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A Brain Cancer Survivor Discovers the Power of Writing

Wednesday, March 18, 2020
[NCSD guest blog post by Matthew Newman] 

I have never written a blog before. I never saw any need to. Who would care what I had to say? Why would anyone care what I thought? It’s amazing how the darkest of times can teach some of the greatest lessons in life and shine a light on things that matter the most. I learned this the hard way. 

I was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, and it was then that I learned what strength and conviction really are. They are deep down inside of us and can rise to the occasion when we need them the most. Strength is not about physical size; it is something that shows its face at the toughest of times. It is rooted down in our souls, and it is what warriors are made of. It is an inner strength that will tackle the unexpected challenges of life when we are faced with them. We all have it; it’s down there somewhere.

I still ask myself, why wasn’t I aware of this before I got sick? Why did something terrible have to happen for me to have a better understanding of the fragility of life and an appreciation for living in the moment? Sometimes it takes the most challenging events for us to embrace perspective changes. Those changes make us better people. When my battle with cancer began at 39 years old, I learned this lesson. It took time for me to digest why I had to go through this. In time, clarity set in. I started to understand fear and anxiety. I began to learn more about appreciation, more about love.

On May 14, 2013, I had a craniotomy. They removed what was later diagnosed to be a grade III astrocytoma. It was about 2.5 centimeters. I went home after a day and a half. I was optimistic. I understood the roller coaster of life better and was extremely confident that I would get through this. I had my family to inspire me, to motivate and drive me to reach success. But I still dealt with stress and anxiety.

My catharsis, my way of dealing with this was to write. I started sending email messages to my friends and family. I would update my condition and share my change in perspective. The responses I got were surprising and unexpected. I was connecting with people in a way I never had before. My relationships became closer and, honestly, became purer. Writing became an outlet for unloading my feelings, and I would feel a sense of relief after I wrote my messages. Writing became a way of handling fear and anxiety. It was mine; I owned it. I started to expand the people I included in my updates. I included all types of people that I had met before, not just friends and family. We all have some connection to cancer in some form, and many I communicated with would add their friends and family to my message list. The spider web got bigger and bigger. I didn't expect this, yet I welcomed it.

When I went through chemo and radiation, and the messages I sent got rawer. They became less about updating my health and more about the emotions I wore, and the effect this life-changing event had on my family and me. I didn’t write because I wanted to; something had to trigger me to unload my emotions through writing, and then needing to share my message. I continued to use this gift to relieve the feelings I dealt with deep down inside of me, but I never expected it to inspire and motivate others. That's not why I did it. I wrote the messages for me, to address my inner demons. I never realized what it was doing for others. Every one of us handles difficulty differently. Writing and sharing were mine. Many say or share nothing; many share their emotions with only those close to them; whatever works for each person is what is right and what needs to be done.

I didn’t realize how many people who were reading my messages were people that I related to, that I was kindred with, and who were on a very similar journey to mine. But I learned that in the cancer world, we are all one big family. Supporting others during times of turmoil is what makes us the people we are, and that is what defines the legacy each of us leaves. Up until that point, I never knew my messages were doing that. This is what led to me writing my book Starting at the Finish Line. To share my journey with others. Now I continue to blog, speak, and write so I can share my thoughts, my perspective, and the lessons that my relationship with cancer has gifted me.

Matthew S. Newman, a financial services wholesaler and father to three small children, was diagnosed with grade three astrocytoma (brain cancer) at 39 years old. Matthew’s memoir, Starting at The Finish Line, chronicles the journey that he and his entire family took together which got him to a place of clarity, understanding and appreciation. The book’s underlying message of why it’s important to get your financial planning in order is both inspirational and actionable.

His dedication to being a top performer at everything he does has led him to become the top wholesaler numerous times in his career, while also fighting cancer, running the Broad Street Run, completing Tough Mudder races, writing books, and traveling the world to speak. Follow Matt on Facebook at @startingatthefinishlineMattNewman, Twitter at @FinishLine_Matt, and Instagram at @startingatthefinishline.