Laughing in the Face of Fear

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: 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. Navigating a breast cancer journey can cause feelings of confusion and fear, all of which are normal.

There are healthy ways to cope with the stress caused by these fears, such as mindfulness meditation, support groups, or finding a creative outlet. Today’s guest has been through quite a journey over the past decade, having undergone numerous brain surgeries as a result of her breast cancer metastasizing. Actress and comedian Hyla Matthews knows firsthand how important it is to find ways to keep a healthy perspective and is committed to finding a way to laugh through her experience.

Hyla, welcome to the show!

[00:00:48] Hyla Matthews: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:51] Adam Walker: Um, I’m really excited to talk to you really appreciate, you know, your unique perspective. Um, and let’s, let’s just start off talking about your story. What’s your breast cancer story. And can you tell us about your initial diagnosis and what was going on in your life at that time?

[00:01:07] Hyla Matthews: Sure. Sure. Uh, I was breastfeeding my seven month old baby and I found a lump in my wrist and I thought it was a clogged milked up. So I called my friend and she said, oh yeah, that’s very common. Get some utter SAB. I don’t know why she suggested utter SAB, but you know, I’m not a cow. So I, but I did rub it on there and that didn’t work.

And I called my midwife. And she said, I don’t think this is breastfeeding related. So just come down and get an ultrasound. So I did, and, uh, it turned out to be pretty bad. So they did a biopsy and, uh, yeah. And they told me that I had cancer. So

[00:01:57] Adam Walker: that was. Well, I mean in that, and that’s common, I think in a lot of these conversations is, you know, it starts off sort of seeming to be something innocuous in the new, listen to your body, listen to advice and you recognize, oh no, there’s really more more to this.

And I understand the next part of your journey was really kind of a direct result to your listening to your body and advocating for yourself, knowing something was not right. Can you tell us about that and what journey, where that journey.

[00:02:24] Hyla Matthews: Sure. Sure. Um, well, when I got breast cancer, it was suggested to me to put a mediport in.

So I did that and I, you know, it goes under your collar Rhone and it’s easier for the chemo to come into your body. So I did that. And about a month later, I was brushing my teeth and my hand was a little wobbly and my handwriting was a little crooked and I thought that it was because of the metaphor.

So I went to my oncologist on a Monday and said, oh, I know what it is. It’s I’ve got it down. It’s like a headaches and all this stuff. It’s from the MetaPort. And she said, no, no, no, you actually have a brain tumor. I didn’t say, sorry. I, uh, when I was, uh, sensing that was a little wobbly and all that stuff, I decided to go get a brain MRI and I decided myself, I didn’t, you know, my doctors didn’t suggest it because we had done this thing called eyes to thighs.

So they check all this stuff from your eyes. You’re the eyes, but they don’t. Your brain. So I decided to go get, uh, uh, a brain MRI. And, um, then I went to my doctor and said, I know what it is. And she said, no, no, it’s a brain tumor. So I was totally baffled and thought, okay, forget the breast cancer. I have a brain.

So, um, I got that. I met my brain surgeon on a Tuesday. And on Thursday, I had a brain surgery, so, um, I had no time to stress. We all happened in one week and that was really, it was probably good because I didn’t have time to really worry about it. So I quickly, uh, after the brain surgery had, uh, radiation, and then I quickly went back to the chemo because you can’t be all away from the chemo for too long or else it doesn’t work.

And I had to do chemo because the L the tumor was attached to my pectoral muscles. So they couldn’t operate. It was an inoperable, uh, tumor on my breast. So they had to shrink it, hopefully with chemo and then operate on it. So after the brain surgery, I went back to the chemo and I was on chemo. I did chemo for about eight weeks.

And, uh, and let’s see, and then I had a lumpectomy and then I was pretty good for like two years. I was, I was feeling good and feeling pretty good. And I would constantly have MRIs, like at least every three months because I, you know, they, they suggested that, uh, and then after about two years, they thought there was another two more.

And it was in the exact same place that my initial brain tumor had been. So they, I went in for another brain surgery and it turned out to be radiation necrosis, which is just dead, you know, scar tissue. So that was really good. Um, and then while I was in the hospital, I fell out of bed. I’m trying to put on those socks that keep you from falling.

So I fell out of bed and, uh, and they, I had a brain hemorrhage while I was on the floor. So they rushed me to emergency surgery. I had another brain surgery. And then I got an brain infection or an infection just called Murcia and it was in my brain and, uh, or in my head. So they did a fourth brain surgery and that was pretty much it, that was, you know, a crazy, crazy experience and time.

And then I was in the hospital for about 30 days and I, um, After 30 days, I was really ready to come home and I just charged myself, which is very female, but I did that. So that’s wow.

[00:06:35] Adam Walker: That is, I mean that, so it’s four is that four brain surgeries is that count quick. Okay. Wow. That is so that. Profound. So circling back just for a moment to your breast cancer.

I mean, I’m curious, like does breast cancer run in your family and kind of wasn’t even on your radar

[00:06:53] Hyla Matthews: before it wasn’t on my radar. I actually didn’t do when I turned 40, I did a mammogram and then I, I probably did another one and then I didn’t do one and. Pregnant. And I didn’t do one when I was pregnant.

And then after my baby, I didn’t do one. Um, and breast cancer does run in my family. My mom had breast cancer when she was about 52 and she, but she had a lumpectomy. She never did any chemo. Never did any radiation. Her hair didn’t fall out, anything like that. Um, But it was still obviously really scary.

And then my paternal grandmother died at 46 of uterine cancer and what I did the gene, I did the gene test and, um, I did the gene that did the dream. I did the gene test and. And it was negative. So I didn’t have the hereditary gene, um, that a lot of people have. So even though it was in my family, I didn’t have the gene.

