I met Matt Clear almost two years ago when he came to me for executive coaching. The thing that stood out to me immediately, is that Matt is really true to his values. He wasn’t just talking about making a difference, he was (and still is) genuinely committed to his family, to being a thoughtful and considerate leader at work and to actively contributing to social justice, equality and fairness.
Even while working in his busy senior role, Matt has directly supported refugee and asylum seeker families, he’s ‘hands on’ in the parenting of his four children and he has always made time to take care of his health.
So it seemed completely unfair when I heard from Matt, just over a year ago, that he has been diagnosed with a grade II brain tumour with a life expectancy of around seven or so years.
In true Matt form, he is taking on his diagnosis as a ‘life-affirming challenge’ which has involved significant lifestyle changes. He’s also exploring expensive treatment options at the Burzynski Clinic in Houston Texas in the US, which has had Matt recently launch a GoFundMe campaign where we can support him in this ground-breaking treatment.
Have a read of his story. I think you’ll enjoy meeting him – and if you’re anything like me, his story will serve as a reminder to embrace life and live it to the fullest every day that we can.
Can you tell us a little bit about your story?
Many people have said to me over the years that I have the perfect life. Married, four beautiful and healthy children, an interest in and taking action to make the world a better place, an engaging and purposeful career…
In so many ways they were right, it has been a ‘perfect life’ but a cancer diagnosis in July 2015 has made me look at all that. What was it built on? What might have I been doing that wasn’t so healthy? What changes can I make to ensure that I can overcome the biggest challenge I might ever face?
I know that living a purposeful life has always mattered to you. What are the causes that have called your attention most?
I have actively worked to make the world a better place both in the way I engage with people as fellow travellers in this world but also in my career. My first job was at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre working to highlight the importance of harm minimisation as the genuine way to deal with drug and alcohol use and abuse.
I worked directing campaigns for Amnesty International engaging in important human rights issues like the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, raising awareness about torture and women’s rights. I’ve worked in mental health, in child and family welfare and now in Local Government, making a tangible difference in people’s everyday lives. I have a real interest in how we communicate and have a passion in communicating messages that matter. I genuinely want to support disadvantaged people and I want to leave this world in a better shape than when I entered it.
What are the changes you’ve made in your life since your diagnosis?
Receiving the news that you have a brain tumour, that surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are not options and you will die in seven to eight years with nothing that can be done is (to understate it!) confronting!
My response has been to intentionally be fairly disruptive… I recognised that although on the outside, I lived that ‘perfect life’, there was too much that I had not addressed on the inside. Put simply, I had not looked after myself. Perhaps, too giving to other people, perhaps too busy with work and family responsibilities. Certainly, running on adrenaline for 10-15 years, constantly taking on the next challenge, I recognise now, was not good for me. So, I’ve tried to change key elements of myself, to create a stronger alignment between mind and body. I’ve taken the opportunity to look within.
I have made many changes but one thing that has been highly transformative has been meditation. I now meditate daily and have found the ability to calm the mind has helped me enormously.
How have people supported you best during this time?
I’ve found showing empathy to be very powerful. So, not telling, not trying to impart some form of self-prescribed wisdom, but being empathic and genuinely feeling what is going on. Because I don’t have any symptoms and in some ways because of my changes would say that I’m fitter mentally and physically than ever before, it’s been tricky for a wide range of people to know how best to support me. It’s recognition of that interest in wanting to be supportive but not being able to that I structured my campaign to get well by calling it Join Matt’s Journey… I’ve been open (in fact fairly public!) about my challenge and invited people to join me on a path of healing.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I find my four beautiful children highly inspirational. Each in their own unique way provide me with an endless supply of inspiration, insight and hope. I get great inspiration from nature and feel a special connection to the natural world.
I grew up in the Blue Mountains of Sydney and have strong childhood memories of bush walks amongst the bracken fern. I’ve lived in Vancouver and doing the 75km West Coast Trial on the West Coast of Vancouver Island was another illustration of that strong pull to nature-based activities. More recently spending a lot of time in the Dandenong Ranges not only living but also running… I find running a great source of inspiration but when I’m running and I’m in nature… it’s a double shot of inspiration!
What are you reading / listening to / cooking at the moment?
I found Eckhart Tolle’s the Power of Now amazing – very helpful to me in realising that we only have what is with us right here and right now. There’s something so liberating when you embrace that and move away from the looking back and looking forward that I had been doing for such a long time.
With my youngest child, I’m sharing the reading of a book called Pax by Sara Pennypacker (Illustrations by Jon Klassen) about the connection between a boy and a fox which is lovely.
I listen to an eclectic range of music, perhaps partly influenced by my teenage daughters! I could be deeply absorbed in the stunning music of French tenor Roberto Alagna (who I saw when he was in Australia recently and interestingly to me had a first wife who died of a brain tumour) and just as easily could be singing along to Justin Bieber.
In the kitchen, I do an extreme amount of juicing (my cold press juicer is orange from all the turmeric!). I’m fairly hard core for myself with organic, vegan food but I end up cooking a range of things to keep the kids happy and they love what we call ‘cheat’s sushi’ where we provide a range of ingredients and nori squares and you can make up your own little rolls – they love it!
What’s one piece of advice you would offer to people who want to live more meaningful lives?
I would offer two quotes and a piece advice from me…
“In the hour of adversity be not without hope, for crystal rain falls from black clouds.” Nizami Ganjavi
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” Eckhart Tolle
In terms of from me, I would say, take the time to absorb what life is offering… easily said, far harder to do but I’ve found a depth and meaning by seeing the beauty in people, in the world. My advice is… Don’t wait till you face death to see the beauty in life.
You can support Matt by contributing to his GoFundMe campaign here.