Dealing with the death of a parent and celebrating life

Adam Walker (00:00):
This program has been made possible through the support of an independent grant from Daiichi Sankyo, Inc.

Adam Walker (00:09):
From Susan G Komen. This is real pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.

Adam Walker (00:23):
The death of a parent can come as a shock and feel extremely unfair, especially if the child and parent were both relatively young. When a mother leaves behind her children, there is a missing presence, but memories and life lessons will always remain. Today’s guest remembers his mother’s spontaneity, devotion to fun, warm nature, and caring spirit, and credits her for shaping him into the man. He is today here to share the story of his superhero. Mom is Matt taro. Matt, welcome to the show.

Matt Tarro (00:54):
Hey Adam, thanks so much for having me.

Adam Walker (00:57):
Well, man, I’m excited to have this conversation. I know you’re doing a lot of great work, but let’s just start out with you. Give me, give me the fly over. Who are you? What do you do?

Matt Tarro (01:05):
I am a native Rhode Islander from the east coast. I’m currently displaced out here in Sandy, Diego, not a terrible thing. Loving the weather. I’ve been out here for about five years, came by way of New York city work in advertising and digital media. I’m an, an artist, a photographer, videographer, and painting have, have been my key focuses over the last, you know, 10, 10, 15 in years. Wow.

Adam Walker (01:30):
That’s fantastic. Well, wait, there’s a lot of side stuff we could talk about later on then. So but, but for the purposes of the show, let’s, let’s dive in. So today we’re talking to you about the role of being a caregiver to your mom, but let’s start with her breast cancer journey. Can you walk us through that?

Matt Tarro (01:48):
Yeah, sure. And I appreciate your your questions and, and having me on today, Adam. So I’m, I’m really excited. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 after finding a lump on her left breast she was biopsied and had her diagnosis. They performed a, a left radical mastectomy. In the matter of a couple of weeks, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was put on a five-year regimen of Tamofixen it’s called and she ended her treatment in about 2000. So she went through five years of key chemo and, and, and treatment and was declared cancer-free in 2000 however, pretty short-lived declaration. She was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic lymph lymphocytic leukemia as described by her doctor is more of a speed bump than anything. So it was really just, you know, something else that she had to deal with.

Matt Tarro (02:42):
And then about five years after that in 2005, she found a lump on her neck. So her cancer was back. She required frequent scans, blood tests, and she reached out to her good friend, Dr. Barbara ships for support. And she’s already an allergist at the end G pat epicenter at Rhode Island hospital with her guidance, she went through scans, bone scans, blood work and the scans indicated that the cancer had spread to her spine. So she received radiation treatment to her spine and went to the Dana Farber cancer Institute in Boston for more consultation. And she met Dr. And Partridge there. And so she started chemo for a second time in may of 2008, just just about a year before she had passed a while frequently having fluid removed from her lungs that had built up. And I think that was one of the most memorable things was that she was going constantly to have this fluid removed. And it was being used as in a study. So she was donating art of herself and what was happening with her to help future patients.

Adam Walker (03:56):
Wow. And you know, how, how old were you when she was diagnosed? And can you walk us through how she told you that she had breast cancer?

Matt Tarro (04:05):
I was nine when she was first diagnosed. And so my mother was a nurse. She was a recovery room nurse. She worked in the allergy office at my father’s doctor’s office, and my father was an otolaryncologist in the ear nose and throat physicians. So my parents had a law out of history, explaining terrible things or difficult things to patients that may not understand what was happening. So for them to have to explain to their children, that mom was going through something very difficult. I don’t remember where the exact, this is what’s happening, but I do remember that it was with an, it was more of an upbeat, like we’re going to beat this. We’re, we’re gonna, we’re doing this, you know, this, something that is happening. But life will go on. I’m sorry. I was nine. My brother was eight.

Adam Walker (04:56):
Wow. And so considering how young you were in your, your brother was, do you feel like it’s something that your family went through together or was it, do you feel like they shielded you from?

Matt Tarro (05:09):
I think my parents were very open about what was happening regardless of whether or not we fully understood what was, was really happening. They were very open. They wanted to be clear, my parents didn’t, you know, want to lie. They didn’t want to lie to us. They didn’t want to they also didn’t want to put us in harm’s way and make us think about something like losing moms. So it was it was more of a family mission. You know, I had siblings, my father’s first marriage, there were six older siblings that I had have who were very supportive and really helped my younger brother. And I understand that mom was sick. And then as I got older, we really understood what, what that sick, how sick she was and what that really meant. Hmm.

Adam Walker (06:00):
Wow. And so, so how, how do you, how do you feel like you were best able to support your mom and she was undergoing treatment? And what do you think about when you remember that time?