So I don’t know. And, and it was a very, uh, rare and aggressive cancer or triple negative cancer is very rare and aggressive. So, um, Yeah. Wow. Okay.

[00:08:15] Adam Walker: So talk to me a little bit about your support systems. How did they keep you strong and motivated and moving forward on some of your toughest? Well,

[00:08:24] Hyla Matthews: um, my parents actually, when they were 80, they moved down here to DC, from New Jersey and they rented an apartment, a basement apartment about a block away, and they had keys to my house and they just came in every single day and helped take care of my son.

And my husband and me really, I mean, it was no matter how old you are, you just want your mommy, you know, so my mom was there. She was great. Um, She read to me and my dad took me to chemo and they were really amazing and that I, and my husband was incredible. Um, so that support was really important to have.

And I didn’t really realize how lucky I was. They just, they did it. And, uh, you know, because they could, so it was really incredible. And also having. My son, I don’t know that he was a support, but he definitely pulled me forward and I was very busy with him. So, because he was so young. Um, so that was, uh, really great to have him.

[00:09:35] Adam Walker: Wow. That’s great. All right. All right. So I’m excited about this next part, this next part of the segment here, it’s a bit unique. So I understand that you’re an actress and comedian. And you’ve done standup backs talking about your experiences with breast cancer. So what gave you the idea to do that? And why was it so important in therapeutic?

[00:09:58] Hyla Matthews: Well, when I lived, I lived in LA for about 10 years. And when I lived there, I did a lot of standup in between auditions and it was a great way to write and perform my own stuff while I was waiting for the next audition. So I did that. And then when I came here and then I got cancer, um, it was sort of after the whole cancer stuff and my hair started growing back and I.

It was like my coming back show. And I, I did a fundraiser for the triple negative breast cancer foundation and I raised a lot of money and, um, I, yeah, it was sort of my coming back show. So it was really great to talk about it and make jokes about it and sort of show that I’m still here and, you know, um, So it really helped me get through that.

I mean, that kind of perspective, because stand-up is all about your perspective. It’s all about your point of view. And so, uh, Having cancer. Everybody has their own point of view about, wow, that’s

[00:11:12] Adam Walker: fantastic. I really appreciate that. I I’ve, I’ve done it. I’ve done it. One standup set up for a fundraiser and it is not an easy thing to do.

I really enjoyed it, but it is very, very difficult thing. So. All right. So speaking of difficult things I have to ask, are you able to share some of your bits? Because I know some of our listeners would be able to relate to. And maybe it can bring to them a little bit of lightness or are you up for that?

[00:11:36] Hyla Matthews: Sure, sure, sure. I’ll try. It’s very odd to just do, do stand up to one person. So you have to pretend that you’re like many, many people or something. I don’t know. Um, so when I found out that I had. Tumor or when I found out that I had a lump on my midwife said, I don’t think this is breastfeeding related, come down and get an ultrasound.

So I went down, I drove myself and I drove by myself. And I was, you know, while I was driving, I was singing. Oh, great. I’m going to die. And I’m going to have to do a video for Will’s new wife and I’m going to get a blow out. Cause I want to live a really good and I, you know, she’s not going to be thinking like, oh, I found love, and this is my person.

No, none of that. I’m going to say to her, you are a filler. You. Place holder because I’m not there. That’s the only reason. So don’t get any ideas, lady.

[00:12:38] Adam Walker: That’s fantastic. That is, that is about perspective though. I like that. That’s a really fascinating perspective. Any, anything else? Any other

[00:12:47] Hyla Matthews: bits? And I was, when I was told that I had cancer, my first thought was, oh shit.

Now I have to do that. Run. Okay. Or the 10 K or whatever it is like now I have to learn the metric system. Oh my God.

And when, and when I was bald, when I was bald, I, everyone gave me lots of scarves, which is fine, but I, you know, I don’t know how to wear them. And so when I got my appetite back and I was still bald, I wore a scarf to dinner. I was like, I know what I’m doing. Scarf and I’m out, I’m out on the town. And I, you know, I wrapped it around my head and then I looked at my husband.

I was like, it’s sliding, isn’t it? It’s sliding. So that was,

[00:13:37] Adam Walker: I love it. I love it. And I imagine the audiences received all that really

[00:13:42] Hyla Matthews: well. Right. I hope I help. Yes, they did. They did. Cause they, yeah, they understood

[00:13:47] Adam Walker: that. Oh, that’s fantastic. Well, uh, this has been great. I mean, I love your perspective and, and honestly, that’s what I kind of love about comedy is just the perspective that it brings.

And so, so I just have to ask, you know, what final advice do you have for our listeners? Is there anything you wish you knew when you were first starting to go through this?

[00:14:10] Hyla Matthews: Well, when, first of all, when you get hit with that, uh, phrase, you have cancer, you are just, you know, it’s like a train has run over you.

You just can’t breathe. You know? Uh, So after that, um, if you find the humor in it, you know, I think that’s really important and not everybody can laugh. It’s a very serious, you know, it’s a very serious thing, so not everybody can laugh, but if you can find some humor in it that will really, really carry you through.

I mean, you, cause you can’t control. You can’t control it at all. Um, like many things in life, you can’t control it. And all you can do is kind of find the humor. And I would say, be an advocate for yourself, you know, just ask a million questions, write everything down and really that’s what you can do is you can be an advocate for yourself.

[00:15:11] Adam Walker: I love that. And be an advocate for yourself, Hyla Matthews. You’re an amazing interviewee. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for joining us.

[00:15:20] Hyla Matthews: today. Welcome. Thank you for having me, Adam.

[00:15:27] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit 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 @AJWalker or my blog,