Being Active Together: A Q&A With Matt Hines
Matt and April Hines, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, went on their first date in December 2011, and just a month later April was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. They dated through her treatments and, in the years that followed, got engaged, and then married. But just a few months into their marriage, in January 2016, doctors found that April had stage IV breast cancer.
Matt, 36, and April, 37, had always been active people, and as April turned her energy toward breast cancer advocacy, Matt was there with her. In 2016 April was trained as a volunteer with Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Hear My Voice program, educating people in her community about metastatic breast cancer. In 2018 she returned to continue that service as a Hear My Voice Alumni volunteer. Together, Matt and April have attended seven breast cancer conferences since 2016, including LBBC conferences in Memphis and Philadelphia.
LBBC’s copy editor and content coordinator, Eric Fitzsimmons, met up with Matt at the 2017 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, in December. There, Matt talked to Eric about supporting April in their personal adventures and in breast cancer advocacy
You guys continue to be very active, in personal activities and advocacy. How do you go about trying to be a caregiver, helping April stay comfortable and safe, without getting in her way?
We were both very outdoors-oriented people, and then we just started doing everything together. We try to stay as active as our bodies will allow.
We’ve changed. We don’t hike out in the woods, because we’re afraid of what could happen if we do get too far out. We’re still outdoors and active, it’s just we’re more on the pavement, less out in the mud.
We still spend a lot of time [kayaking] on the rivers though. Paddling is something she’s still able to do and something we’re both avid about doing.
You join April for many of these conferences. What do you get out of attending as a caregiver?
The people and the knowledge. That’s what I tell everybody that I know or encounter: [These are] some of the most real people you will ever meet in your life. There’s no games, there’s no walls put up, no not-being-themselves. The women here are real. That’s the way I’ve always been, you know, if people don’t like me, then you don’t have to be around me, this is who I am, either you like it or you don’t. And that’s how everybody is here.
[These are] some of the most real people you will ever meet in your life. There’s no games, there’s no walls put up, no not-being-themselves.
Do you find the conferences helpful?
Yeah, very much. I never really had many conversations with the caregivers. I mean there’s a couple of husbands that I’ve clicked with [and] we hang out, but I learn more from the women and men with the disease than I do anybody else. You know, I learn more from them what I need to do to help her.
Luckily, I work for myself and I can take off and be active in most everything we got going on in life. If I didn’t, then I’d be like most of the other husbands. I’d be tied to work hours and a Monday-through-Friday job. But luckily, I can take off most of the time that I need to and can do these things.
The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is just winding down now. Do you get to enjoy the travel aspect beyond the educational part of the conferences?
Yeah, definitely. Even though a lot of the times we’re going back to the same city for the same conference, year after year, we get to go experience more while we’re there.
This last trip to [Washington,] D.C., we took April’s parents, and they’ve never been there so we spent a day out with them, showing them what we’ve already seen, but it was fun taking the family out. And this year to [LBBC’s 2018 Conference on Metastatic Breast Cancer in] Philly, I think we’re going to take my parents along. That’s more of a bonding thing, where we can get family involved, and all spend time together.
April’s parents had no idea the work that goes into the advocacy part of that, especially for the D.C. trip. They were amazed at everything we do and how active we were in everything: No time to slow down when you’re there.
Do you have any insights or advice you would share with other caregivers?
I would recommend that anyone, even early-stage, get involved and do as much as you can with your partner. … I mean, if April hadn’t pulled me into the first [conference], I don’t think I would be as involved as I am, getting in and going to all of them and meeting everyone. From doctors to researchers to patients and caregivers, it’s a great network of people.
On March 24, as we went to press, April died of metastatic breast cancer. We send our deepest condolences to Matt and to their family and loved ones.