All Clear - A Firefighter Health & Wellness Podcast

You Are Not Alone WIth Guest Matt Sellers

September 29, 2023 Travis McGaha / Eric Stephenson Season 1 Episode 11
You Are Not Alone WIth Guest Matt Sellers
All Clear - A Firefighter Health & Wellness Podcast
More Info
All Clear - A Firefighter Health & Wellness Podcast
You Are Not Alone WIth Guest Matt Sellers
Sep 29, 2023 Season 1 Episode 11
Travis McGaha / Eric Stephenson

When I sat down with Matt Sellers from North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance, I was pulled into a world of strength, resilience, and support. Matt's personal journey of battling cancer without a support system outside of his firehouse family profoundly impacted me. His dedication to providing hope and resources for those going through a similar journey is uplifting and brilliantly enlightening. Our in-depth discussion explores the importance of a robust peer support system, providing validation and resources, and maintaining positivity in the face of adversity.

Cancer is not just a physical battle; it's also a mental and emotional one. It affects not only the individual but their family as well. Matt and I dive deep into the pivotal role of the family, the essentialness of mental health support, and the development of a Resource Information Toolkit for everyone affected. Moreover, we focus on the vital role of fire chiefs in supporting their firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer. All in all, this episode is a compelling deep-dive into the intersection of firefighting, cancer, and the power of peer support.

Your one stop shop for graphic design, screen printing, embroidery and more.  Proud sponsor of the All Clear Podcast.

Use the code All Clear to get 10% off your first order.

studioprintshop.com

Support the Show.

Thanks for listening to All Clear!

You can contact us with questions, suggestions or just to say hi at our website
allclearpodcast.com


Also Visit Our Sponsors - Studio Print Shop at
studioprintshop.com

All Clear - Firefighter Health & Wellness
Help us continue making great content and get a shout out on an upcoming episode
Starting at $3/month
Support
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When I sat down with Matt Sellers from North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance, I was pulled into a world of strength, resilience, and support. Matt's personal journey of battling cancer without a support system outside of his firehouse family profoundly impacted me. His dedication to providing hope and resources for those going through a similar journey is uplifting and brilliantly enlightening. Our in-depth discussion explores the importance of a robust peer support system, providing validation and resources, and maintaining positivity in the face of adversity.

Cancer is not just a physical battle; it's also a mental and emotional one. It affects not only the individual but their family as well. Matt and I dive deep into the pivotal role of the family, the essentialness of mental health support, and the development of a Resource Information Toolkit for everyone affected. Moreover, we focus on the vital role of fire chiefs in supporting their firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer. All in all, this episode is a compelling deep-dive into the intersection of firefighting, cancer, and the power of peer support.

Your one stop shop for graphic design, screen printing, embroidery and more.  Proud sponsor of the All Clear Podcast.

Use the code All Clear to get 10% off your first order.

studioprintshop.com

Support the Show.

Thanks for listening to All Clear!

You can contact us with questions, suggestions or just to say hi at our website
allclearpodcast.com


Also Visit Our Sponsors - Studio Print Shop at
studioprintshop.com

Speaker 1:

Welcome to All Clear, a firefighter health and wellness podcast. This is you Are Not Alone, with our returning guest, matt Sellers from the North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance. Travis, you're with my co-host, eric. How you doing today, eric.

Speaker 2:

Good, how are you?

Speaker 1:

I'm doing great. Guess who we have back with us today. Oh, you know.

Speaker 2:

I don't need to guess, I know who we have.

Speaker 1:

Yes, we have Matt Sellers back with us from Concord, also a board member of the Cancer Alliance. How you doing today, matt? I'm doing great guys. Hope you all are Awesome. Well, it's good to have you back. I'm glad we didn't scare you off last time. Oh, yeah.

