Matt Barber

Matt BarberName: Matt Barber

Age: 29

Hometown: Sherwood Park, AB

What was/is your diagnosis? Non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma

What school did you attend? Bev Facey high school

What is your occupation? Was a full time DJ, now working at a car wash until I’m back on my feet.

Your cancer experience:

I’ve done a lot with my life and hit many walls. Nothing compares with the fear that hit me with my diagnosis. In many ways, cancer was a big eye-opener for me. You find out who your real friends are, and you get a newfound respect for life. I went from being a guy who didn’t have a lot of direction, to someone who is going after everything he wants. I was into a lot of bad things, and my life was in a bad way. I flipped it around after treatment and found a new lust for life. The experience changed me completely.

I did three months in the hospital straight, and four rounds of chemo. That put me to the test; I have never been so afraid in my life. Needless to say, it was very emotionally challenging and physically demanding. I don’t need to tell anyone who has gone through this what it’s like. Without help from my friends, family, and fantastic nurses and doctors at the Cross, I would not of made it. These people gave me strength I did not know I had.

How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?

After about two and a half months of intense pain, three emergency visits, seven doctors who could not tell what was wrong with me. it was not until my fourth emergency visit that they did a CT scan which revealed a 15-pound tumor in my left side. Being told I had cancer was the single most frightening experience in my life.

What year was it? What was your age at the time?

2011. I was 27.

In which hospital were you treated? Edmonton cross cancer institute

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

At first, it was shock. Never would I have guessed it was cancer. I did not know how to react, to be honest. I was kind of like a statue. I put on a positive face right away to comfort those around me, but in my own mind, I was not sure what to do or how to handle it.

How did your family react?

They were afraid, perhaps more so then me. My parents took it very hard, as any would. Over time, with a good attitude, everyone was cheering me on, giving all of us hope.

How did your friends react? Were you treated differently, or did things remain the same?

I’m not sure how they reacted. Rather then tell everyone over the phone or in person, I Facebooked it to tell everyone at once. I’m sure some people took it harder then most, but I would not have known. They all supported me and had the same game face I did. They came up to see me as much as they could, giving me more hope.

You realize who your true friends are in times like these. Some people I thought would come see me did not. Others I hadn’t talked to in years came straight away and re connected with me.

What did your treatment consist of?
I was an in-patient for three and a half months, and I had four rounds of chemo all done through IV. I lost all my hair, gained weight, and felt like I had the worst flu I’ve ever experienced, vomiting every half hour for four weeks, losing strength and being in a bed for that long is very taxing. I kept a positive attitude for those around me, and myself, but there were days of course where I felt very emotional, thinking. “Is this the end for me?” Crying and giving into fear. For me, I had a positive look on it. I was very strong for myself, and those around me, and I think the attitude was a lot of my battle.

What is your current medical status? Alive and living life

How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually)?

My life is not the same at all. I kicked habits and flipped around completely. I have a brand new lust for life. I get out as much as I can. I met new people and got a new job. I started a diet and exercise program and dropped 45 lbs.  I still get tired easily and was told that’s normal, but I’m pushing myself and making career choices. I’m living the life I was meant to live. I was given a second chance and will act on that.

What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?

It was not until they handed me the paperwork of the chemo when I was  in my hospital room that it really sank in. Seeing it on paper made it very real. I had my first break down, I cried for the first time in years, lost my breath in  a downright sob. My family and friends had gone home for the day and Ifelt very alone at that time, yet something happened I will never forget. The women visiting her husband in the same room pulled open the curtains came running towards me and embraced me in a hug. She had tears in her eyes saying, “You are never alone, we are family now and in this together.” This random act of kindness will be with me for the rest of my life. This women I had never spoken to called me family, hugged me, cried for me, and lifted my spirits more then I could have ever asked for. The kindness of strangers.

What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?

That I have been given a second chance at life and every day is a gift. Live you life the way you were meant to.

What really motivated/motivates you to keep going while you were/are sick?
My Family were my biggest motivation my parents never missed a day while I was in the hospital. They were my biggest supporters and without them I would not have made it. My friends were great, as well, coming up to see me, giving me strength. Even my high school sweetheart, the only love in my life, someone I never lost touch with but had not seen in years, came up and would not take no for an answer. Seeing her lifted me and give me feelings I thought were lost. My closest friends did a lot for me, bringing up movies, holding a yard sale to raise money; these were the things that motivated me the most.

What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? Have they changed since before your diagnosis?
Like I mentioned, I am a completely different person. I look at my illness as a wake up call; something that hits you that hard has the power to make you realize how precious this life is. Don’t waste a second, and live the life you want. Go after anything you want; there is nothing in this world out of your reach.

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?

My friends and family were my support group.

If you did not attend a support group, why?

I was a hermit cancer patient. I spent most my time in a room hooked up to an IV, which didn’t leave me much time to get around.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?

Upon my last visit to the Cross for my check up (every three months), I was approached and given a pamphlet which piqued my interest.