Getting the last laugh on cancer
Sharon Matz is driven by humor and guilt.
Humor was her tool to fight against Hurthle thyroid cancer in 2004. Looking back, she chuckled at the absurdity of her radiation treatment. The doctor brought out the pill in a sanitized steel case. Although she would remove the pill from the case with her own fingers, and then ingest it, the doctor wanted it nowhere near his own hands.
Or his face. As he handed it to Matz, he was protected by a large metal shield. He could duck behind the barrier like a soldier dodging artillery. When he walked out of the room, he treaded on paper towels in an attempt to capture any wayward radioactivity.
Matz laughed when she thought about a unique part of her treatment regimen. To help with the radiation medication, she needed to suck on a slightly sour lemon-flavored hard candy. Matz was originally stoked to have a license to eat an unlimited amount of candy. Now, she can barely look at those small yellow morsels without activating her gag reflex.
The sense of humor that allowed Matz to laugh at her cancer treatment is still a component of how she lives her life.
She is planning to walk in the Nike Women’s Marathon on Oct. 14 in San Francisco, Calif. She started training in January and she is up to 13-mile jaunts around her home in northern Marion County. The goal of the walk is to raise money for leukemia research. She has already sent out pledge letters. Included in each envelope is a blank 4x4 inch puzzle piece.
Participants are encouraged to decorate the piece in a symbolic message conveying that each donator is an important piece of the puzzle in the fight against cancer. After Matz collects the pieces, she will connect them on a large section of poster board.
She chuckled thinking about how cumbersome it will be to carry the board during part of her walk on Oct. 14. She will wear it as if she were advertising fast food, hung around her neck.
Humor was the application Matz used to prove she would not let cancer derail her life. From the moment she was diagnosed, she was determined to not drown in sorrow.
“So many people get diagnosed with cancer,” Matz said. “It’s about how you deal with it. Why let the disease kill your attitude about life?”
Matz remembers when she told teacher Kenna Heim — Matz works as a para-educator for special education students at Centre High School — about her diagnosis. Heim broke down and cried.
Matz was mystified by this response; it did not mirror how she felt. She ended up feeling guilty that she did not share Heim’s grief.
Guilt is a constant for Matz whenever she thinks about cancer. She feels guilty that the Hurthle thyroid cancer was detected early during a checkup. She feels guilty that she was rarely sick; the thyroid was removed, and she was basically cured. She feels guilty she was told in 2009 that she no longer needed monthly cancer screenings.
She knows most people are not so lucky. Her uncle Mike Cuppage was diagnosed with Leukemia last year. He will need regular, painful treatments for the rest of his life.
The Nike Women’s Marathon is one way for Matz to relieve this guilt. In one action, she is proving that cancer did not stop her from living the live she wanted and it is a way to benefit people like her uncle who continue to suffer.
“I have my health,” Matz said. “The least I can do is go out there and sweat a little bit.”
If Matz needed any more proof of the marathon being a noble cause, it has the unforeseen side effect as a family connection.
When she received a donation letter, Matz’s cousin in Ohio called her and thanked Matz 30 times that she was doing the walk for her dad. Matz had not spoken with her cousin in nearly 30 years.
Whenever Matz begins to feel guilty about taking this time for herself, of leaving her children while she travels to San Francisco, she receives encouragement from her daughter, 9-year-old Maggie to keep going.
“Why should I not work hard to take care of myself and walk for (Cuppage),” Matz said.