Speaker 1:

And, like last time, we're actually recording from a firehouse. So if you hear tones, if you hear announcements, hey, you know it's real, we don't pre-record it. So today I think we're going to be talking a little bit more about peer support. Last time you told us your story, your experiences and what you learned, oh yeah. But now that is being translated more into actual action and things that can make an honest difference, and I know you and Eric have been working a lot together. So I am going to let you guys kind of lead the conversation on this one. Eric, why don't you talk a little bit about what you and Matt have been doing? And I'll jump in if anything applies to me.

Speaker 2:

Thanks Good to have you back with us, matt. So some of the things that we've been working on is trying to. I know during your story one of the questions I had for you towards the tail end of that recording that we did with you was, outside of the fire department, what kind of support you had in doing what I do with my peer support organization. A lot of people say that they feel like they are alone and that they're lost, and they don't until we actually start talking and they don't really realize that there's help available or there's people that have gone through the same circumstances, same situations, things like that, and can really relate and validate what you may have been going through during your journey. So what we've started doing with the Cancer Alliance is putting a peer program together, strengthening a peer support system for people that get newly diagnosed with a cancer diagnosis or a major life-changing event, and have people like yourself that can help these people go through their process from start to finish. Hey, we're here for you, we're going to support you.

Speaker 2:

You can answer questions, because you've been in that same situation and you understand what they're going through, what the process is, answering questions, putting people's minds at ease because I'm sure during your situation, there was probably moments where it was like holy cow, what do I do? What is this diagnosis? What's it going to be like, how long is it going to take, and who do I turn to when— when I have questions? So what we were talking about with the support system building the support system, making sure that you're not completely feeling lost and alone during the journey. You did mention that you had your firehouse family, but really not a whole lot outside of that, except for your faith-based support. Now that you have lived that experience and you've had the outcome that you have, you know, very successful outcome what would you like to see turn out with the Cancer Alliance, with the peer support program, and how you think that would be beneficial?

Speaker 3:

I'd like to see it grow exponentially Across the state and even across the United States. Cancer is not just in North Carolina, it's all over, especially in the fire service. I want to be able to touch as many people as I can through the peer support, just so they know that there are others out there like them and what we've been through may not be the exact same thing that they're going through, but if they're doing chemo or radiation, that kind of stuff, we can try to help them through that, help the families through that, to let them know. So if you've got a wife, you know, child, whatever, you know, this is kind of things to expect. You're going to have these kind of things and it's not going to be the best thing in the world that you've ever gone through, but we're going to make it through it and to help get, make sure that they stay in that mindset of, yeah, we're going to beat it.

Speaker 1:

So there is value to even though the person you're working with. They may not have had the same diagnosis that you had, maybe the same type of cancer, but there's enough in common that you're able to do the same treatments you know for a lot of them because I had radiation and chemo throughout my journey, so I understand what that stuff does to you.

Speaker 3:

Some chemo's are worse than others but you know we've been through there, done that. You know you can expect the mouth sores and you know what's the best ways to help get through those. You know that kind of stuff, people that you know you had no idea what it would be like and I can't say enough. You know tell them. I know it sucks so bad right now, but it's going to get better and we're going to do it together and it's all about planting that seed of hope.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you know, and that's really what it is. At that point, you know, do we truly know what the outcome's going to be? No, but we give them the hope to continue every day and to fight and try to stay as positive as possible. What you're doing now, in the push that you're making on the cancer alliance side of the peer support team, do you wish that something like that had been in place when you went through your process? Oh sure, yeah absolutely.

Speaker 3:

I mean, I went into a blind yeah. When nobody that I knew had ever had cancer before or had gone through any kind of treatments like that. So I'm going into the whole thing blind, not knowing what's going on. What's going to happen next?

Speaker 1:

So, you mentioned no, you mentioned.

Speaker 2:

I've been jotting down notes and things like that, and one of my notes is family support. What kind of support did your wife have during the times that you were at the hospital?

Speaker 3:

Other than family church again kind of like me not really anything there. We were fortunate enough like I've been missing before that she would come and can stay at the State Employees Credit Union House down there and do. She could stay there for free, which was a help with us. Was it more of a burden that she could actually stay there for a couple of days before she had to come back and forth?

