If you’ve had close dealing with cancer, this episode’s for you. The show’s guest, Matt Newman, shares his cancer journey. He ended up writing his bestselling book “Starting at the Finish Line: My Cancer Partner, Perspective and Preparation.” Matt discusses with Patrick Veroneau that the book’s underlying message is to get your financial planning in order. Today, Matt’s on a mission to help others through his book and his voice. Tune in and start at the finish line!
Listen to the podcast here
Matt Newman Discusses His Bestselling Book And His Cancer Journey
Matt Talks About A Community Of Warriors That He Loves Being Connected To
If you’ve experienced cancer yourself or you know somebody that experienced cancer and been a part of it, you know how stressful that can be on all those that are involved, not only the person dealing with cancer but also all the caregivers around them. My guest is Matthew Newman. He wrote a book called Starting at the Finish Line. It is a memoir that talks about his own experience being diagnosed with cancer and having three small children at that point. He talks about the journey that he and his whole family went through together. In this episode, he talks about the book and what’s interesting is he is very honest about saying that this was a book he wrote for himself but it has such a profound impact on so many other people that read this, especially if you’ve experienced this.
He talks about things such as expectation, gratitude and discipline in regards to how he dealt with this journey. It’s one that you’re going to want to read. I’m not only obsessed with interviewing individuals whose actions are inspiring others to do great things such as Matt Newman but also in uncovering the research that demonstrates that we all have the ability to lead like no other and it starts with ourselves. When we lead like no other, we succeed like no other. Let’s get into it.
Matt, I want to thank you for being on the show. We connected through mutual connections. I saw a lot of the work that you’re doing. I heard you on a show with Tim Alison.
First of all, thank you for having me. It’s an honor to be here, to be able to share perspective, looking at life through different lenses and embracing that instead of objecting to it. When I wrote my book, which is called, Starting at the Finish Line, I have no problem telling you this. I literally wrote it for myself. I wrote it because when you go through difficult times or challenges in life, it’s hard often to find that catharsis out that you need. That way that you can get things off your chest and feel better. I was never a writer. I never thought about writing. My mom was a teacher. My dad was a financial advisor. I would write book reports in school when I had to and all that other stuff.
Once I got sick, writing became my catharsis. I needed this outlet, a way to get things out of me and cleanse myself. I started writing these messages and emails to friends and family. I would give them my newfound perspective on life. My understanding and appreciating of the moment and living in the now. It’s not about yesterday or tomorrow. It’s about this given time that’s special right now. I would send it out to friends and family. It was like vomiting. I got it off my chest, and I have no prompt. I never read one after that. It was like, “I feel better.” Something had to trigger it. It was usually I’m in the hospital. I’m getting a test or something which I will go through. I would send those emails out and get all these responses every day of, “Could you put my brother-in-law on there? Could you put my friend on there? Could you put my sister on there?”
I started to understand cancer differently. Cancer is like buying a car. When you buy a car, you leave the lot, and you’re driving around going, “I see this car everywhere.” The reality is the car was always there. You never noticed it to get a direct connection. That’s what happened to me in cancer. Within four years of me sending these messages out for myself to make me feel better with all the testing and everything I have to do, I had 20,000 people on an email chain. I wasn’t on social media. I never thought about it. I was like, “I’ll put them on there.” I decided, “Maybe I’ll write a book. Maybe people like my perspective. Maybe they are getting the difference between the shtick and honesty, connection and realness.”
I wrote my book and it came out on March 23, 2018. I did the whole thing myself. I did it for me. It made me feel better. I called my mom in Parsippany, New Jersey. I go, “My book is coming out today.” She goes, “No one’s going to buy it.” I go, “No one cares about me.” She goes, “You’re going to put three copies in your safe and when your kids are old enough, they’re going to be able to read it and understand what happened.” I said, “That’s awesome.”
One week later, we are number one on Amazon in four categories. My jaw dropped and I went, “Wow.” It gave me a better understanding of what people are looking for. They’re looking at another, not alone on their journey. They’re looking for inspiration that comes from honesty. That doesn’t come from some canned speech by somebody who is doing the same thing over and over from town to town. They want to know that they can connect and all of a sudden, those glasses that I look through, those new lenses, they became clearer today.
When you talk about that and I’m sure this was the experience when you’re going in for treatments into whatever cancer facility that you’re going into. There’s a sense of belongingness. In the research behind it that we see we need that belongingness. That’s exactly what it speaks to is all these people reading your story feeling as though they’re part of it. They’re connected to what you’re doing.It's not about yesterday. It's not about tomorrow. It's about this given time. Click To Tweet
I have a line I use all the time and every day. It’s, “We’re a family of warriors.” I started to get these messages from people I’ve never met in my life. I probably get five-date messages a day from people all over the world that I’ve never met when that first started to happen, “We read your book, saw you speak and on YouTube.” I was like, “This is weird. I don’t know much about social media.” I started to get it. We’re all one big family. We might be headed in different directions but we’re on that same path and family is supposed to be there for each other. It’s one thing when you hear that pity from the person going, “I hope you’re okay.” There’s another one you hear from the person on that same path that you need to go, “I’m following that guy right there. We’re in this together.” Clarity sunk in through that. I realized that we’re all in this. We are one big family of warriors and warriors look out for each other.
