Matt Kean thought he had done everything right and never thought he could get sick at the age of 38 – until one look changed his life.
A few days before Christmas, with the movers arriving and the family home sold, Matt Kean received a devastating diagnosis at the age of 38.
The father-of-two admits he was distracted at the time, having just received a promotion that would require him to move his family from state to state to take on the role of principal of an elementary school in New South Wales.
It had taken months to sell the family home to Tassie, book movers and arrange the crossing of Bass Strait on the Spirit of Tasmania.
Mr Kean was thinking ahead, but it took one ‘look’ at his father for him to realize he had been focusing on the wrong thing.
Just before Christmas 2016 – when everything had already been set up for the move – Mr. Kean received a devastating diagnosis.
A biopsy on a lump on her leg was cancerous. He had first noticed it during a worker bee to prepare his house for sale, a month earlier, but only had it checked out after his father noticed it.
“The look on his face – my dad gave me a look of disbelief that I would leave him for this long – at 38,” he said. “It wasn’t my proudest moment.”
The cancer was found to have spread to the lymph nodes in his right groin and Mr Kean was forced to call off his move, undergoing surgery on December 23 to have the nodes removed.
The prognosis for his recovery was unclear, with some telling him to “get his affairs in order”, while others said “I’ll be fine”.
It wasn’t until March that he got a clearer picture, with scans at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center in Melbourne indicating there had been no further growth.
Hoping to have overcome the disease, Mr Kean made the decision to relocate to Albury, while continuing to be checked regularly.
But months later, a routine scan revealed the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in his pelvis and he had progressed from stage 3 to stage 4 cancer. There weren’t many good options at this point and Mr Kean decided to go for immunotherapy, which was a new treatment at the time.
“The prognosis at the time was that if it worked I should be eight to ten years old, which was a little hard to swallow,” he said.
“On the plus side, if I had been diagnosed seven years prior, I would basically be planning a funeral.”
It’s not like Mr. Kean didn’t protect himself. As a redhead, he always used sunscreen at the beach or on sunny days, and didn’t walk around shirtless.
“I put on sunscreen for a reason — because it hurts to get a sunburn,” he said.
“I could go from lilywhite to sunburn in five minutes.”
But he thinks it was all the hours he spent outside on an overcast or wintry day in Tassie’s cool climate that did the damage. Mr. Kean has done a lot of outdoor activities, including in his role as a teacher.
“I would teach PE and I would never wear a hat when it was overcast, I only wore it when I could feel the sun – I never worried about UV,” he said.
“I was coming home blown by the wind – or so I thought – when I was probably sunburned.
“Should I have put on sunscreen? Absoutely. I didn’t realize UV was a big deal.
These days Mr Kean, 44, is passionate about educating people about the dangers of UV and wants everyone to check the levels so they understand when they need to protect themselves.
“I know now it can be 20C a day in Hobart but the UV can be 12,” he said.
The Cancer Council’s slogan Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide aims to protect people from the invisible effects of UV exposure, with people advised to take action when UV levels are 3 or higher. A UV level of 11 or higher is considered extreme.
“As a country, we need to change our whole thinking process,” Mr Kean said.
“I tell my kids (from school), download the UV app, it’s not rocket science and don’t wait for someone to tell you to put on a hat, do it yourself.”
Mr Kean has been cancer free for two and a half years and is now focused on spreading the message so others don’t have to go through the same thing.
“Did this month (delay) hurt me? I will never know,” he said.
“If I can talk to my kids and empower them to make sure they take care of themselves and spread the message, I think my job has been done.
“I have to rely on a cure for my longevity, but it’s a matter of prevention for them.”