Speaker 2:

And I think that's something that's really relevant. Moving forward with the peer support team on the cancer alliance side of things is making sure that we have that family support system set up, that we have people that can assist with the family members, because you're going through a difficult time going through your process, going through the treatment, trying to wrap your head around everything that's going on, and your family members are probably experiencing a lot of the same things and not having that help. Your wife, for example, I believe would be a perfect person to bring in and put on the family support services side where she could explain to the spouses hey, this is what our story is, this is what we went through, and we're going to be here to support you just as much as everybody else is here to support your spouse. That's absolutely critical and I went through that first hand with my mental health journey.

Speaker 2:

I've been away over two months, you know, throughout my process of things getting treatment going to different places, things like that and my wife, you know, back here at home all by herself and nobody really doing the check-ins, making sure she's okay, things like that and just having that connection of somebody there to say, hey, we're here, no matter what you need. You have any questions? You need anything? You mentioned your grass being cut. I believe, yeah, hey, do you need us to cut your grass? Do you need us to take your dog to a vet appointment? You know, no matter what it is, and that feeling that you're gonna be able to give to that individual of you're not alone, no matter what it is, no matter how difficult it is. So I truly believe that the family support services is just as important as taking care of the individual that is actually going through the process.

Speaker 3:

That's correct. You're exactly correct. It's got to be there. It takes the whole full circle right. So it's gotta take somebody who's had that experience, like I have, going through chemo, radiation, what have you and it also has to have that person like my wife, someone in the family that has been there to help, because that whole situation is got to be on the same wavelength of yes, we're gonna be there. You can't have a person in the family of this. You know gloom and dooms, oh gosh, you've got cancer. You know what are we gonna do? Da, da, da, da, da. But to get everybody on that same thought process of yep, all right, whatever we gotta do, we're gonna do it, we're gonna stick to it and make it through whatever we have to do.

Speaker 1:

And you know, one of the things that I have seen talking to you, talking to other folks in the fire service, especially here in North Carolina, that when you receive a cancer diagnosis, well, your wife essentially receives one, your family does, your department does and, to a lesser degree, your community does. Now I know you volunteered Mount Ulla, mount Morn, mount Morn, I'm sorry. So how did they react when they found, I mean, it was definitely a?

Speaker 3:

crater, wasn't it? Yeah, so I was actually at Cornelius at that time. Okay, we live in Cornelius and I was working there part of time, just about every day of my days off. They were another big support group for me. All those guys were awesome, did a whole lot of stuff for me. So that you know, between the city you know, concord Fire Department, cornelius and all those, I had a very tight support group through them.

Speaker 1:

So one diagnosis impacts 75 people.

Speaker 3:

Exactly, yeah, oh, yeah, okay.

Speaker 1:

No doubt.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it truly does. Yeah, and unfortunately, we don't necessarily see that impact or we don't think about that impact because we're so wrapped up that, oh my gosh, I just got this diagnosis, or I'm going through this potentially life changing event right now and it's me, me, me, or me and my family, and wow, look how many other people that it's affected your parents, you know. Would you mind sharing the effect that this maybe had on your parents?

Speaker 3:

Man it was. I was very, very tough on them. Yeah, that's like my they. It was really tough.

Speaker 2:

And that's enough said, brother, you don't say anything else you know it's, I know.

Speaker 3:

I know. You know they had their doubts whether I would pull through. You know not. You know I'm sure everybody did, but you know they didn't make it, make it known or whatever. You know they were going to stand behind me 110% and do whatever I need to do. But you know, just having you know your child, I've never been in that position and hope I never am that. That my own child is, you know, in hospital laying there. You know I don't-.

Speaker 2:

Fighting for their life.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I don't want to be in that position and I could not imagine what was going through their minds, cause my parents were there every day, you know.

Speaker 2:

And family family support services right there.

Speaker 3:

Yes, sir.

