Chet Marshall Photo courtesy of Chet Marshall
Chet Marshall, a professional speaker, author, and executive coach who lives in Scott Depot, has been fighting multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, for the past year. Marshall has leaned on his faith and tried to remain positive throughout his illness.<
Marshall facing cancer fight with faith

November 13, 2009

SCOTT DEPOT -- When Chet Marshall of Scott Depot was a child, he probably would never have thought the bag of M&M's he was eating as a snack would someday make such a difference in his life.

Who could have predicted those tiny morsels of chocolate would come to symbolize a difficult, but ultimately faith-filled journey on which he was about to embark?

This journey of faith began on Chet and Vicki Marshall's 16th wedding anniversary, Feb. 6, 2009, when Chet found himself lying on a bed in a local emergency room trying to get relief from a swollen leg. Marshall, 62, had gone to the doctor a day earlier because his leg had swollen to twice its normal size. Following an ultrasound, he had been told he did not have a blood clot. On Feb. 6, however, his leg was stiff, uncomfortable and swollen even more.

"I just didn't feel good," he said.

In the emergency room, the doctor surprised him with another unusual symptom.

"Mr. Marshall, do you realize you are anemic?" the physician asked him. Marshall was surprised.

"Look at me, do I look anemic?" he asked, and laughed, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

However, thinking back, he and Vicki realized he had been experiencing fatigue since the fall, which was atypical for this father of two and grandfather of five, who is normally full of energy.

"I had been really tired. I reflected back to November and December. I was going to bed at 8:30 or 9 p.m.," Marshall said. The emphasis had changed from his leg.

"I came in for the leg and they focused on the anemia," he said.

He went home, but by Monday morning he was worse. When the doctor saw how slowly he was moving and that he needed a cane, he ordered him to the hospital. On Tuesday, Feb. 10, the doctor surprised him when he told him he had found several clots in his lungs. Marshall was admitted to the hospital where another ultrasound was done on his swollen leg. The doctor told him he had an extensive clot that ran the length of his inseam.

"Dr. Neville said it was one large enough to kill me, but didn't," Marshall said.

Still, doctors needed to find the source of his blood loss. After several days filled with tests, the doctor agreed to allow him to go home, but first called in another doctor to look at Marshall's records because his hemoglobin was so low. Dr. Shah would decide if he could go home.

"He said 'Chet, we're going to monitor you for 30 days. If your hemoglobin doesn't come up in 30 days, we'll do a bone marrow test,'" Marshall recalled the physician saying.

"That was when it hit me," he said. He remembered a friend's wife getting a bone marrow test. This was his first indication they were looking for cancer. On March 17, the doctor finally told him of his suspicions that Marshall might have multiple myeloma. According to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center website, this blood cancer affects the bone marrow, the body's blood-forming system. The plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) become abnormal and multiply rapidly, interfering with the production of normal blood cells.

The bone marrow test was performed two days later, but the results would not come for three weeks. Marshall said he was unusually calm about the possible diagnosis.

"I had some concern, but I was at peace with it," he said.

On April 8, the doctor confirmed his suspicions.

"It is treatable, but not curable," Dr. Shah said. He assured Marshall, though, that patients had done well with the treatments.

"My biggest concern was quality of life," Marshall said. "I didn't want to go through a lot of stuff if the end result was death anyway."

"My first question was 'what if I don't do anything? He ignored me. I asked the question again. He looked me straight in the eye and said, 'You wouldn't be able to handle the pain.'"

The doctor suggested he go to The Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy in Little Rock, Ark. Marshall knew he couldn't leave just yet because he had to testify for his good friends Violet and Ivan Petrosyan in a political asylum case. In addition, he was scheduled to be in Dallas, Texas, the week after that to become a certified facilitator for the "Lead Like Jesus" encounters. Marshall, who speaks and does presentations all over the world, keeps a full schedule.

"Mr. Marshall I know you are a busy man, but at some point you will have to take time out to do this," Marshall quoted the oncologist. He agreed to start treatment on April 27, 2009. Other appointments would have to wait.

"You just realize all of a sudden that you have no control -- you have to give it up," he said.

As he and Vicki walked out of the office hand in hand, they decided to remain optimistic.

"I was going to stay positive -- I put it in God's hands," Marshall said.

That is when it came to him.

"M&M's -- multiple myeloma. That will be my logo. When people eat M&M's they will think of me and pray for me."

The unusual logo caught on. Marshall -- who has spoken for LaRed in numerous countries, has visited Entebbe, Uganda for the Putnam Rotary Club in their special work with The Divine Orphanage and Secondary School there, and raised money and worked in the Christian Bible Camps in Russia that he started for youth nine years ago -- found he had a world-wide network of people who were praying for him.

"The M&M logo has been embraced all over the world -- Russia, Ukraine, Africa, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Aruba, and Holland. One person said 'Chet, I pray for you every time I pop an M&M. I'm getting fat,'" Marshall said and laughed. Violet Petrosyan called them multiple miracles.

Even the DayStar television network from Ashland, Ky., used the logo. Marshall, who sometimes guest hosts "Tri-State Celebration" on that network, found the staff had placed a jar of M&M's out for viewers to see and remember to pray for him.

