Matt’s mission to raise awareness of melanoma in his community
In December 2016, Principal Matt Kean’s life changed forever.
Matt Kean describes himself as “first and foremost a husband and a father of two daughters.” He is also the Principal at Holy Spirit School in Lavington, Albury. In December 2016, life changed for Matt and his family when he was diagnosed with melanoma.
In late October 2016, Matt discovered a lump on his right thigh: “I’d been out in the garden all day with a friend and I looked down and saw a lump. At the time I thought I’d been bitten – being a man I looked at it and thought ‘I’ll be right’.
“I’ve got red hair, I’m pale, and I used to turn up to school wearing shorts day in, day out. I only used to wear sunscreen for one reason – I didn’t want to get burnt because it hurt! The thing is, I grew up with Slip Slop Slap, and I’m intelligent enough to know the dangers, but I always thought it wouldn’t happen to me.
“What I thought was a bite didn’t get better, so I went to the doctor and within a few days I had a lump removed from my right thigh and subsequently had the lymph nodes in my groin removed.
“In late 2017, a routine scan indicated the cancer had spread further to the lymph nodes up inside my pelvis and was now classed as stage four. I was fortunate to be offered a two-year immunotherapy trial.
“It’s hard to describe how we felt, when I was first told about immunotherapy the doctor said, ‘We should get eight to 10 years out of you’. I was just approaching my 40th birthday and I never expected to be told that I probably wouldn’t make it to 50. Had this kind of treatment not been around at the time, I probably wouldn’t have made it to another year.”
“We might only have five years left together, Dad.”
In order to raise awareness of melanoma, Matt has spoken to many school and community groups about his story in the hope it creates a positive prevention message.
“My target audience is Year 9 students, I am very honest about my prognosis because they need to hear it – it’s the only way to get through to them. Everyone thinks they’re invincible at that age, even adults do until something bad happens to them.
“At the end of the day, this may well get me but if each talk I do, or each conversation I have will have an impact on someone and prevent them from going through what I have, then I’ve made the most of my time. It wouldn’t be a waste.
“Our eldest daughter Ava is in Year 9 this year and has ridden every bump since my initial diagnosis. She overthinks it naturally, and I know it’s hard on her – what can you tell a child of that age? Given her age and that I had been conducting the awareness talks across the local area, we felt it was time she finally knew what the prognosis was.
“We put our youngest daughter in the bath and sat Ava down to explain. With a tear running down her cheek she said to me, ‘We might only have five years left together, Dad.’ My youngest daughter was little and didn’t understand, but Ava knew exactly what this meant – losing her Dad. The hardest thing of all of this is the damage it has done to my wife and kids, it’s heartbreaking knowing how tough it is on them.”
Using his experience to change lives
“Every disease needs a champion – a role model – we need champions in melanoma. The bike ride will be the culmination of a series of talks to different groups, spreading the message that ‘Prevention is Better Than A Cure’!
Matt is passionate about breaking down misconceptions about sun protection and raising awareness by talking about his first-hand experience. He will also be completing a 1000km bike ride around Riverina in March 2022:
“I did a talk at a local cricket club and it was raining and I took a screenshot of the SunSmart app and the UV was still reading seven at 5:15pm. Gone are the days where we can convince ourselves that it’s just between 11am to 3pm that we need to worry, that’s 1980s thinking – we need to be protecting ourselves all day, every day.”
Matt is now embarking on the second biggest challenge of his life, entering Cancer Council’s Stars of the Border dancing event. Matt says this is a perfect platform to raise more awareness of a largely preventable disease and despite his dancing ability (or lack of), he is up for the challenge.