Matt Tarro (06:12):
I remember her just more trying to keep status quo, more of trying to keep everything going, just like she normally would have. I say all the time that my mother is, she was she was, you know, everybody wants to say out, my mom was a great mom. But my mother lived to be a mother to care for children. And she cared for her stepchildren, my oldest siblings, like they were her own, even though they were not. And so everyone really considered her like the mother, the motherly figure. And so she did her best to continue doing what she would do. And I think that at the end of the day she looked for the support of my younger brother, mark and myself as, just as answering whatever she needed done, what do you need on, how do you need to get done?

Matt Tarro (07:12):
And, and, and doing things for her and trying to be kind and understanding that she was in pain some days and other days she was just like a normal mom. But deep down inside, she she wanted to hide it so that, you know, nobody really felt bad for her. So she, she needed more of support at home. But I, I, you know, at that young age, you really don’t know how to give it other than just being a normal kid. Giving her a hug, telling her you love her. I would always, you know, I didn’t have any fears of, of giving my mother a hug or telling her how much I loved her or embarrassing her, trying to embarrass her as she did in public to us. We had like joking and friendly, funny relationship. Hm.

Adam Walker (07:58):
Wow. That’s great. That’s really great. And then I would imagine that your mom helped to shape you into the person that you are today. Tell us a little bit more about that. Yeah.

Matt Tarro (08:11):
How, w I would say you know, I learned a lot from my parents. I learned a lot from my father. But my mother was the one, you know, my father was in an office a lot of times, and he would come home late. We would have inner, he would do some work and then we would go to bed for a long time. So my mother was the one that picked us up from school that she would help us do homework and, or, you know, kind of order us to do homework, make sure we were doing it, kept us in line a bit. I learned what kindness really meant from somebody like my mother. I Al excuse me. Yeah. I also understood a bit more about the human soul and spontaneity and how much enjoying life really, truly meant to you as an individual.

Matt Tarro (09:03):
You know, what I saw her go through you know, she, she lived every day with, with a smile or she tried to. And so that was something that I picked up on. But I didn’t really fully understand it until later in life, probably in the last 10 years. I’m 34 years, right. At 34 years old right now. And it’s, it’s been 12 years tomorrow since she passed, you know, that is it’s always something to think about how how she helped me understand what it meant to be kind and courteous and helpful and understanding and just to listen. And she was a very smart woman. And so I think you know, men typically have the stigma of not being very emotional and not showing their emotions and kind of hiding some of that. She made it very clear that it was an option for me to do so and encouraged me to, to be open about that stuff. Wow.

Adam Walker (10:08):
She sounds amazing. It sounds amazing. And you just mentioned that her passing is right around the day that we’re recording this. We actually, yesterday was, was mother’s day. We’re recording this the day after. How do you remember and how do you honor her memory around mother’s day?

Matt Tarro (10:25):
That’s a great question. It’s difficult. It’s, it’s definitely very difficult. I’ve spent a lot of years away from my family living on the west coast, the rest of them are on the east coast. So, you know, typically I would say I would want to celebrate by seeing some family members and remembering your, that way. You know, maybe right at this point now, it’s, it’s more of an internal memory. It’s more of something that I remember and I say, you know continue doing what you’re doing, continue working hard be, be, be a good person. And I try to live a better life and, and pursue this, this, this happiness that I felt that she possessed. And that’s how I really celebrate her life. But this is, this is definitely the most difficult time for me of, you know, of the year with mother’s day, always falling on or around the day that she passed.

Matt Tarro (11:27):
And yesterday was yesterday was a doozy. Not only was it mother’s day, but it would’ve been my father’s birthday as well. So that, that was, that was a tough one. And that’s always been difficult, but you know, my father passed about three years ago, three and a half years ago. And my mother 12 years ago, and no, you know, remembering them at this point is having conversations with some of the family members my, my younger brother and and just remembering that the happy times, the good times. Yeah. Yeah.

Adam Walker (12:03):
Wow. That’s good. That’s good. I appreciate you sharing that with us. I know. That’s I know that’s difficult. So what advice would you give to someone that finds themselves in a similar situation that you were in and especially if they’re young?

Matt Tarro (12:18):
Yeah. oh man. So I’ll, I’ll admit it, I’ve admitted this a couple of times here recently because I’ve now gone through it, but seeking therapy and steeping seeking help after a loss is extremely helpful. It took me a long time. I had been dealing with the fact that my mother was sick. I was 20 years old. Right. So did dealing with her sickness was really causing some, some issues here mentally with me. And so it was recommended that I speak with somebody. And so I said, okay, I’ll make an appointment with with a therapist the morning that I was supposed to see my therapist is actually the morning my mother passed. And so I never, never went to therapy. And so what ended up happening was I oppressed the emotions over years with substance abuse and doing different things that weren’t very helpful.

