I have a story to tell you. But first, for those who have not heard my background, “why dentistry”?
I grew up on the old farm in Centerville, MS where the constant feeling of the grass beneath my feet made it worth living in the country. We were far away from “town” where I would attend Baton Rouge’s Buckskin Bill Show and do the “elephant march” placing my penny in the wheelbarrow for the Baton Rouge Zoo’s first elephant, appropriately named, “Penny”.
My college years led me to Millsaps to become a doctor. I quickly discovered that being around sick people and spending my days in hospitals was not the way I wanted to spend my life. I learned from colleagues that becoming a doctor was more about managing people’s problems. I wanted a career in which I could fix others’ problems, not just manage them. I had a good relationship with my dentist. While talking with him, I discovered that dentistry gave me all that I wanted in medicine AND I could not only manage problems, like TMJ; but I could also fix problems, like cavities and broken teeth. To this day, I am thankful to be in a career in which I can fix things. I found my passion. I like to work. I like what I do. I like caring for others.
The first rule for a caregiver is to care for yourself. This brings me to the reason I am sharing this story.
Christmas, 2019: After a wonderful day filled with gifts, smoked turkey, a ham, and way too much fun and food, I stretched out on my mattress prepared for a cozy night’s sleep. Little did I know, cozy was not in the plans for the evening. I was awakened in the middle of the night in pain and unable to micturate. Finally came the blood. I thought I possibly had a kidney stone. So, I set out to drink plenty of fluids while I painted my son’s room the next day, enduring the pain under the assumption that I would soon see the culprit, as that stone would soon make its appearance. I didn’t eat on Thursday. On Friday I became too nauseated to eat but I went to work. After a half day, I became thankful that the schedule was a light one. The girls in the office were concerned about my appearance so one of them called my wife, Nicole.
I headed home. After thinking through and discussing options, Nicole and I decided to call a physician friend of ours to see if we could get a CT scan of this kidney stone. This physician is no random doctor. This is a family friend whom I’ve known since childhood. As he approached after the scan, I could see the worry in his eyes. Now was the time for concern. Within ten minutes, I was in with an oncologist. Next came the dreaded words: tumor, mass, cancer. Wait, I thought I had a kidney infection!
Immediately, we headed to see a doctor in New Orleans. I was already feeling blessed. These were the holidays and it was like the entire medical community around me stopped what they were doing to care for me. Kidney cancer can cause clots in the bladder and could shut down my entire urinary system. By the time we arrived in NO, I was experiencing excruciating pain. The thought, to some, of having your bladder flushed out seems off the charts unpleasant. Compared to the pain I had been experiencing, this came as a welcomed procedure that brought great relief. Only, this relief would soon be known as temporary. I returned home with a catheter. As my close friends can tell you, it was no surprise to Nicole that I was tempted to return to work even if I had to transport the catheter. Thank God for my wise wife who was not taking Percocet at the time, as I was. When the pain meds wore off, I realized, “Yeah…..I’m gonna be stayin’ home for a while.”
By Monday, I could remove catheter and imaging of the tumor began on Thurs., Jan. 2. On Jan. 7, I met with the surgeon and was given the great news that all of my nuclear meds came back negative, which meant that my 14X10cm tumor had not metastasized. However, a portion of the tumor resides on the external portion of my kidney and is invading my vena cava. This fact will make the surgery more difficult. However, I am thankful to have this type of cancer. As crazy as that sounds, other cancers are not so easily treatable. This one is surgically curative. Curative: That’s a word I like to hear. We can fix this!
I will be admitted to the hospital on Feb. 7 to cut off the tumor’s blood supply to try to shrink it before surgery. On my actual surgery date, Feb. 10, my team of 4 doctors will remove my kidney along with the tumor and some lymph nodes to ensure that they are benign. If they, in fact, are not benign, I will begin the proper treatment for this type of cancer – immunotherapy.
Many family members and friends have asked a common question regarding my outlook. I would like to say that I am feeling so blessed to have enough time to plan and get my life in order for any unforeseen circumstances. I am eternally grateful for that. I am thankful for the type of cancer it is. I am thankful for my unwavering family and friends who stepped in immediately and have supported me in tough decisions that were necessary to be made. I am making dietary changes, drinking more fluids, limiting all that can be tough on that kidney, spending more time with my family, and transitioning my practice.
Transitioning my practice was a difficult decision for me. Many of my patients have been with me since they were children and I am now seeing their children and grandchildren. However, this step is vital to my health. I recognize the necessity of time with my family at this time and dearly appreciate the outpouring of support I have received. I would like to thank my family and friends who have trusted me throughout the years and have allowed me the honor of caring for you as your children have grown, gotten married, and have had babies of their own. I would like to thank my extended family for stepping closer and helping us manage things as we transition towards surgery. I would like to thank all of you who have called to help. No food, please; no gifts, please; my greatest need at this time is prayer. If you feel called to do so, please pray that the pathology report will show benign lymph nodes and no further metastization that we haven’t seen already. Currently, the cancer is considered stage 3. Please pray for a clean pathology report as it has not been typed yet. There are six doctors who will be overseeing my care. Please pray for these six doctors to get this doctor back up and moving.
Please pray for my beautiful wife, Nicole as she prepares meals for immune building and antioxidant cooking. Please pray for our children, who are handling this exceptionally well. Ally is back at college and doing fantastic. Jackson (15) is talking about mud riding and is at peace about the upcoming days. Maddie (12) is doing great in school and loving her equestrian life.
I am ready for surgery. I am emotionally prepared. I am spiritually prepared. Thank you for your love and support.
Dr. Matt and Family