Speaker 2:

We could, we could have people there with your family checking on their family If we need to go, stay with your family, you know, while they're visiting you at the hospital or whatever else, letting them know that they are not going to walk this journey by themselves and to be able to advocate for that and to be able to fight for that and see the importance of it is. It's invaluable. So I commend you on what you're doing now back on the job, what you're doing with the, with the cancer alliance, with the peer support side and, like you said earlier, we need to keep building this as much as possible. We need to keep doing things just like we're doing right now with the podcast, going to different events, going to different opportunities to speak on behalf of the importance of this stuff, and I commend you for it, brother.

Speaker 3:

Well, thank you, I like to talk, so, yeah, well, hey, you're a firefighter. Yeah, you can't come to me.

Speaker 1:

So you know, Matt, one of the things that we've been working on as a collaborative with Eric and his guys has been our RITPAC program, our Resource Information Toolkit Yep, Now we are still putting the finishing touches on it Basically a thumb drive that has resources to help folks out. So the part that kind of bothers me a little bit is the fact that nobody's asking for it and it's not because we haven't been telling people, yeah. So what do you think to the chief officer that's listening today, to the company officer, even to the firefighter that's listening, whether it be in North Carolina or California, Washington, pick your place.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah, insert state here. Yeah, exactly.

Speaker 1:

What is it important for them to understand when it comes to peer support?

Speaker 3:

So they have got to understand and I think they do. And I don't want to say cancer is new to the fire service, but in the last five years, right Probably, it has become more prevalent in the fire service or we noticed it paying more attention to it, paying more attention to it.

Speaker 1:

And the thing that bothers me and when I say this, take it for what it is cancer is cool, like if you go to any of the conferences, every bunker gear vendor, every body's got snake oil that they're wanting to sell. That bothers me, because cancer is not a sales tool. Right, you're right, people are affected by it. Sometimes I think it gets glassed over and unfortunately that's kind of where we're at in some places. But, like you said, in the last five years, more people are listening.

Speaker 3:

Right, which is great, and I'm glad that there's companies out there that are actually trying to do something for the good. But it's not a tool to make money and I understand that. But, like with this RIP pack that's coming up, every chief in the state should have one at all times. Have it there, so when one of his folks get diagnosed, they go straight to him or her and say, here, take this, go through it. It's got videos on it. You get to see my pretty face and hear me again.

Speaker 1:

You get to see Eric too. You get to see Eric too Beautiful mustache, if you haven't already seen it In all its glory.

Speaker 3:

But you'll get a lot of great information on there about information to go to the state for the cancer policies that's coming to effect here lately. Just a lot of great information to help. I haven't get a hold of how to get a hold of us Peer support.

Speaker 1:

NCFirefighterCancerorg. You go there, you'll find us. And yeah, we're not far away, but you were mentioning the Cancer Insurance Program here in North Carolina. We've been having conversations with Jackie Ireland and VFIS, who are the ones that are administering this, and they've included us in their informational thumb drives that they gave out last. Well, it would have been early this year at midwinter. Chiefs and Eric and his team with the first responders peer support network are recognized as the go-tos when it comes to dealing with the mental health aspects.

Speaker 3:

Oh yeah, they're the best.

Speaker 1:

We've been identified as the ones to help out with peer support here in the state of North Carolina and that's not a light load to bear because there's a lot of responsibility that goes for that, and you and I have taught one program.

Speaker 1:

Me and Eric have taught another program, but it all deals with. We talked about the leadership and Eric, when we taught it back at Cape Fear good response, I know you said there were people that typically don't open up started talking about how mental wellness comes in and how to have the hard conversations as a co-founder or a chief officer. And when we taught that at midwinter chiefs, it was well received. Very much, yeah, and people are willing to learn. They understand there's a need for peer support but, like you mentioned, sometimes they just don't know it's there and that's the whole thing. And, eric, what else do you think we could do? Cancer is our kind of what we focus on, but you do the whole mental health spectrum. What do you think we can do together to be able to reach out and get our message out and help people to see the resources that are available, if not just in North Carolina, but how to ask the right questions in other states?

Speaker 2:

Doing what we're doing. We keep pushing forward. We keep pushing as hard as we can on it. This is real, it's not going away. We're not going away because we have that passion for it that people need to know this information.