Matt Tarro (13:25):
And so a year ago, right? So at 33 years old I started going on the therapy specifically for grief as it’s something I’ve experienced here quite a bit in my life. And so I would tell anybody that, that loses a family member, a mother, a father, an aunt, uncle, grandmother to speak with somebody about your emotions and how you feel especially when it’s something like your mother and there’s a lot left on the table. You know, she she was, she was young, you know, 55 or so about 55 years old. So she was young when she passed. And that means that there were a lot of things that I didn’t get to experience with my mother. And so I’ve, you know, I’ve, I’ve gone through some grief work where I’ve written letters and, and written out a lot of what I wanted to say to my mom that I never got a chance to thanking her, forgiving her, asking for forgiveness. And then just general statements of, of, you know, affection and, and standing. That’s that was a really big piece of it. And to remember the good times that you had with the individual you know, you’re given one life, you’re not sure what’s going to happen around the corner here any other day. So the best thing you can do is live a happy and full life and try to stay health fee. And yeah, and, and mental health is a major, major part of that. It’s very important. Yeah,

Adam Walker (15:05):
No, that’s really, really important, really good advice seeking help getting help talking through emotions, talking through grief is just so, so critical. So, so Matthew last question, God, honestly, kind of a tough question, but, but I just, I really would like to ask if your mom could see you now, what do you think she would tell you?

Matt Tarro (15:28):
Oh boy. Well, if you’re listening to this, you can’t see, but I’ve cut a beard and a mustache she’d asked me why I haven’t shaved recently. I would say you know, she was the type of woman that it would probably be more of an affectionate, you know, I’d get a hug. Granted I’ve said so many times that I would really like to just speak to my mother. But you know, I think that that just getting a hug w was, was super important. I would like to think that she would tell me she’s proud of the man I’ve become of the work that I’ve, that I’ve done. And, and what I’ve learned and, and, you know, as I pursue a family of my own and and I try to strive for what I’ve wanted. You know, I remember what she taught me and she would, she would say that I learned well and you know, she’d tell me one of her many catchphrases, one of the many things that she would owe me. But you know, those are all internal. Those are all personal things to small little stories and anecdotes that she would say just to make me smile. And so I’m, I’m sure I would hear several of those. So yeah,

Adam Walker (16:51):
That sounds, that’s amazing. That’s amazing. Well Matthew, I’m curious, I, I, I think I know that you do some non-profit work. I’d love, love for you to just tell us, give us a 32nd overview about what that’s about.

Matt Tarro (17:04):
Yeah. So my mother had started a nonprofit for breast cancer to help fund breast cancer research. And so what I learned at a young age was really how to, how to run an organization and how to be a part of that. So just recently in the last year, actually in just as raise and it’s like two weeks ago, we received full five oh one C3 status for a non-profit that’s called bolus Maximus. I’m a type one diabetic I’ve been diabetic for oh my goodness. Almost 19 years. And so that was something that, you know, I felt like I had my own diagnosis while my mother was going through what she went through. And after she passed, it really wasn’t something that I took hold of and focused on. But now in the last couple of years, I’ve really focused on my health and understanding that not everybody has the same resources that I may have, or that I came up with.

Matt Tarro (18:03):
So our focus is my, my non-profit co-founder Brandon Denson and myself. We focus on under-resourced communities specifically because we’re both males in our early thirties, I guess I’ll have to say mid thirties. Now I’m almost 35. We focus on male the black and brown communities that that my co-founder is a member of. And we focus on individuals that are under-resourced and in poverty, and don’t have the same resources that other people do. So that’s our goal and focus right now. And I, I learned how to help others because my, my mother was always the first to stand up and help somebody else. And so that’s, that’s really where we’re at and what we’re striving for. Wow.

Adam Walker (18:49):
Well, Matthew, that sounds like really important and excellent work. I’m happy. I’m glad to know you’re doing that. Thank you for sharing that with us and thanks so much for being on the show today.

Matt Tarro (18:59):
Yeah, I appreciate it, Adam. Thanks so much. I’m looking forward to hearing this when it comes out and, and talking more and remembering my mother. So thank you for giving me an opportunity. It’s a special time.

Adam Walker (19:10):
Well, thank you for giving us a peek into who she was and the impact that she’s made on you. Me, I appreciate it, and our listeners appreciate it.

Adam Walker (19:25):
Thanks for listening to real pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen for more episodes, visit real for more on breast cancer. Visit Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter at AGA Walker or on my blog. Adam J

Adam Walker (19:47):
This program has been made possible through the support of an independent grant from Daiichi Sankyo, Inc.