Matt Nowka:
My Cancer Story

A QUICK NOTE: STORIES

Before we move into this next section, we wanted to introduce you to our first “story” since 2018. From culture to culture and era to era, stories define history. Yet we’ve identified a problem at Park Church—our people don’t know our stories. For the joy of our people and for inspiration to ask God to show more of His glory, we’re excited to share more of our stories. You can share yours here. Matt—thank you so much for telling us your story.

DIAGNOSIS:
Friday, October 25, 2019

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen to us” is what Kyla said as we stood, hugging tightly and crying in the MRI office. My doctor had just notified us that the MRI revealed that I had a brain tumor, likely cancer, and that I needed to go to the hospital. We were both in a state of shock.

By the time we got to the car and started to drive home to pack for the hospital, our thoughts had shifted to, “How do we tell our boys the news?” We called our pastor and friend Matt Hand and asked for advice on how to break the life-changing news to our boys. Telling them that I had a brain tumor, was going to need major surgery, and that there were no guarantees on the results or me living was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

SURGERY:
Sunday, October 27, 2019

I had brain surgery and the neurosurgeon removed a tumor that he defined as a golf ball and a half in size from my left frontal lobe. The first thing I remember after my surgery was having a seizure in my left arm and side as I was being wheeled out of the operating room. For those who have not experienced seizures, it’s hard to explain. Imagine losing all muscle control and simultaneously cramping so bad that you can’t breathe. You think you are going to die.

HOSPITAL RECOVERY:

After surgery I was put in the neuro-ICU unit, and I remember having a headache like nothing I had ever experienced. Every little movement, beep, or noise coming from all the machines they had me hooked up to caused severe pain and pounding in my head to the point that I thought it would explode.

From what I can recall, in the evening on the day after my surgery, they took me from the ICU for a post-operation MRI. That was a low point physically and emotionally—the reality of the how serious my situation was hit me hard, and the super-loud pounding noise of the MRI caused severe pain in my head. I remember crying while in the MRI from the hopelessness and pain. Silently in my mind, I cried out to God throughout the 30 minute MRI and repeated “Abba, Father, Daddy I need you, please take the pain away and heal me.”

One evening, Matt Hand brought me a burger and fries from Park Burger for dinner. While we were visiting, the hospital oncologist came in unscheduled to give me the diagnosis. The oncologist asked me to call Kyla and put her on speaker phone. The oncologist told us that the tumor that was removed was indeed cancerous, specifically glioblastoma. We asked what the prognosis was. The oncologist said that the average survival time for people diagnosed with glioblastoma was 15 months. As we were receiving this horrible news, for lack of better words, the Spirit came and filled me with a warm golden feeling and an unexplainable sense of peace. When Kyla asked the doctor “Is he going to die?”, my supernatural response was “Don’t worry honey, God’s got this.”

After my surgery, my left arm was essentially paralyzed. I couldn’t move my left arm, hand or fingers. It felt like there was a huge “knot” in my upper back behind my left shoulder that was preventing me from using my left arm, hand, or fingers. To illustrate how limited the strength and control of my left arm was, one day when Kyla and our boys were visiting, I was able to give a weak thumbs up with my left hand. I remember this because my family was so excited, as this was significant progress.

Later, one night in the hospital while sleeping, I had a sense that a warm golden figure was standing next to me on the left side of my bed. It is hard to describe the peace that I felt from the presence of this heavenly figure. The figure touched the spot where the “knot” in my upper back was, and instantly warmth ran down my left arm and into my hand and fingers. The next morning when I woke up I was able to raise my left arm and move my fingers! I was so excited that I called Kyla on FaceTime and told her a miracle had happened and that for all I knew, not only was my arm healed but my brain was healed of cancer as well.

RETURN HOME:
Monday, November 11, 2019

After coming home from the 16-day hospital stay, including rehabilitation, I struggled to sleep as a result of the steroids I was taking. One night when I couldn’t sleep, I was so restless that it woke Kyla up, she said you need to read something to help you “turn off your mind” and she gave me a People magazine.

I ended up reading an article by Carly Simon talking about her surprising friendship with Jackie Kennedy, the common theme that made these ladies so close was the loss of their husbands. The reality that I could lose my battle with brain cancer and leave Kyla without a husband like these ladies hit me hard. It was at this point that I prayed and told God that I trusted his plan even if that meant I would die from brain cancer. At that moment the same warm golden presence of the Spirit that I experienced during my diagnosis in the hospital came to my aid again and gave me supernatural peace. The words that I heard in my mind were, “Matt, you’re going to get through this in order to bring hope to others.” During this time of spiritual presence, I heard our youngest son start singing some sort of divine tune while he was sleeping, further evidence that this wasn’t just all in my head.

In 2020 I did radiation and chemotherapy to treat the cancer. Post treatment, I started wearing the Optune device, which keeps cancer cells from dividing. If they can’t divide, they die. Don’t ask me how it works. So if you see me wearing something on my head with cords attached to it from a fanny pack, that’s what it is. I now get an MRI every two months to make sure the cancer has not returned. My last scan was in early October, 2021, and the Lord continues to bless me as there are no signs of cancer recurrence!

Here are some key things the Lord has taught me through this:

  • The power of prayer is real. We need to remember that prayer doesn’t always get answered the way we want or when we want.
  • We are not in control. God, in a very real way, reminded me that I’m not in control and that I need to trust His plan, even if I don’t understand it.
  • My physical healing has nothing to do with me being worthy of it, or because so many prayed for me. It is simply a gift from a God who loves me. This is similar to our spiritual healing as believers in Christ: it is not earned—it is a gift from a loving God.
  • There is always hope because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. See the passage below that helped me along this journey which is now at two years and counting:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

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