Speaker 2:

And getting back to the RIPPAC really quick, matt, you mentioned that everybody should have that, which I completely agree with, but they need to know the information that's in it beforehand. You know that we are really good at being reactive in helping people once they get in trouble, but what can we be doing to prevent people from getting in trouble? So, going through that RIPPAC and seeing some of the things that we have in there on procedures, on how to decontaminate we're doing the prevention side of things there. How do we maybe build a mental health resiliency program in our departments, in our organizations, so our people are mentally prepared for these calls that we're going on? They can build some resiliency and have that, that bounce back after these bad calls or maybe after a bad diagnosis, where it doesn't automatically just Wham, it's a crashing halt, you just hit a wall at a hundred miles an hour.

Speaker 2:

What do we do? You know what you mentioned during your your process, matt, of the financial end of things, the paperwork, end of things, stuff like that. You know what are you gonna do if you have somebody that needs to go out on a medical disability retirement, or we're looking to put somebody on workman's comp, or we need to file for Financial assistance through the state fireman's association, through the fireman's relief fund, things like that. These should all be Instinctive responses. Yes, I know what to do. You is the individual requesting that information Shouldn't be getting a look like deer in the headlights of oh my gosh, I don't know how to handle this particular situation. That information is all out there. You know we have some of that information in that rip pack. Go ahead, request it, we can get it to you. Learn it, have it there available. Hopefully you'll never have to use it, but you'll already be familiar with it when that situation, if and when it it ever occurs.

Speaker 1:

And you know, the other thing is, when we talk about the peer support program, it's not just hey, I got the diagnosis, I Need support. Yeah, but if you have a chief officer One of my guys has it could you talk to him? Call us? Yeah, you know, contact us. We will help with that too, because we understand cancer is not just a single person. Yeah, or deal, so yeah.

Speaker 3:

Have you chiefs. If you're out there listening, you know, and you have somebody that's diagnosed, you Contact me. You know, contact us me. Whoever Will either you know, contact you back or and try to and ask if it's okay. You know, we're just not gonna bombard this person, but talk to us, like you know, hey, we're here. If you would like to talk, I'm here. If you need me to do anything for you, I'm here, that kind of thing.

Speaker 2:

So yeah, and it go ahead.

Speaker 2:

Eric, I'm sorry, it's not like I. It's not like I Like people to to be in bad positions, bad situations, getting medical diagnosis or whatever else, but that that's why we're here and this is. This is kind of one of those things that you know the passion for the job I'm no longer on the job anymore and what I'm doing with the peer support stuff. This is my new passion and I I live for the moments where I get to have those connections with people and I know that I might be able to to help them through their journey In it a minimum. Just let them know that they're not alone. You know that we're here for you. We're gonna do whatever we can and we plant that seed again.

Speaker 3:

I Think that those are things that we need to be doing yeah, and I Love you talking with people and, but if I didn't have to talk to a single person about cancer, nobody ever had to be the best thing it wouldn't hurt your feelings, right.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, but you know I'll talk to you anyway. You know about these anything else, but but, yeah, to be there and if we can get, you know, get it out, however we can Whether be through your podcast, uh-huh website. You know chiefs, conventions. You know, whatever come, you know all the fire exposed conventions that around you. Know that we sit. You know set up at. Yeah, we're there. You know, come, come talk to us, figure out. You know what you can do.

Speaker 1:

How can we help you. Right, how can we help? And you know, the thing is not just people in North Carolina are listening to this podcast, right? If you're from another place, yeah, and you want to start a peer support program, talk to us.