Along those lines, if we go back thousands of years, we are pack animals along with this community basis. What was the worst thing you did? If you voted somebody outside of that circle, that was a death sentence. You could not survive on your own and although we don’t have saber tooth tigers roaming around that, I would argue that when you’ve voted outside of a group, when you’re isolated, it looks different but it’s still a death sentence when we don’t have that sense of connection.
It’s funny you say that about the pack because one thing that happened to me, and you see this in a lot of the stuff I’ve put on social media is I became very attracted to lions. I never cared about a lion. They never meant anything to me. I put a lot of my thoughts, perspectives and quotes of honesty and integrity together. I shared them and I never expected to get the response that I was going to get. I was never on social media years ago. I didn’t want any parts of it then you realize what a tool it is to connect with other warrior members, with other people that have family members going through things where like I said, “It’s a journey, we are all similarly on.”
One day a friend of mine sends me a picture of a lion because you have the heart of a lion. He goes, “I love reading your stuff and it inspires the hell out of me. You should use this picture of a lion.” I’m sitting at my desk and going, “A lion, the hell do I care about a lion for him?” I was putting my thoughts together and I was putting them down because that was my outlet. I wasn’t sitting down with the plan to write. It was, “I need to get this out. This is how I feel. I’m seeing life differently. I want to share this with other people. They’re not alone.”
That picture of the lions on my computer screen, I’m looking at it and I use this line all the time. “This is my journey.” Cancer is along for the ride. Looking at that picture of the lion and the lion’s got this look on his face, “I’m the king of the jungle. I’ll kick your ass if I don’t like it.” I’m going, “Let me put these two things together.” I realized we are a pack alliance. That’s what we are because we have the heart of valley, fight of the warrior and heart of a lion. Sometimes we need another warrior to poke us and remind us that we can do it because cancer may take us physically but it will never take us spiritually. We own that, our destiny and how we are defined. If we allow the disease to take that over, that’s on us. We gave it to them. “It may take me away but I will leave my definitive memories to other people that I control and I’m not handing that over to anyone.” That’s the heart of a lion and the fight of a warrior.
That’s your legacy. Along those lines, when you start talking about those cancers only along for the journey, take us back to the initial diagnosis when you’re in the room and you hear what’s coming.
My father-in-law had been fighting pancreatic cancer. He got diagnosed at 60 years old. My wife and father-in-law were like two peas in a pod. My wife and I grew up in very different situations. I’m a Jewish guy. I grew up right outside New York City in Northern Jersey. My mom was a school teacher. My dad was a financial advisor. My wife grew up in Minersville, Pennsylvania, which is an old mining country. Her father was a highway construction worker. Her mom was a janitor. They lived in a small little home. We were two completely different lifestyles but we got along perfectly. We did something clicked. I heard all these negative things about in-laws. They are great people which is different but yet we were the same. When my father-in-law got diagnosed at 60 with pancreatic cancer, my wife was pregnant with our third child and made it her full-time job to be there for him every step of the way.
She would drive him back and forth, 45 minutes every day to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. For his Whipple procedure, chemo and radiation. What I saw was inspirational. They didn’t care about issues, problems this, it was you tackle the issue at hand and you’re there for the family. I watched the warrior. I remember my father-in-law with pancreatic cancer which has a very low survival rate and a short shelf life said he wanted to see all his grandkids born and my wife was pregnant with the third. He wanted them all to be old enough to have real memories of him. It was amazing when I watched it. They were there for each other and they fought. That was in 2010. In 2013, he was still fighting.
I got a car accident in Bridgewater, New Jersey. It was one of those icy, slushy crappy days. My car hydroplane into the car in front of me and I started to get these brutal headaches. My wife suffers from chronic migraines. I never had one before, so I figured 1 or 2 days later, these headaches would go away. I came home and my wife goes, “Did you go to the hospital?” I go, “No.” She goes, “I told you to go to the hospital, get checked out.” I’m like, “No but my head is killing me.” I remember my wife looking at me, “Go track in chronic migraines. I don’t want to hear about it. I got to take my dad to chemo.” Then she walked upstairs. Over the next two weeks, the pain got worse. Within weeks, I lost all ability to sleep but the focus was on my father-in-law, watching his fight, being there for him and supporting him. As this got worse, about a month into it, I was giving a speech. I speak publicly all over the place.
