Cindy Mathis knows ‘God’s got this’

by Sonja J. Keith

Breast cancer survivor Cindy Mathis of Conway has had a special motto as she has battled the disease not once but twice. “God’s got this,” inspired by James 1:2-3.

Cindy’s journey with cancer began in January 2013. She noticed that her nipple appeared sunken in. “I just dismissed it and didn’t think a whole lot about it.” Later, she noticed a lump but just thought it was a cyst.

Cindy, a Monster Truck show coordinator for 15 years, was staying at a hotel out of town when she noticed in a mirror that her breast had a rash that made it look like an orange peel. “My breast was completely pink. I was like, ‘OK, something is not right.’ You could see tiny little dimples in my breast,” she said.

When she did research on the Internet, she was frightened by what she read. “Those were symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer,” she said. “A lot of people think it’s a rash when it’s a very serious form of cancer.”

Cindy went to her doctor, about a month after the first discovery. “When I was planning my doctor’s appointment, I had already prayed about it. I was like, ‘OK God, if this is what I think it is, just give me a sense of peace about it.’”

Still, Cindy was nervous about the appointment because of the horror stories she had heard about chemotherapy. “At the same time I was like, ‘This is not going to change my life. I’m going to stay as normal as possible.’”

When her gynecologist examined her, she knew what the diagnosis was going to be. “When he looked at my breast, I saw the look in his face,” she said. “Immediately your heart sinks.”

Cindy was diagnosed with Stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer.

Following a lumpectomy, Cindy had eight rounds of chemo and 33 radiation treatments. “I’m not saying I didn’t have side effects and not every day was great, but with faith, I knew I’d get through it.”

During treatment, Cindy’s focus was on helping to plan her oldest son’s wedding. She and her husband, Kevin, have two sons — Taylor, 22, and Devin, 19.

Cindy finished treatment in May 2015 and was ready to live life. She recently came across some signs celebrating that she was a two-year survivor that she had made for a Komen Arkansas kickoff that summer. “I had no idea in August I’d be going through chemotherapy again,” she said. “It took me completely by surprise.”

Through it all, Cindy has looked for ways to share her experience and faith with others. “God gave me this, so what I am supposed to do with it and how I am supposed to share my faith through this?” So, she set up a Facebook page — Cindy Kickin’ Cancer — which has inspired others. Before she writes a post, she prays. “I’ve had several people contact me and ask me to pray for them.” Some requests have come from women who had something show up during a mammogram while others were facing other difficulties in life. “I’m an inspiration to them because what I go through, and I’m still happy and joyful because my joy comes from the strength of the Lord. There is no other explanation.”

Cindy’s faith is reflected not only in her personal motto and Facebook page, but also in the T-shirts she has designed for her Komen Arkansas Race for the Cure team. She selects a different Bible verse and theme each year for the shirts, which are worn by the 20-30 family and friends who join her race team.

The first year was “Cindy Kickin’ Cancer,” and the Bible verse was Philippians 4:13. Cindy described her first year after her diagnosis at the Komen Arkansas Race for the Cure as “overwhelmingly awesome,” and the survivors are treated like queens. “Everyone is there for one reason. They have been affected somehow by this dreaded disease called breast cancer.”

For her second race, Cindy selected “Relax, God’s got this,” which was Cindy’s favorite.

The third year was “Hang on” and featured a roller coaster. She explained there were highs — when it appeared that treatment was finished and she could have her port removed — and lows — when test results were indicating possible problems.

“Last year was a roller coaster,” Cindy said, explaining that she had finished Herceptin (a chemo drug), but her tumor markers were escalating, which prompted multiple scans. “My doctor said, ‘I know there’s cancer growing in you somewhere, and we’re going to find it.’ I did a PET scan, and it did show I had cancer again. So that was a huge roller coaster . . . It’s not an easy ride. You just got to find joy in every day.”

Cancer was detected in her liver, which meant more treatments. Today, Cindy has CT scans every three months with follow-up bloodwork. The scans are clean with no indication of cancer. “I’m fantastic right now. I’m doing really, really well.”

Through Komen Arkansas events, Cindy has had an opportunity to meet other breast cancer survivors. Cindy points out that the money raised in Arkansas stays in the state to help in the battle against breast cancer.

A year or so after her initial diagnosis, at the urging of her friend Shawna Long (this year’s chairman of Race for the Cure), Cindy participated in the Runway for a Cause (now Runway for a Cure), a fashion show featuring breast cancer survivors. “We actually have a group, and we keep up with each other and pray for each other.”

