This is my journey. Cancer is just along for the ride.
by Matthew S. Newman
My relationship with cancer started when I was 15 years old. My Grandma Harriet was diagnosed with cancer at age 57. I wasn’t old enough to really understand it or digest it. It seemed to me like one day she was Grandma Harriet, the next day she wore a cancer turban, and the next day she was gone. What I do remember was the pain it caused my family, especially my mother, the tears, the grief, the anger. It built this hate inside of me for this evil disease.
I would see cancer more often as I got older. It wasn’t as close and personal as it was with my grandmother, but it was prevalent. Every family I knew had some type of relationship with this disease.
In 2010, my father-in-law, Larry, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 60. He had two major goals: to see all his grandchildren born and to be around long enough that they would have memories of him. He was a warrior. He made it four years before he passed on July 28, 2014. My wife lost her father, my mother-in-law lost her husband, and my children lost their grandfather. But cancer didn’t care. It plays by its own rules and has its own agenda.
In 2013, while Larry was going through chemotherapy, I was diagnosed with brain cancer, a grade III astrocytoma. I had three kids under age five, a wife who was caring for her father during his own cancer battle, and now this. I remember lying in a hospital bed after being diagnosed and just crying. I was thinking about my family, about my kids, and trying to understand why this happened. In the middle of my short-lived pity party, I just started to scream and curse. And that’s when I found it – my inner strength.
I started to look at life through a different lens. I was taking lessons and gifts from cancer that I would never give back.
Strength is not how much we can lift; it’s not the size of our arms. Strength is something deep down in our bellies that in the deepest and darkest of times we can grab onto, and we can own it. I didn’t know I had that in me, but when I found it, I made it mine. This was my journey; cancer was just along for the ride.
I underwent surgery, chemo, and radiation, but the biggest change in my life came from a shift in my perspective. I started to look at life through a different lens. I was taking lessons and gifts from cancer that I would never give back. They were mine now. For the first time in my life, I really understood what it meant to live in the moment and appreciate the now.
Writing became my catharsis. It allowed me to unburden myself of the anxiety that would sit in my belly every three months as I waited for MRI results to tell me my cancer had not grown back. For all the optimism my new set of lenses provided, I still needed that outlet to remove the fear I felt when I thought about my cancer recurring.
I created a sort of email newsletter that I would send out to friends and family. Within four years, I had over 20,000 people following my little email chain. While I wrote it for me, seeing just how many people were reading my words gave me a better understanding of how prevalent cancer is. Then, in 2018, I self-published my book, Starting at the Finish Line. Again, I wrote it for me. But, one week later, my book was a top Amazon New Release in several categories. My life started to change immediately. I was speaking all over the country, sharing my story, giving TEDx Talks, and connecting with people all over the world.
I often get asked, when I talk about the “gifts” I received from cancer, if I’m glad this all happened. No! It was a horrible experience for me and my family, and it is something I will deal with for the rest of my life. I wish it never happened. But I’ve decided to take from cancer instead of allowing cancer to take from me. This is my life. I own it. And to all the cancer warriors out there, I want to say this: Cancer will never define us – we define us.
Matthew Newman is a father, husband, and financial services wholesaler by day and a writer by night. He is the author of Starting At The Finish Line, and he travels the world delivering keynote addresses that draw from his battle with brain cancer at a young age, coupled with his financial planning expertise, to motivate audiences to be prepared for the unthinkable. You can connect with Matt through his website (MatthewSNewman.com), Twitter (@FinishLine_Matt), Facebook (@startingatthefinishlineMattNewman), and Instagram (@startingatthefinishline).
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2021.