As I went to make a point, I felt a hot flash hit me in the face like a pregnant woman would feel. Once that hot flash hit me, slur and gurgle poured out of my mouth. I didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know what was going on but I remember seeing myself standing outside of my body saying, “You are having a stroke right now.” I got myself together. I thought it was an eternity. It turns out it was 5 to 6 seconds. I said, “Let’s get back into this. Let’s go.” I finish my presentation, walked back to my car. I was scared out of my mind. I started to have these strokes somewhat often. My wife and I were training for the Broad Street Run in Philly, the largest 10-mile in the country.
We’re running on the Towpath on the Delaware River. Beautiful, covered bridges, running along. My wife likes to talk when she runs out. I like to put a headset on and not talk to her when I’m running. As we’re running, she asked me a question. Stroke hits me. Gurgle comes out of my mouth. She stopped. She was like, “What the hell is wrong with you? I asked you a question.” I had another one of those. That was about the 4th or 5th one I had. I went to a doctor and they told me it was sinus infections. In May of that year, I had my 11th stroke and that’s when I decided at that given moment. I’m like, “I got lost but right now.” I finished my presentation, got in my car and went to the hospital. I met my wife there.
My wife has been shopping in King of Prussia, taking care of her father with chemotherapy, who was like a rollercoaster. He would go up and down. We get there. I tell them I got in a car accident and all this other stuff that happened. I can’t sleep. My head is killing me. I’m having these strokes and they give me all these CAT scans and tests. They tell me they know the problem. They said a lesion on the left frontal lobe of my brain. To me a lesion is a cutter or bruise. I’m thinking, “Freaking car accident. I probably bang my head and don’t remember it.” They told me it was causing massive pain, the ability to not sleep and I wasn’t having strokes. I was having seizures on the left frontal lobe of my brain, which affects speech and memory. This sounds difficult for a 39-year-old to take.
I was good with it. I’m like, “That’s the issue? Diagnose it. Let’s fix it now, come on. I feel better. I know the deal.” “We’re going to have to give you MRI or MRA.” At 3:00 in the morning, I have to go in for my fifth MRA or MRI. My wife says, “Matt, I’m going to go home. I make lunch for the kids.” I had three kids under five years old. “I’m going to get my dad a ride to chemotherapy and I’ll be back in an hour.” A woman comes in with a wheelchair. She goes, “Mr. Newman, jump on in the wheelchair. We got to bring it down for your MRI or MRA with contrast.” I got to run the Broad Street eight days ago so I could walk down there. I’m very into fitness. She goes, “Liability, you got to in the wheelchair.” I get in the wheelchair. This woman grabs the clipboard from behind me. He goes, “Mr. Newman, MRI or MRA with contrast, we need to see how big your brain tumor is.” That was the moment at 39. I was diagnosed with brain cancer.
By yourself at that point?
Just me. They put me in a machine. I was in it for 1.5 hours. My mind was all over the place. Brain cancer usually means you’re going to die. They brought me back, plugged me into a bunch of machines and tell me I wasn’t going anywhere. It started a fresh perspective on my life. I think about my kids. I thought about my wife. I started to cry and started to think, “Something must have initiated this.” I’m a good dad, a good son and I’m going through my mind and strength is not how big your arms are or how much you bench press. Strength is something that’s located deep down in our bellies that at the deepest and darkest of times, we can grab, find and own it.
I didn’t know I had this in me but I saw it, reached out, grabbed it and started cursing my brains out. All these nurses who still tell the story to this day come running and they go, “Are you okay?” I’m like, “I’m fine.” That was my pity party. If I was going down, I was going down swinging and there was no looking back. I didn’t know I had that in me but sometimes we have to find it at these difficult, nasty periods that we go through. The question is, “When we find it, you get to grab it and own it or let it go by you?” Once I saw it, that was not going anywhere.
What you’re speaking to talks about your own expectations. To me, “There’s not a pity party anymore. I’m taking this thing on.” How do you deal with that at that moment? This isn’t about expectation like Law of Attraction, “Think good things and this thing will disappear on its own.” This is realism in terms of the expectation of saying, “I’m going to fight this.”
One of the things I try to talk about is that when you see that strength, you grab and own it and it’s deep-rooted down in our stomachs. We all have it. I don’t know how it got there. I don’t know how it came up but when it was there for that instant, there was no doubt in my mind. “That’s mine. I’m taking it. I’m running with it.” I’ve always been into fitness, strength, running and tough mudders. That’s not strength. Strength was bringing it on. I also feel that taking that angle of owning that and making it my own allowed me to push a lot of that negativity down. “That negativity doesn’t go. I love people go, I didn’t think about it.” That’s not true.
