the work. Just…Wow!
- Courageous friends and family. We are truly blessed in abundance in this regard. They’re not afraid to ride this ride with us.
- Running water. How amazing is it to turn the tap and have water magically appear?! A good bath or shower calms, refreshes and revitalizes. Especially if you fall asleep in the bathtub! I highly recommend such multi-tasking!
- Faith-Filled friends and family. Prayers are being said, a prayer blanket has been delivered, masses are being offered… We are so very thankful! I do not abide believer-bashing.
- Atheist friends and family. When we went through our struggle in Australia, some of our biggest supporters were atheist. I learned much from them, and am thankful for their presence in my life. I do not abide atheist bashing.
- I’ve struggled through deep questions of faith and philosophy. It’s tough. I get the arguments against organized religions and the means by which men control other men. I get and respect skepticism. I encourage my kids and students all the time, on all matters, to “Question Everything – Always!”
- But at the end of the day, I agree with my brother that it’s just too amazing for this all to be random. There have been too many “coincidences” in our lives for me to think it’s all just random. (See specific stories below.) I do not reject evolution; I do not believe faith and science to be mutually exclusive. But I do believe God has taken care of us.
- I give a fun assignment in my math class every year, “Which Famous Mathematician Are You?” Students take a totally un-scientific survey, then they are given a picture and bio of a famous mathematician. We have fun researching and finding out more about these mathematicians, and I refer to them throughout the school year. Most of our famous mathematicians/scientists were philosophers and theologians, pursuing the meaning of life. Arguing that such pursuit is somehow un-intellectual is just silly.
- Four kids who are independent thinkers and doers! Our kids are not needy. They’re just fun, and they are carrying on with life – laughing, inventing, planning, playing, building. They give me pure joy. Except when they piss me off. But that’s not very often.
- Matt’s parents, 88 and 86, continue to be independent doers! They drive, shop, attend church and Rotary, and they will help us with anything we need help with. And we thought we were moving to Columbia to help THEM! HA! Joke’s on us!!
- My parents are also alive and well, and give much encouragement, support and shoulders to cry on, if needed. How many couples our age can say that their parents are still married to their first spouse and all four are still not only living, but living well!?
- People working independently on cures and treatments for cancer. There are many who think outside the box and who have shared information with us. Matt has done lots of research. It’s a tough slog, wading through what’s out there. There is a boatload of anecdotal evidence, but scientific studies are harder to come by (for lots of reasons). Matt has cut out all alcohol and sugar, which seems reasonable. It’s scary to reject all conventional treatment options though. We appreciate people sharing information with us without being pushy.
- The MU Medical Center and Ellis Fischel Cancer Center (an affiliate of MD Anderson) are amazing! We have almost never waited for an appointment, the staff, nurses and doctors are smart, efficient and down-to-earth, and we are only 20 minutes away. That’s huge!
- My wonderful co-workers at Rock Bridge High School. I work with THE BEST people imaginable and my principal ROCKS. They make me a better teacher and a better person.
- People who have battled cancer before us. We have fantastic technology, better information and more effective treatment than ever before. Our odds are better because of those who have gone before us.
- I remember Faye Cannon from Hugo going through an experimental (what I think was) platinum treatment for her cancer back in the 80’s. She lost all desire to eat because all food tasted like metal. She also told my mom when she was only just finished with treatments that if she had it to do over again, she would choose not to take them. Given the fact that she’s still alive all these years later, I wonder what she would say today. Matt’s chemo treatment will be cisplatin, a platinum-based treatment. Thanks, Faye!
- LOTS of courageous people come to mind. I hate to start naming names; those who have contacted us with their personal stories, recommendations, and encouragements are much appreciated.
- People who have lost loved ones to cancer who are willing to re-live their pain while supporting us today. This truly blows me away, and I cannot thank them enough. A few names that come to mind immediately are Kim and Ken Spady, Sue Simmonds, Elaine Whiteford, and my new friends Jason and Becky Mott and Matt and Heather Thomas.
- Kim and Ken Spady were in my sister’s Ag Econ course at Oklahoma State back in the late ‘80s. They married the day they graduated from college, and proceeded to have 4 wonderful sons. While we were in Australia, Kim went through breast cancer and then Caleb, their 10-year-old son was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), an inoperable and terminal brain tumor. I followed Caleb carefully through Kim’s “Keeping Up With Caleb” posts on Carepages.com. Kim went through another tough cancer treatment right at the end of Caleb’s time on earth in 2009. She never once mentioned herself. The grace with which Kim and Ken went through their ordeal has always given me great inspiration and comfort. They have never been far from my conscious thoughts. The sheer strength of physical reactions I have had when bracing for results and opinions on Matt’s condition have surprised me. I cannot imagine going through this with one of my children, let alone battling cancer at the same time! Kim and Ken, thank you for your courage, honesty and testimony. My level of respect and appreciation is more now than ever. God bless you guys.
- Sue and Terry Simmonds were in our church (St. Matthew’s) in Australia, and Matt and Terry were in Rotary together. They were good friends and we shared meals on multiple occasions. Terry was diagnosed with cancer after we got back to the USA and passed away in 2014, 12 months after diagnosis. In February of this year, Sue sent me the following message: “Hi Janet, How are things with you all? Quick question: where is it that you are living now? I’m being prompted by the Lord to attend the Aglow International Conference in Richmond Virginia in September. It was definitely not on my agenda for a variety of reasons including available leave and finance! However I’m sure if He wants me there a way will be found. I will have to be honest catching up with your beautiful family was the only reason I would even consider putting America on my travel wish list. I don’t mean to offend but with limited budget there are other places up the list.” Sue was one of the first people to reach out when we found Matt’s cancer. Chills go down my spine when I re-read Sue’s message from February. How about yours? (Can’t wait to hug your neck, Sue!)
