Tim Mathews: Guest Blogger
Below is an inspirational guest blog from our friend Tim. Please take the time to read this.
Whenever I sit down to write something about my experience, it’s always tough to get that first line, because even to this day it’s weird sometimes to go, “I’m writing about how I had cancer?” When you’re at a young age, as I was at the age of fourteen, the furthest thing from my mind was cancer, I thought it was just something that happened when you got old. I had very little understanding of the subject. During my 8th grade year, I developed a pain in my rib that was just thought to be possibly a cracked or bruised rib, as I was always an active kid outside. However, on a hunch my doctor ordered blood tests which eventually led to my diagnosis of leukemia.
When I was first given the news of the possibility of what my low blood counts meant, I was like, alright, well what do we do, it didn’t really hit at first because I’d never heard the term leukemia before. During the conversation though, that word was interchanged a few times with the word cancer, well at that point it was more like, “whoa, whoa, whoa, hang on, what about cancer?” Suddenly this became a much bigger deal in my mind as you can imagine. When the news that I did actually have leukemia came — that I had cancer — the whole world just froze; but my mind raced so fast through every possible thought and scenario to the point that I couldn’t make out what any of them were. My family stuck by me though, and we all set out to do everything we could to make me better.
Throughout my treatment, it was the classic description of a roller coaster. There were the ups, the downs, and then of course the loops. Family, friends, music, and laughter were the four big things that got me through every step of the way. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times my dad and I watched Dumb and Dumber while I was getting chemo. I was able to keep a pretty positive view on everything for the most part, but after so many chemo treatments, pills, spinal taps, bone marrow tests, and side effects, you can’t hide the darker side and the fear of waiting forever for the other shoe to drop. I was always getting some kind of side effect or running into some issue which easily sparked the need for answers from so many unanswerable questions. Wondering why me or any other kid should have to go through such a thing. The worst side effect I had was getting diagnosed with a vascular necrosis (AVN). This caused my hips to collapse, eventually putting me in a wheelchair for most of my high school years. You’re forced to grow up fast when something like cancer rips the remainder of your childhood away from you. My family and friends were incredibly helpful getting me through times like these. They, along with my doctors, helped me achieve my goal and dream, which was to walk across the platform when I graduated. I stayed strong and I finished treatment August 23rd, 2005. I got a double hip replacement that winter, worked hard in physical therapy, and I most certainly walked across that platform to collect my diploma with the biggest smile ever. It was an incredible moment and to know I finally made it through and it was all over — or so I thought it was. When there were no more treatments or physical obstacles being a constant distraction anymore, that’s when the heaviest of the emotional effect of cancer occurred.
When I first went off to college, I tried to hide that I had cancer; didn’t want anyone to know. I soon realized it was getting harder and harder to keep that all hidden away. The next few years in my story are still a portion I have the most trouble talking about. I really struggled with what I went through, who understood and who didn’t, and pushed away a lot of people I cared about who were always there for me. Luckily, most stuck by me anyway and wanted to help me get through this even though they didn’t quite get what I was going through. Having all this amazing strength and hope from all the people around me in my life, no matter what obstacle I’ve come across, I’ve kept fighting, and stayed strong. I couldn’t have done it without any one of them.
As I mentioned, music was a huge part of my whole experience as well. I’ve always loved music, and always felt very connected to it. Throughout treatment, I listened to music all the time and I certainly found ways to interpret songs in my own way to fit my situation. But there weren’t really any that flat out said what I needed them to say. As a class project in my senior year of high school, I started a band with my brother and two cousins. We called ourselves “Ode To An Adventure,” the idea being to make a record that told my story of my battle with leukemia. This project was shortened to an EP because writing and singing about these experiences became too difficult emotionally. It was like after you make a joke and you go, “too soon?” Well yeah, it was too soon. It became an EP that depicted the lead up to the diagnosis and the diagnosis itself. As I’ve grown as a person and learned so much more about myself and what I really went through, I’m very proud of what we accomplished together.
These days, almost a decade after this whole adventure started for me, I am a part of a different band. This group started as just two best friends deciding to write a few songs together to kind of close the story of the Ode EP. It quickly became something more. My best friend’s name — Bobby — and I are definitely much more like brothers. We’ve known each other our whole lives really as we grew up across the street from one another. He was seven years old when I was diagnosed, and we have stuck by each other every single step of the way. Our band is called, “Backyard Heroes,” a huge part of what we do is to help the fight against cancer. Our first live performance was at a Relay For Life in New Jersey and we just released our first EP which has a dollar from every CD sold donated to Keep A Breast Foundation (in honor of it being released during Breast Cancer Awareness Month). We love putting songs out there for everyone to relate to, including people like me, so that when they hear these songs they can hear what I needed to hear when I was in treatment and say, “wow, this guy really knows what I’m talking about.” We write about everything from growing up, to love, loss, cancer, and survival. Three songs we’ve released so far have featured the cancer story. My Old Stories is a song about two people so in love that they’ll do whatever it takes to keep each other strong, and that scars and loss of hair don’t matter. Chetwood is the first of the Bobby\Tim friendship songs. This song has us singing to each other, as I was getting ready to move away; we reflect on everything we went through together. Then the most recent, a song called Survive. We premiered this song in front of over 200 kids and adults who have had cancer and many other amazing volunteers at The Valerie Fund’s Camp Happy Times. This is an amazing camp for children with cancer; back in 2005, I took my very last chemo pills with the whole camp standing by me in support. It was the most amazing feeling in the world to share this song with them now that I am past my five year mark and considered cured. This song is pretty much the flagship song of our band and is the second of the Bobby\Tim friendship songs so far. Survive is entirely about fighting cancer together and features the view points from both sides. We’ve dedicated this song to everyone out there fighting cancer, whether you’re the one diagnosed, or you’re watching someone you care about go through it. We’re all in this together, as the line says, “side by side, back to back, look at us, we’re heroes tonight.” After everything I’ve been through, there’s nothing I enjoy more than being able to share my story in different ways in the hopes that it may help anyone affected by cancer in any way. So, while I had once tried to run and hide from everything I experienced, I’ve certainly learned to embrace it, and take all I’ve learned to help others. That is exactly why, as I sing in My Old Stories, this whole adventure was a “twisted gift arrived in disguise.”
Here is the guest blog that Tim wrote for the 11:11 A.M. Charity. We are so very honored to be involved with them, they are awesome people and an awesome charity. Check out Tim’s story, our music, and most importantly, how you can help this charity!