You got to find someplace to put it and at some point outlet it someplace else. I understood that more looking back on it and I did well. I was going through it but I remember thinking that, “I’m not going anywhere and if I am, my legacy is going to be, ‘He fought like a son of a bitch.’” That’s the way it is. I didn’t know I had that in me. There’s a human component to that we all don’t know that we have access to but once you have access to it, go get it.
I’m a fitness guy. I have a tough mother. I love them. It’s discipline but a different discipline. What’s the discipline that you’re talking about that you needed to deal with what you were going through?Appreciate the time you have here, be thankful for it, and spend time with your children. Click To Tweet
The discipline I needed was to know that this is going to go one way or another. I’m not going to sit here with regret, resentment, negativity, cry and be all lethargic about things. I’m going to give it everything I got to be for my children, maintain their dad, not do damage to my parents that their son is gone, that everything pointed to me, fight and worry about everything else later. You could say, “Matt, that’s easy to say here or there.” It’s not easy to say but there’s a lot of things I don’t control. I control that and that’s what I was taken advantage of. Are there nerves? There is. Do you get scared about certain things? Yes, but once I bought into that, I didn’t look back and I’m no one different than anybody else but I realized that if other people can do it, I can.
Let me give you a point of what I’m saying. I had to get an EEG done. What they did is they put all these things all over my head. It takes them about three hours to put them all up and tape everything around my head. They had to monitor me for 24 hours because I’m going to go through major brain surgery and get a craniotomy. They’re going to pull part of my jaw off, take the tumor out and then they will find out the severity of it about ten days later. This woman’s got a tape all this stuff on my head put everything. My wife says she goes, “I’m going to leave the room. My parents are calling and I got to call your parents. They’re going to be here in a little while.” I’m like, “Okay.” This woman is standing behind me, putting all this stuff on so I can’t see her. I’m lying in a hospital bed. It is connected to 30 different machines and this woman, when Rebecca walks out the door, my wife, she goes, “Mr. Newman, can I talk to you?” I go, “Yes.” She goes, “I had a brain tumor 7.5 years ago.” I go, “Really?”
The next thing you know, she’s answering all my questions. I’m rubbing the scar on her head and you know what’s going through my mind? If she can do this, I can do this. She’s telling me her deficiencies, what she can’t do, what she could do but the other component I started to understand was that I’m not alone. There are other people out there that have dealt with this. There’s no pity party. She could do this. She inspired me and that was the moment I stopped believing in irony. I started to realize, “There is no way this woman in this huge hospital is in my room doing this if it wasn’t meant for a reason. I can embrace that reason, take it and make it mine or I could let it walk and there’s no way that was going to happen.” I’ll never forget that. There’s a picture of her in my book.
I’m a believer in that too that the things are put in front of us. It’s our decision on whether we’re going to open the door and let those things in or let it keep going by. As you look back over that process, is there a moment where you looked at that from the standpoint of gratitude?
The biggest gratitude moment I had is probably one that I’ll never forget. After I went through everything and ten days later, I’d find out the severity of it. There were hopes that it’s 2.5 centimeters and maybe it’s not that big deal. When I went in, they told me I had grade three astrocytoma, which is an aggressive form of brain cancer. It’s not a glioblastoma which is very difficult but the next level down is an astrocytoma and it was a higher grade. They’re like, “Matt, you’re going to have to go through chemo and radiation.” I prepared myself for that. I figured it. I was put in my place very quickly when I started chemotherapy. I thought I was this badass, I remember. I was wearing a tank top.
I was like, “Bring it on.” I’m going to work out every day. This is never going to change me and that happened. I did work out every single day, regardless of what I was dealing with chemo and radiation but I realized how strong chemotherapy was and how difficult road it was going to be. When I would go through radiation, I would go there and told them I wanted the earliest time they can give me. They started at 7:00 AM. They said, “Mr. Newman, we have a 7:15.” Radiation only took about 8 to 9 minutes. It was almost like getting an X-ray. It’s the lethargy and the beating you up would build up over time, like stacking blocks, so you get into it a few weeks and would start to feel it but I was appreciating the now. I was living in the moment.
I was seeing life through these other lenses and I would go there with my suit on. I was going to work and enjoy life. I could work all day long and beat up. I’m going to go home and like, “This is mine. I’m going to appreciate the time I have here, be thankful for it and spend time with my children. I’m going to take these lessons and own them.” The woman who went before me was about 4’11. I’d say 70 to 75 pounds. She was a little Mexican woman. Her son who was probably in his 50s would walk her in every day. She could barely walk. He would walk her to get her radiation. He would come back in the room where I was then when she was done, he would get her. I would go in and get my treatment and I was going to go, “This is my day. I’m going to do the things I want to do.”
