In November of 2014, Matt was diagnosed with stage 2 colorectal cancer at age 35, and after a year of treatments and two surgeries (gaining an ostomy bag and losing it), he's currently cancer free! He began art journaling as a way to cope and began drawing himself as an owl, thus Cancer Owl was born.
The comic has been able to impact thousands and is currently being used in cancer support groups and college classrooms. Hardly a day goes by that he doesn't hear about how the comic has made a difference in the lives of cancer patients, survivors, caretakers, and healthcare professionals. He also works as an art-based therapist, and loves the work he gets to do for people every day. But he also gets to go home every day to the two most beautiful ladies in his world: his wife and daughter. When he's not doing art type stuff and therapy, he's running trails, making pizzas from scratch, and making wonderful memories with his family.
Hi, I’m Matt and I’m a colorectal cancer survivor (yep, ass cancer).
When I was in the hospital bed after getting my colon resection and a new poop bag attached to my belly, I started drawing a cute little owl who happened to have cancer. After a handful of comics, Cancer Owl (www.cancerowl.com) was released on the internet.
The comics, which uses cute little animals to discuss life with cancer, took off pretty quickly.
It started off telling snippets my own personal journey, but eventually segued into telling the true stories of other patients and survivors. My concept has given birth to a pretty innovative vehicle for patient advocacy. The idea has been well received and it’s given me unique opportunities, including public speaking. Perhaps one of my most “braggable” opportunities was an invite to present my comic at Stanford University’s Medicine X conference last year.
This was a pretty big deal among my social circle in my little small town in Virginia. My employer and medical team at The University of Virginia pitched in to help me cover expenses and I took off for Silicon Valley. The next day, I was eating breakfast with medical doctors and medical tech gurus from places like Stanford (obviously), Harvard, Johns Hopkins, etc., etc.. The doctors were automatically jumping into their jargon, prestigious place of practice, and “so what do you do”? kind of talk.
When my turn at the table presented the opportunity, I blurted out, “I draw an owl…with cancer!”
If that wasn’t awkward enough, I’m pretty sure that statement was followed up by my signature “Revenge of the Nerds” kind of laugh. The doctors were friendly but obviously taken off guard. Why wouldn’t they be?
So welcome to the territory of making humorous cartoons about cancer. This is the territory I occupy, and it’s strangely wonderful. I do this because people with cancer need to laugh too, and cancer itself needs to stop being such a taboo thing to bring up.
I truly believe that when we learn to laugh at cancer, we turn the tables on this terrorist that’s taken up residence inside us. Because cancer would love nothing more than to rob us of more than just our bodies. Learning to laugh at cancer means we refuse to let it take who we are.
So hell yeah, I was a goofball at Stanford and maybe made a fool of myself…and was having a blast.