Along with his positive approach to his illness, Marshall was looking for the best hospital for treatment of the disease. The Little Rock Hospital was not in his insurance network; however, after a little research, he found that The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, had handled extensive multiple myeloma cases -- 96,000 patients in 2009.

"U.S. News and World Reports,'" in its annual "America's Best Hospitals" listing, ranked M.D. Anderson as the top hospital in the nation for cancer care. It has achieved that top ranking six out of the last eight years.

"I have not been sorry I chose them," Marshall said.

Once he found a hospital, Marshall thought about how he would approach his illness. As a Christian, he wanted to honor God in this situation.

"My first thought was, 'What can I do to glorify God?' If this is the lot God has given me, what can I do for him? The Bible says 'Go into all the world' not necessarily a foreign country -- it is the world you are in," he said.

And what a world it was.

Marshall said the 10-floor hospital building he was in was filled with people of all ages, colors and creeds fighting many different kinds of cancer.

"I felt like a speck on the wall when you see all of the people," he said.

"I had a responsibility for the world I was in -- what I called my mini mission," Marshall said. He shared his faith with those he saw each day such as the doctors and nurses, but even some he might not get to meet.

"One night I found myself bored, and I walked to the cancer center. I ended up going on every floor and walking from C to the E elevators and stopped in the waiting areas and prayed for those people who would fill those seats the next day," he said.

Earlier at Thomas, he helped a man find the Lord, and had followed up by taking him to church with him. When he shared his story later at churches, he called this journey, "Blessings through Adversity."

After tests at M.D. Anderson in April, he met with his myeloma and stem cell replacement doctors, and then came home to begin chemotherapy. The treatment plan required he have four to six cycles of chemo to get the Myeloma count down to zero. The chemo would be injected twice a week for two weeks with one week off.

The blessings started coming. His count got to 0.1 in just three cycles. In addition, he received another special blessing when he didn't experience the side effects many cancer patients endure.

In July, at M.D Anderson, doctors started the stem cell collection by using Marshall's own cells. Doctors collected 16 million cells, some to replace his damaged cells, some for research or as a donor, and some for a second stem cell replacement if he needed it. Vicki came down while he was there and took a class on cleaning and flushing his tubes and changing dressings because she would be his caretaker when he wasn't in the hospital.

"I am blessed beyond measure to have her by my side and feel the genuine love, caring, and encouragement daily," he said on his Caringbridge website.

Then he went home until the middle of August, to await the stem cell replacement.

On Aug. 22 and 23, he was injected with two very high doses of chemo. Doctors told him what to expect. He would feel like he had the worst flu of his life, feel as if had been run over by a truck, and he might develop mouth sores so bad he couldn't brush his teeth. In addition, he would have hair loss after 14 days.

"I vomited one time. It had more to do with what I ate," he said. Once again, he was unbelievably blessed.

After two days of chemo, he had one day of rest and then doctors started replacing the stem cells. "It wasn't a walk in the park," he said. Although he was very tired, he got up every day and showered and walked through the hallway for 15 minutes. He also waited for the side effects to hit.

After several days had passed, he had a reaction to an antibiotic and developed a rash from his neck down.

"I wanted to scratch, and couldn't, so I started rubbing my head. Gobs of hair started coming out," he said. It was the fourteenth day since the chemo. However, hair loss was the only real side effect he experienced.

A few weeks later while reading devotions, he realized that God was trying to speak to him about something. The word "hypocricy" kept standing out.

"For 18 days, I lay in the hospital anticipating those side effects when I had people all over the world popping M&M's and praying for me that I wouldn't. 'Oh ye of little faith.' It was the greatest lesson I had," he said.

During 2009, Marshall had been elected president of the Putnam Rotary Club. On the day he was to preside over his first meeting, he was living in the Jesse H. Jones Rotary House (hotel) in Houston. Not wanting to miss giving his speech, he had a rotary member from France videotape it. He sent the flash drive by FedEx to the Rotary Club in Teays Valley in time for the meeting.

The M&M's showed up at the Putnam Rotary Club meetings, also.

"Every meeting I was gone, a bag of M&M's would be placed at every person's place setting to remind them to pray for me," he said, smiling.

In addition, someone found a pair of pants with the M&M's design and sent them to him. They didn't fit, so he gave them to the President Elect or Vice President who had to fill in for him the first few meetings. He also received an M&M pillow, hat, and some M&M's that said "God Loves You."

Today, Marshall's blood count numbers are very good. He takes an oral chemo to treat the trace amount of melanoma left in his blood. Because his numbers are good, another stem cell replacement is not in the immediate future. He also has neuropathy in his left leg and his feet, but that is improving. Along with the speaking engagements, Marshall is the voice for the University of Charleston men's and women's basketball games and recently experienced the thrill of a lifetime when he called the WVU/MU basketball game in Charleston.

He is grateful for each day and plans to live them serving others. A quote from a book by Phil Hodges has defined how he wants to live his life -- "I haven't been called to success, but to obedience as a witness to others and an agent of God in building his kingdom."

And if you ask him how he is doing, he says "absolutely marvelous."


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