I’m two weeks into it. They came up to me and go, “Mr. Newman, the woman who goes before you, her six weeks are done. Would you like the 7:00 AM time slot?” I said, “I’ll take a 5:00 AM time slot. If you’ll give it to me but 7:00 AM sounds wonderful.” They said, “If you’d like, we do a ceremony after people go through radiation here and they finish. It’s an amazing accomplishment. We sing songs, say prayers and ring a gong. We’re about to do that in the hallway. Would you like to join us?” I remember looking at this woman and my suit and tie going, “I’m okay, thank you. I’m going to sit here and do some work on my iPad but when you’re ready you come get me and let’s go.”
She left the room and I opened my iPad up to get back to work. I saw my reflection and I’ll clean my language up. I said, “Who the hell do you think you are? We are a family of warriors. You couldn’t support your family for what she’s been through? Shame on you.” I got up, walked outside of that room and I saw this macerated woman where I knew everything was going with the biggest smile on her face, grab that gong, ring that thing, see the happiness and appreciate and I start to cry. I called my wife up. I said, “You will be at this with me.” This is real and that’s where I learned about gratitude, strength, life and I’ll never forget that moment. I’m beyond thankful for what that woman taught me.
I immediately think of empathy of what that must provide you in looking at other people. You said you were a group of warriors and you could feel what she was feeling.
I will never forget seeing my reflection in that back on. “Who do you think you are? We’re all in this together.” That’s one of those moments where I could have stuck to old ways or said, “No, I need to be a part of this.” I cried. I was like, “That is the lesson that says it all to me right there and that was real.” It’s something that the respect I have for all the employees who get together, to do this every day for people as they been on this journey with them, I don’t think they’re lauded nearly enough for the commitment that they put in and the help that they provide to people.
To have to see that on an ongoing basis. In terms of the victories but also the ones that don’t make it, that’s a tough place to be.
That’s one of the reasons I talk about the, “Defining of our legacies and what we own,” because if we look at it as a life-death situation, we’re all going down the same tube at some point but there are things we can control that once we’re not here physically that people remember us by. It’s hard to look at that sometimes but when you do, when you take a peek at that, you realize you have a lot more say in defining yourself than you realize.
There’s something else that I think about too as you talk about that situation where you’re saying the nurses, staff don’t get enough of how important it is. We’re all in this together. We need to support each other through very difficult times. I do a lot of work in healthcare now on the leadership side, team building and I realize that without that support, that unit to hold each other up it’s very exhausting to be in that and feel like you’re on an island that you’ve got to figure this out on your own. We’re not meant to have to do that.
I also think that there’s power in numbers and having the support of other people. What I started to have a better understanding of was people want to not generally think about things. My catharsis came to write, share, put it on social media, email and all this stuff that I was referring to. Do you know what I started to better understand? Whether it’s cancer or other issues families have taken on, most people only want to talk about it with people who have been through it, “I would get mad. Thanks for sharing this shit.” “No, I’m doing this for me. That’s great you say that. This is my angle I found to alleviate a lot of the fear and anxiety that we pushed down into our stomachs.” I started to have a better perspective that when someone needs to talk, that’s the obligation. That’s what family does. They may not have friends or family that know what they’re going through but if they know somebody else’s, they feel comfortable having that conversation. It allowed me to look at life a little bit differently.
You put this all together after a period of time writing a book about it. To me, that speaks to your desire now to almost pay this forward or to share your experiences to help other people. What are your thoughts on that? How do you do that?
That’s a very good question as well too because I wrote the book for me. I am so glad about what it’s doing. I couldn’t be prouder, more excited to be helping people and meeting people all over the world on a daily basis and letting them know they’re not alone. Having conversations where someone’s not talking down to them like, “How are you feeling?” I hated when people did that, “Treat me like me. This is not defining me. I define myself.” I did it for myself and the reason it’s done so well is because people are looking for honesty. We are so sick of this shtick in the garbage that we see on TV and people have no education is trying to educate us on certain topics.
They want honesty. They don’t want some guy paid by some company telling you why you should use this deodorant. They want to know that I’m not alone and that other people have been through it. “If you could do this, maybe I could do this. Maybe we share something in common. Maybe it’s not the end of the world.” The reason it’s done so well is because there was never a business plan. I never sat down and was like, “Let’s write a book.” That was my outlet to deal with the anxiety I was putting in a different spot. That’s all that it was and what that created was purity.
It sounds like the book also has a very important role in terms of helping people to take a look at which something that can be a life-altering event. How do you prepare for that financially?
