As a veteran Navy hospital corpsman, Rachel Matthews has seen her fair share of others battling with health issues. But now the 65-year-old resident of Platte Center, Nebraska, is facing a battle of her own: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a diagnosis she first received in June 2019.
After two rounds of chemotherapy and a round of radiation, Rachel underwent CAR-T therapy, a form of immunotherapy that uses specially altered T cells—found in your blood—to fight cancer, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). She spent four weeks at UNMC before her doctors referred Rachel to Madonna for two weeks of rehabilitation.
“They decided, and they were right, that I needed some rehab,” Rachel said. “Because I didn’t want to come here. I thought I should just go home and enough said.”
What Rachel learned, though, is that her body wasn’t quite ready to return home. She needed to gain strength, regain balance and stamina and improve her confidence. By working closely with physical and speech therapists, Rachel was able to strengthen her vocal cords which had been impacted by her radiation, in addition to improving her balance, ability to navigate steps and stamina to walk.
“I can see a difference in my walking, my getting dressed, just everything is different,” Rachel said. “I’ve improved so much.”
Rachel’s lymphoma is believed to have stemmed from her time stationed at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in North Carolina in the mid to late 1970s. During that time, there was a serious water contamination problem at the base. The CDC has since determined a number of debilitating conditions have been linked to the contamination—including Parkinson’s disease, ALS and several types of cancer including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“They were dumping everything into the water supply. So I lived there, I worked there, I drank the water, showered, etc., so I was exposed to all of that,” Rachel said.
Following her service in the Navy, Rachel went on to work as a nurse, most recently at a nursing home in Columbus, Nebraska. While she admitted it has been difficult at times to experience others caring for her instead of her caring for others, she said she’s appreciated the work her nurses have done.
She’s also learned through rehabilitation, and through Madonna’s cancer education class called “Resilience,” that it’s okay to voice her needs.
“I have to learn to speak up and not think that I am mooching off people, and if they want to help to let them help because this is important to them,” she said. “When people offer to help, they don't know what you need so you have got to tell them.
“It’s been a great improvement, I’m glad I came to Madonna.”
In early November, Rachel was happy to share with her Madonna family that a recent PET scan showed that she was cancer free.