Speaker 1:

Yes, sir, we can, we can help you Now absolutely now, one of the things is very unique, I think, about the peer support that we're doing with here in North Carolina. Now, matt, you know we have heads and I'm using Erica's formal training, right, you know. And how to handle peer support, how to vet people, how much do we help? Mm-hmm, I think you remember when we did that that was before we were allied up with Eric and his teams. You said to me one day what they're teaching is great, but there was days I just want to be left alone. Yeah, I didn't want anybody to call me Yep. But then there were days that I wanted to talk all day. Yeah, you'll have, you'll have both of those days. Yeah, so if you don't have people that understand the problem or have the experience, the problem, that can slow down the efforts and make sure less effective.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and then you're gonna Push those people even that farther away, mm-hmm, which we don't want to do.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, exactly so. You know, with the peer, with the, the RIT pack, we've got a lot of peer support stuff coming up. I know you're gonna be helping us out on our fire within program. I know Eric and I were writing some stuff and it safer and Raleigh coming up in August We'll be showing a little bit more of this and you know it's an exciting time to be in the fire service. We are not misled to believe that we're gonna cure cancer. We're not gonna. We're not gonna stop it. We're not that smart, right, but dog on, we can reduce exposures. When we find somebody's got it, we can talk to them. We can do the best we can to support and help. Exactly that. That's what we're here for and, like I said, you are, you are definitely a warrior in that and we appreciate it. You like your own joy ponder.

Speaker 3:

Yep Joy, if I don't mention her, she might throw something at me. She's fantastic for you Western or Carolina folks.

Speaker 1:

Oh, absolutely and we're gonna have her on the podcast one day. Maybe we get you two together. That might be kind of fun. Oh yeah, yeah, but anyway. So, eric, you know, thank you for what you're doing with us and we're gonna continue to push and help people understand the importance of getting the information. If it's not the RIT pack in your hands, you know, talk to VFIS here in North Carolina yes, sir, they'll get you over to us, or again in C firefighter cancer org. So you know, that's that's where we're at. Eric, I want you plug your way website where they can also get more info on the mental health and wellness side.

Speaker 2:

They can look us up. Oh, on the internet, at frpsnorg, and that is our, our website. We are currently changing some things, so please don't hold that against our website right now. But the easiest way to get in touch with me is through my email address, and that is info at frpsnorg.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. And for me, for Travis, is tmigaahatncfirefightercancerorg, or mattsellers at msellers at ncfirefightercancerorg. Now, before we go, two things.

Speaker 2:

Here it comes.

Speaker 1:

See.

Speaker 3:

I fooled you. I was here for the last one, so I can't wait for this one.

Speaker 1:

I'm not gonna tell you the joke yet, but you will get it in a minute. But what I was going to tell you is we do have a patreon account set up now and you know this is a bit of a call to action for firefighters. If you guys can help us out just a little bit, we don't like to beg for money. Yeah, all we want to do is keep the lights on here, keep the pirate ship floating here with the podcast. Yeah, you know, a couple dollars a month. If you can, one time donation, greatly helpful. Yes, and you know that that's all we're going to say for that. But if you go to our website you can figure out how you can donate and help us. And the great part is there are tiers on patreon and if you go to five dollars a month you can actually sponsor a dad joke. Hey, eric, did I tell you about the dream I had last night?

Speaker 2:

No, and I don't know if I want to hear it.

Speaker 1:

Oh well. I dreamed I was drowning in an ocean of orange soda. But then I woke up and realized it was just a fantasy. Wow, you can thank Brad Hunt for that.

Speaker 2:

Oh, that was Brad's. Okay, that was.

Speaker 1:

Brad, and if y'all don't know Brad, you'll get down Well.

Speaker 2:

I'll see Brad in a couple weeks down in Charleston at the Behavioral Health Summit, so I'll give him a bonk on the head for that one, oh, absolutely.

Speaker 1:

but again, matt, thank you for hanging out with us today. Thank you, matt again for all that you're doing and this is All Clear and we appreciate y'all taking time to listen. Have a great day.

Speaker 2:

Thanks guys.

Speaker 1:

You have been listening to All Clear presented by the North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance and the First Responder Peer Support Network. Please rate us on your podcasting app of choice. This show is written and produced by Travis McGahack and Erik Stevenson and recorded on Riverside FM. See you soon.

Firefighter Cancer Alliance's Peer Support Program
Peer Support in Dealing With Cancer
Collaborating on Mental Health Support