One of the things I point out to people is that I was born into the financial services industry. My dad was a financial advisor. When I was about 12 or 13 years old, you learn a lot of lessons in life that you get them at this young age but they don’t make sense until much later on. When I say the term financial planning and I talk about people having preparation and planning, they immediately think it’s about money. It’s not about money or investing. It’s about having a plan in place to give a family good news when they need it the most. It’s having a plan in place so I cannot deal with regret, resentment and take on the fight at hand instead of going, “I should have done this or that.”Find something to inspire you because you'll inspire other people. Click To Tweet
The basics of having a plan in place is for one thing, power of attorney. My wife will have the ability to make all the necessary decisions on everything that we have so I could focus on the fight. I can go on legal Zoom and do that for $20. Having a will or how do I want things distributed. Basic little things, Life insurance planning. I go, “You need a lot of money.” No, you don’t. You can do it through your company a lot of times, depending on who you work for. I did a TED Talk and part of one of the talks that I did says, “Our US education system is flawed.” We prepare people for the real world. We teach them subjects where some go to high school and then they go into their lives.
Some go to college then they go into their lives. Some go to grad school. They go to become doctors or lawyers. We teach them nothing about what an employee benefit or nothing about a 401(k) is. When you make money, when you’re doing, “Go use a financial advisor or use a professional like use a doctor or a mechanic,” but we have to give people some basic information when something bad happens, they can go, “That’s done. What are we going to do? Let’s fight. Let’s get it. I don’t have to worry about that.” That’s the downside of our education system from my perspective.
Was that part of your thought as you get the diagnosis? I’m guessing your brain goes to, “What’s going to happen to everybody else?”
When I got diagnosed and went through everything, I was laying in the bed, I had my pity party then my wife and the surgeon come in and tell me they’re going to do full surgery. My wife turns to me, she goes, “My parents and your parents are on the way over.” First of all, her dad wasn’t my father-in-law any longer. Here’s my cancer partner. He was showing me the way I handle things with independence and dignity. It happened for a reason but I also know this. When your parents hear that your son has brain cancer, he’s going to die. I knew my parents were going to come in, be supportive and give me that fight but I also knew I’d see the look in their eyes of anger, anxiety and fear.
I turned to my wife, “Give me the iPad really quick.” She goes, “They’ll be here in like minutes. Do you want to watch a movie?” “Give me the iPad.” The first thing I pulled up was my will. The only person not in my will was my daughter. My two sons were and my wife but for those with does not understand comprehensive planning. She didn’t have to be in it. Everything would funnel through my wife and then she could make changes later on. All my life insurance planning was done. My power of attorney was done. The basics that everything would be taken care of was done. I remember going, “Every speech I ever gave was about me. I didn’t know it yet. I was the shoemaker’s kid who had shoes.” What it allowed me to do is avoid this downward spiral of negativity. This would have, could have, should have. People want what they can’t get. When I talk a lot about how financial planning help, it’s the basic structure to make sure everything had a box checked so I could focus on the issue not wish I would’ve focused on the issue.
I do believe that’s it. It allowed you to take all that energy and focus on the enemy. We’re coming into the start of a new year, a new decade. Everybody has resolutions. They’re going to do all these things. “This is going to be different. I’m going to get healthy this year.” Does any of that creep in for you? Having gone through this in terms of looking at I’m not going to take advantage of this situation anymore. I’m going to appreciate it all the time. Did you ever catch yourself at moments of saying, “How do I make sure that I don’t fall back?”
I wrote a blog on this. If you go on my website, you could see it. I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. It’s temporary. I believe in life changes. You change something in your life. You’re changing it for good. You do a New Year’s resolution, go to your gym. Now it’s packed and go in six weeks and you’ll see there’s nobody in there. Everybody makes this resolution and it goes right the other way. I tell the surgeons this all the time, I wish they weren’t so good. TI had a huge C-cut in the side of my head, a massive scar.
You could barely see it now unless I shaved my head. I told the surgeon, Dr. Mins, one time, “I wish you guys weren’t so good” “What the hell is that mean?” I go, “I can’t see my scar at all.” He goes, “I know we did amazing work.” It was a huge scar. He said, “We did great work.” I go, “I wish it was a big ugly scar and I could see it every day.” He goes, “What?” I go, “If I’m in a bad mood, business problems, kids are annoying, I want to look in my rearview mirror and I want to see that scar. I want to take a deep breath and go, never give back the lessons you were given.”
I had to find an antithesis to do that. What I found was I need to find something that I will see on a daily basis that will never allow me to give these gifts that I have taken from cancer. That’s what they are back that will always remind me of them and to go back to what we talked about with the lion. I got my whole shoulder done in a lion tattoo. Every day, when I get out of the shower, I will look at it. Every day, when I changed my clothes, I will be reminded that this is something that I’m going to take advantage of for the rest of my life not for a short period of time.
I don’t have a tattoo on my arm that does that but I do believe we all need one of those things that’s the trigger that reminds us of don’t go back. For me, in our bathroom, my tagline is, “Rise above your best,” and a lot of my work in my own belief is I spent a younger part of my life looking at what other people had and struggling with, “I didn’t have that,” as opposed to looking and saying, “I can get that too. I’m going to put the work in. Don’t measure myself against them. Measure it against myself.” It’s rise above your best and I have that on my mirror in my bathroom that I see every day and the idea is to say that whatever happened yesterday, there’s an opportunity for me to get a little bit better on something today but it’s nobody else’s. It’s my best.