- Elaine Whiteford lost her beloved husband earlier this year. We had the privilege of attending their wedding in Narrogin, Western Australia, way back in the early 2000s. It was a blast, they were perfect for each other, and we always valued their friendship. Elaine also reached out immediately. I’ll say it again: It just blows me away that she is willing to re-live the pain through helping us.
- Our oldest daughter, Kate, is actively involved in FFA. Through her, we have met wonderful people here in Columbia. Aaron Mott was president of the club this past year, and we met his parents and grandparents at the FFA banquet in May. Becky and Jason live relatively close to us. The other day, I called her to ask if we could borrow a trailer to get Kate’s pigs to the fair next week. I shared with her the news of Matt. She invited me for coffee Saturday morning. We barely knew each other. Three hours later, it seems I’ve known her forever. Jason’s dad lost his battle with cancer about 5 years ago, but that was only part of the story that Becky shared with me, giving me perspective and encouragement.
- Matt’s exploratory surgery and biopsies of throat and thyroid were on Tuesday, July 11. We were there at 6:15 a.m.. After Matt went into surgery, I returned to the waiting room, where two families had appeared. We all began visiting and I asked them if they were related. Gesturing around the entire room, one of the ladies said, “No, but we’re all family because we’re all here.” When one family left, I continued chatting to the other one. Matt and Heather Thomas and his parents were waiting for their 13-year-old daughter’s 8-hour tethering surgery to correct scoliosis. We felt an immediate connection; Heather’s eyes revealed too much understanding when I told them of Matt’s diagnosis. I discovered that Matt and Heather are our neighbors. I tracked their house down the next day and Heather immediately hugged me and when I left, said, “We are going to be good friends.” Incredible! Of all the people in all the waiting rooms with all the timing possibilities…I find amazing people who also happen to be our neighbors!
- Air conditioning. I don’t really need to explain this one, do I?
- People who recognize how excellent my husband is. Theresa Manzella wrote this on my Facebook post in which I wished Matt a happy birthday on 5 July (he got a PET for his birthday!): “Happy Birthday Matt Thompson! Thanks for everything you do for our liberty! Thanks for everything you’ve endured without being bitter. Thanks for the example you’ve set for us to follow.” I lamented that her tribute to Matt was better than mine, but I sure did hold her in even higher esteem than I had before (if that was possible!).
- It’s summertime and I’m a teacher! That means that I have been able to go to every appointment with Matt. I’m behind on some of my plans to more fully develop my course, and teachers truly need a summer break because this job is tough. But the fact that I could be a nervous wreck when I’m not responsible for daily teaching is quite a relief.
- Benadryl. Matt is sleeping a little better than he had been. Drowsy formula ain’t all bad!
- Coffee. Coffee is very good.
- Humor. This one really shouldn’t be so far down the list. Can we just say that these are not in order of significance?
- Thursday, Matt had appointments at 9:40 and 2:00. We went home in between and I took Will to the dentist. On the way in for his 2:00, then, I told Matt that I had made appointments for all the rest of us. “But I didn’t make an appointment for you, because….” I trailed off, thinking of how to say that he has an impacted wisdom tooth and they would probably want to deal with that and we have enough other stuff to deal with right now. As soon as I hesitated, Matt filled in, “if I die it won’t have been worth it?” He laughed at his own joke and I laughed with him.
- I watched a compilation of funny answers on Family Feud. My stomach hurt I laughed so hard. That felt good!
- Good insurance. I’ve complained that I’m really just working for medical insurance, and since we almost NEVER go to the doctor, is it worth it? As of right now, I think you can guess my answer. I’m truly thankful to not be having to negotiate on each expense that is presented. In addition to the stress of having to do that, it would delay everything.
- As I was walking past a man in the hospital this week, I overheard him on the phone, “Okay, how can we keep this from going to a collection agency?” I know that that will still apply in our case, because hospitals are notorious for being bad bookkeepers and selling to collection agencies before the patient has ever received the first bill. But right now, I’m not worried about it.
- Wine. Wine is very good.
- Matt is otherwise very healthy! The nurse at the radiation oncology office looked at us incredulously when Matt said he was taking no medication…nothing. She said she’s never had that short of a list before. She said the Vets come in with PAGES of medicine listed. Biederman was much more positive about prognosis when learning that Matt doesn’t smoke and seldom drinks – nowadays. Dr. laughed when Matt admitted to drinking heavily in college. He said that doesn’t count! LOL!
- Wild flowers. They brighten my spirits almost as much as my conversations with Judy do as we walk early in the morning three days a week.
- My siblings. There’s just something about that blood and shared childhood experiences that bond us together. I can lean on them without hesitation.
- Matt’s brothers. There’s just something about that blood and shared childhood experiences that bond them together.
- The Internet and modern communication. Being able to connect with all of you – both sharing updates and receiving information and messages – is a real blessing. Thanks, Algore. (hehe)
- Air conditioning. Did I mention air conditioning?
- Our friends from past homes…Hugo, North Dakota, England, Australia, Amarillo, Dalhart, Poland, San Angelo…and online friends we’ve never met in person!
- Another day of life in a world that, despite the many things that are wrong, is still pretty darn wonderful.
Thanks again for your tremendous support. I feel better after writing this. I hope you, too, can minimize your tribulations by focusing on your blessings!