(Written by Tammy)
I try to go with Matt to the hospital whenever I get a chance because it helps me to get some perspective and reminds me of why we are here in PNG. Frequently while shadowing Dr. Matt, I end up searching for a chair, bench, or even an entirely different room, lest I faint right there next to whatever patient he is currently torturing. On this particular day, I opted to immediately reach for the stool in Matt’s office after taking a quick peek at a cancerous wound on an older woman’s foot.
I watched as Matt gently tugged at the gauze which were packed in between the bulging black and white (Matt tells me the medical word for this is necrotic) growths protruding from the woman’s foot. She quickly reached for the rags she kept her foot wrapped up in when one of Matt’s tugs resulted in blood oozing from the grapefruit sized mass. Her daughters answered the question in my head: How did it get this bad? They explained that she had gone to another hospital numerous times before, but each time they wouldn’t do the surgery to remove the tumor, always with a new reason – the patient’s blood pressure was too high, the operating theater didn’t have a water supply, staff shortages, etc. As I sat back on the stool, attempting to keep myself upright, Matt confirmed that the cancer had reached her lymph nodes farther up her leg.
I watched as he sat beside the woman’s two daughters and told them that the cancer had spread too far and there was nothing that could be done. I listened as they pleaded with him to amputate the foot and as he explained that an amputation would only cause more problems – the need for consistent wound care, the risk of infection, not to mention that the cancer would continue to spread. As Matt sympathized that the best thing to do was to manage her pain and prepare for their mother’s death, I watched the two daughters’ stunned faces. I observed the resigned mama cover the growth in shame, preparing for the onslaught of curious eyes upon exiting the exam room. Matt asked the family if they were believers and subsequently offered to pray with them. As I bowed my head and Matt spoke those words, I couldn’t help but think how similar they were to the ones we had prayed in our home only hours before.
Less than 24 hours before, Matt received the news that his own father had esophageal cancer, a cancer that is known to be fast spreading and have a high mortality rate. We had spent the previous day processing this news, researching all of the possible outcomes (too few of which seemed promising), and explaining our own stunned faces and tears to our kids.
When two worlds meet, and you catch a glimpse of heaven on earth.
When the woman and her daughters left the room, I asked Matt if that was difficult due to the realities of cancer in our own family. He looked at me and stated that he had already given the same devastating news to two other patients earlier in the day. This was the third patient of the day that he was sending home to inevitably lose their battle with cancer, a fate we feared might be the same for his own father.
Over the next 20 days, our family and friends prayed for Matt’s dad. In just over a week, he had gone to five additional appointments, many of which Matt got up in the middle of the night or early in the morning to attend with his dad via What’s App. Long story made slightly shorter, in just 20 days, Matt’s dad’s cancer was diagnosed, scanned, and removed completely. We are so grateful for the GI doctor who randomly decided to do an upper endoscopy on Matt’s dad and detected the mass in the very early stages, something that rarely happens with esophageal cancer. We are so grateful for the advanced medical care available in the States. We are so incredibly thankful for God’s protection over the life of Matt’s dad.
We are also incredibly sad for the countless cancer patients in PNG who are sent home because cancer treatments aren’t available or due to the late stage of diagnosis. Our minds constantly grapple with this inequality between the life we know in the States and the realities of life here in PNG. We do our best to serve the people here and make attempts at leveling out the unfairness of it all. We often beg God for answers to all of our “why” questions, but rarely get answers. We recognize that these same questions result in many turning away from God.
We also know that the only hope that any of us have is in Him. Whether you are a middle-class male living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, or a poor woman living on a mountain top in the remote highlands of PNG, there is a God who loves you equally and offers the same hope of an eternal life with Him in a place where no inequality exists.
“Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.”
~ Isaiah 65: 20-24