We try to create these generalizations of, “Here’s what’s going to do this.” You got to make it yours. I use this foolish analogy. For anybody who’s a Yankee fan on here, you would never teach somebody Don Mattingly’s batting stance but it worked for him. He won an MVP. We have to find some things and translate them into, “How does this work for me?” If you would have said to me prior to call this that you’re going to tattoo up your left arm with warriors and lions to make sure you never get those back because I’m going to wear a suit and tie every single day, who is in finance, I would have said, “Are you out of your mind?” That became my thing.
The difference was I didn’t resist change. Change does two things. It breeds opportunity or complacency. This furthered my belief that I’m open to new stuff. I’m not set in my ways. You shouldn’t have to go through a difficult time to learn some of these basic lessons of life but change was something I looked at and I embrace it greatly now because if I see something else that will help me go in a different direction, it helped me maintain these gifts that I’ve been given. I’m willing to give it a try.
It’s hard at times if you’re not that person to look at other people and think, “If you pushed a little or explored a little, you could overcome this.” You realize that you can’t do that for other people that they need to figure this out themselves. You can support.
I started to realize through these speeches that I was giving, book and social media, sometimes people need the lead on someone else to push them through when their goal is not to push them through to share their experiences. I never thought twice about telling anybody what to do in any way whatsoever. It made me feel better to get my stuff out and then to hear, “Thank you. I did this right. I tried,” and I found, “You didn’t do what I did but you had a reason to find your thing, whatever it was going to be.” Sometimes people need that push but what works best is when there’s no intention to push them. That’s what I found. That’s what people are attracted to, when someone’s not looking for something. They’re not looking to sell them on something. They’re finding pure belief.
There was a person that I’d worked with years ago that once said that, “Unsolicited advice can be worse than no advice at all.” I try and remember that often when I want to tell somebody, “This is how you should do it. This is how you get out of this.” If they haven’t asked specifically or reached out to me with the challenge that they’re looking for, something to help on because I know that there are times where people aren’t necessarily looking for you to give them the answer but to listen.
One of the mistakes we make, whether it’s in sales, being a professional, often being a friend or family member, we talk first, listen later. Sometimes it’s good to sit there and let someone talk to you. I’ve had conversations with people where I said three words in an hour and you get a hug going, “I needed that talk.” You’re going, “I didn’t say a word right there.” We have to be better receptive. That’s not about us. If we make it about the person we’re with, they don’t forget that.
To me listening is the greatest superpower that we have. You know and I know that when somebody listened to you, it feels different as opposed to somebody that humors you, to just listen.
It’s something that you always have to work on and be reminded of because our minds can go in all these different directions but it’s okay to focus on somebody and let them feel appreciative of the time you’re spending with them.
Anything that you’ve looked at in your own life that you’re surprised about how you’ve reacted or where it’s gone?
I deal a lot with people who have been through various diseases. I told you every day we talk to people and you would think it’s about brain cancer. It’s not. It’s any type of cancer. People who’ve been through divorces, suicides. People are looking for a person they could have a conversation with which has no dog in the fight that wants to support them that’s taken on their challenges. I’ve seen a lot of people that have been through some difficult times, going through cancers, who’ve had the same stuff that I’ve had passed away, who can’t remember as well, can’t drive or talk as well. They’re still there, still experiencing, still sharing life but it’s changed much differently. May 2013 is when I was diagnosed. I don’t have any side effects. Why me?
I went through chemo, radiation, massive surgery. Every five months, I get an MRI and they tell me it’s most likely going to grow back but it’s not there went from 3 to 4 to 5 months but I don’t have any side effects. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say there are times I sit there and go, “How did I get through this?” I can go back in May and they could say, “It’s grown back.” They tell me, “It’s most likely going to grow back.” Up until that point, I don’t have deficiencies. I’m healthy, the same person I was. To be honest, there are times I started to wonder, “How am I that guy?” Most people I know may start to move back up in their ability to be better but they never get back to where they were.
My memory and speech are the same. I don’t feel any different. Fitness-wise I’m the same. I can’t see my scar and it made me somewhat question why me but I try to look at it as it happened for a reason. It happened so we can continue to do the things that we’re doing but I wouldn’t be honest with you if I didn’t say I thought about, “How have I had no problems?” Other than not including anxiety and fear but physically, I haven’t had any issues and the majority of people you see have something.
If there’s somebody reading that’s going through this, what would you offer them if they came to you and said, “Matt, help me through this?”