However, Cindy struggled with being called a survivor. “It’s a title, and I don’t want to be titled. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because, ‘Oh, she’s been through breast cancer.’ That’s not who I am. I don’t want sympathy from others. I didn’t need a title. I am who I am.”

Since her diagnosis, Cindy has met people that she otherwise would not have crossed paths with had it not been for cancer. She considers that a blessing. “I had one that was very, very dear to me, and we did chemotherapy together. We had the same type of breast cancer, and for some reason, I kept up with her.” Her friend’s cancer spread to her brain, and she passed away.

“That was pretty hard,” Cindy said, explaining that she had some guilt and questioned why her friend would die and why Cindy was doing so well. “Why am I such a strong survivor, and why do I not have some of the side effects and do so well? What is my purpose? Why am I here?”

Now, her goal is to touch those who don’t have faith. “I cannot imagine, at all, going through this without my faith. Knowing that God has a plan for this, no matter if I’m dealing with a whole lot of pain and a whole lot of sickness, there’s a reason. If one person gets saved through this, I’ve done my job and it was worth it.

“It has changed my faith. It has grown through this battle.”

During her cancer journey, Cindy has had the love and support of family and friends. “There’s no way I can talk about and thank everyone who has helped me throughout both processes. Not just one but two times battling.”

Her best friend, Mindy Beard, has accompanied her to nearly every chemo treatment. “I couldn’t have made it without her. She has been my rock.”

Cindy said cancer has changed her in several ways. “I’m a totally different person, to a point. I was outgoing, but not near the outgoing personality that I have now,” she said, explaining that she’s less concerned about putting on a persona and what others think. “I am more funky. I’m more spontaneous.”

Her taste in clothes has also changed. “Before chemo, I never wore stripes or vibrant colors. Before, I was very poised, and my jewelry and clothing all had to coordinate perfectly,” she said. “Now, I don’t want them to match.

“I don’t want people to think it’s going to change you into someone you’re not. But, I’m a better person. You’re never going to be the same person. How can something life threatening not change you.”

Faced with losing her hair, Cindy decided to have some fun with it and had a party that was attended by about 50 at a friend’s salon in Mayflower.

There was a little bald head cake that read, “Bald is beautiful.” Cindy did a fashion show with the wigs she purchased, and party-goers had an opportunity to paint and cut her hair. “I had so many people tell me it was the best party they had ever been to,” she said. “I knew I was going to lose my hair. I could’ve sat home and been sad about it and have it come out one clump at a time or shaved it. I highly recommend that.”

Cindy has also had some fun with the wigs that she wore — some traditional and a couple more colorful, but oftentimes she chose to just wear a bandana. During her first round with cancer, she got a short black one with a pink ring. During the second round, she got one with long, blue hair that she named Lola. “I just liked it, and I bought it.”

Losing her long curly red hair to chemo, Cindy’s hair has grown back blonde. Today, she prefers to wear it short. “This is the new me,” she said. “Before, I never ever would’ve cut my hair this short or go blonde. Now, I won’t let my hair grow out.” She added that before cancer and chemo, when she would visit her hair salon, her husband would ask if she would consider going blonde. “He finally got his blonde.”

Despite the cancer and the treatments, Cindy said she kept living life. During her three-year battle, she has had only three breakdowns. “I’ve had a huge sense of peace because of my faith,” she said. “It is what it is. You face it and go on.”

Her advice to others facing cancer is to rely on faith and stay positive. “No matter the diagnosis, there’s a positive somewhere, somehow . . . There’s always a bright side . . . Everything’s not sunshine and flowers when you’re battling this, but at the same time, there’s always a positive.”

She also encourages women to wear makeup and dress cute. “I think that does make you feel better.” Also, Cindy urges those battling cancer to limit what they read about the illness online and be honest with doctors about what they are feeling. “Do not read the internet about what could happen or what could be,” she said, adding it’s OK to get answers online, but not to dwell on it. “Take care of yourself. The only one who can do that is you.”

Describing herself as a planner, Cindy said the most challenging aspect of her journey has been not knowing what the next step is and facing other unknowns, but “I know God has his hand over me and He has a plan. That doesn’t tell me what I’m going to face in the future, like how many times am I going to have to battle this. Am I done or is it going to come back?”

Cindy and her husband were recently discussing the theme for this year’s Komen Race — Picture the Finish Line — and he commented that for her, it was in her rearview mirror. Cindy thinks instead it is in her side mirror. “When you’re battling with cancer, it’s never in your rearview mirror, ever. It’s always in your sides because there’s always that chance of it coming back. There’s always that fear or thought, ‘Am I sick?’ You just have to stay positive.”