Number one, you’re not alone. Reach out to people. There are support groups. We’re all here for each other. Don’t ever feel bashful or ashamed. Shoot me a message. If you need a text, call, whatever it’s going to be. That’s what family does. We are a family of warriors. Number two, don’t read anything on the internet about your disease. Zero, no one has any idea whether it’s right or not, deal with great doctors, find people that will take care of you and work with them and listen to them.
If you need second opinions or one that’s fine, go to other doctors, but whatever you’re going to read on the internet, when it comes to cancer is going to say death. You don’t need to hear that. Work with people. Don’t waste your time building up this fear, angst and scaredness. Deal with people you trust and believe in. That will help you overcome a lot of the obstacles that are out there. I’m sitting in my kitchen. First day, I came home and I had like a second head on me. I’m a mess, appreciating life, seeing my children and home is where the heart is.
I’m so happy to be there because I never thought I’d be back. I looked up brain cancer on the internet. I was sitting in our kitchen at the island and my wife’s cooking. I pulled that up and 30 seconds later, she heard the laptop close and go, “What the bleep was that?” I go, “Everything I read about was, ‘You’re going to die.’” I have never looked it up since many years. I’ll look up things on other people, ways I could help them this. When it comes to the medical component of it, I’ll deal with the doctors at Capital Health in Hopewell, New Jersey. I don’t need anybody else telling me anything.
How do you help somebody that’s not going through this, but a family member or somebody else because that to me is a whole different involvement of stress and anxiety for those that are caregivers of the person going through this? From your own experience, what would you suggest on that?
One, they are not alone as well too. When I say, “We’re a family of warriors,” they’re included in that family. Let me be abundantly clear on that. This is not for the patient. This is for the family because we’re all now being affected in some fashion by this awful disease. I get a lot of people that write notes to the books. They buy books on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I’ll tell them I’ll buy it on there to send it to them and not charging anything for that. “Just send me the shipping.” I’ll write a note to someone. Sometimes they need that personal connection to go, “I need inspiration.” It comes from unintended inspiration.
If you’re trying to get up there and give the win one for the Gipper speech, maybe it doesn’t happen. Who our real inspiration comes from is for someone who is trying to share something out of honesty, showing integrity. That’s where it comes from. I never wrote my book to inspire soul and of all our reviews. It’s inspirational that I’m going, “Do You know why it says that? Because that was not the point. The point was to feel better, share my story and get it off my chest.” I would tell those people, “Find something to inspire you because you’re inspiring other people that you might not know but you are especially when you’re there for people.”
Matt, what’s the best way for somebody if they wanted to have you come into their organization to speak or to get in touch with you?
The easiest way is my website it’s MatthewSNewman.com. On there, we have everything. Our podcast, TED Talks, our interviews, my interview on ESPN. We also have all the things we do, ways to get the book which is mostly through Amazon for the most part. We have ways to find out information about our speaking and we speak all over the country and in multiple different venues, it originally started off doing finance and helping people like the necessity of planning and the realness of what we go through in life. It’s gone into everything from pharmaceutical companies to large church congregate, things you never expected because you realize everybody’s dealt with it in some fashion or another. That’s what they’re looking for.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated this conversation and you sharing your journey with me. It’s certainly inspirational. Thank you for that.
Thank you and the honor was mine. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity and whatever we can do to help people, let them know they are not alone. That’s our mission.
We need each other. Thanks again.
Matt Newman is a beast. That was such an incredible interview and so inspiring to talk about his journey, the perspective, where he has come because of that and what it has done. It’s one of those things that we all have an opportunity to take, pause and look at these things in terms of when these happen in our own lives, “What does that do? Do we get stronger? Do we get weaker because of it?” From Matt’s own experience, he got stronger because of it. There are things that he’s taken away, things that he wants to make sure that he doesn’t forget. It was interesting as he talked about the scar in his head saying the surgeons did too good a job.
It was one of those that he wanted to look in the mirror and see that. Even though he says that, it sounds to me from our conversation, he’s doing a pretty good job of keeping this thing front and center in regards to how he lives his life going forward. If you know someone you think would find this episode helpful, I ask you to forward it to them. It would mean the world to me if you’d leave a rating or a comment because that’s how this message continues to get out there. Until our next episode, I hope you can do two things. One is lead like no other and the other is to rise above your best.
- Starting at the Finish Line
- Show – Change Breeds Complacency Or Opportunity with Matt Newman on Apple Podcasts
- Barnes & Noble – Starting at the Finish Line: My Cancer Partner, Perspective and Preparation
About Matt Newman
Matthew S. Newman is a father, husband and financial services wholesaler by day. Matthew authored Starting At The Finish Line and now travels the world delivering keynote talks to audiences of thousands. His battle with brain cancer at a young age coupled with his financial planning expertise helps audiences learn and be motivated by Matthew’s preparation for the unthinkable and his successful battle with cancer.