August 7, 2019 is a date Cameron Mathison will never forget. Having dealt with five years of stomach issues and countless tests, that was the day that he finally took matters concerning his health into his own hands, with shocking results. Never for a moment did he expect the word “cancer” to enter his life, but that day it did. Mathison was no stranger to medical challenges, having endured a rare degenerative bone disease in his childhood, which set him on a path to good health. Indeed, the father of two prided himself on his healthy lifestyle, one that often made him the go-to guy regarding physical fitness and helped launch his multi-faceted career as a model, an actor (on the daytime drama All My Children ), a reporter and anchor (on Entertainment Tonight ), a leading man (in many Hallmark movies) and now his hosting duties on Hallmark Channel’s daily talk and entertainment series Home & Family. After insisting on an MRI when his doctors said he didn’t need one, Mathison learned that he had a cancerous tumor on one of his kidneys. Right from that moment, he chose to own the situation, sharing the news of his battle on social media, and with his Home & Family audience, one he considers to also be family. In this revealing exclusive interview with Steve Gidlow of MediaVillage, he takes us through his journey, explains how it has changed him and shares how grateful he is for the outpouring of support from Hallmarkies that comforted him in his time of need.
Steve Gidlow: What do you recall about August 7, the day you got the news?
Cameron Mathison: To go back even a little further, I’d just finished filming The Christmas Club for Hallmark in Winnipeg, this beautiful Christmas movie all about miracles and being mindful of the signs and indications around you and learning to pay attention to them. I'd been seeing a doctor for a long time and had probably done about 20 different tests on my stomach and blood, making diet tweaks and taking supplements to find out why my white blood cell count was so messed up and my immune system was so low. We just couldn't figure it out. Coming off this movie, the doctors were insisting I didn't need an MRI. They never said I couldn't have one, but I made it “my” call. Even the technician was wondering why I was getting it done.
I got the MRI, then hit the golf course. It was there I saw the call come in from my doctor. I immediately knew it wasn't good news, because the doctor never calls you the same day. He told me and I instantly went into shock. It just didn't feel real. It was like everything faded away and went kind of dreamlike.
Steve: Did he say, “You have cancer”?
Cameron: He said it was renal cell carcinoma, kidney cancer, and he gave me some stats. I asked what I should do. He suggested seeing an oncologist or urologist. I wasn’t sure if it was a death sentence, what the survival rates were, if the cancer was anywhere else. Being so healthy, how could this possibly be the case? I have a low sugar diet and I don't eat carbohydrates, which typically feeds tumors. I immediately called my wife and told her, then immediately consulted Dr. Google, which probably wasn't a good idea, as they don't give you great odds of pulling through.
Steve: How did you tell your children?
Cameron: I waited four days to tell my kids, and that was the hardest part of it all. I know this sounds silly, but I rehearsed it out loud. I wanted to desensitize myself to the words as I knew it would be scary enough for them, and I didn't want to be emotional and feed any fear. At that point, we did know the prognosis was optimistic, and I was not going to sugarcoat it. I knew there wouldn't be chemo or radiation and that it hadn’t spread to organs like my liver or my lymph nodes. My daughter Leila, who’s 13, cried. My 16-year-old son Lucas was quiet; he went a little pale and didn't say much. I'd found out the tumor had been there for maybe 10 years and was super slow growing.
One of my doctors said not feeding the tumor sugars and carbohydrates probably slowed its growth down and was why it hadn’t spread. It made me feel a little better because I did feel some embarrassment. Why is this super-healthy, active guy all of a sudden dealing with cancer?
Steve: Was sharing your story on social media a part of your acceptance and owning it?
Cameron: I didn't want people to have a lot of questions. Part of my decision to break the news on social media was [to inform] my Home & Family family, [co-host] Debbie [Matenopoulos, pictured below] and all the family members. We share things and talk about our successes and struggles. It would've been weird for me to continue the show and not tell the Home & Family audience because they are part of my family. By the time I released the news I’d told everyone at Home & Family, and my ET family, then put it on social media. I was blown away by the amount of support. To get 12,000 comments ... it blew my mind and felt incredible. It made me think of other people going through these types of things with a far smaller support group. I just felt so lucky.
Steve: You returned to work so soon after your surgery. Why did you feel you were ready?
Cameron: I was back within about 13 days. Going back to work that quickly was my call and probably wasn't the best one. Everyone at Home & Family was working on my wife, and my manager, to make me take more time off. I didn't take a lot of pain medication and was basically off Tylenol after the third day, though I was still in the hospital. The laparoscopic surgery helped in many ways, but they blow your diaphragm up with CO2 gas to create the space to operate, and that was painful. The nerves in my body just hurt. The scars and incisions were uncomfortable but felt somehow logical and were a pain I could relate to, like having a bad cut. Everything else was like my body didn't know what was going on and couldn’t control it. I should've probably have taken more pain medication, so the first week was slow going, but once that passed I was ready to go back to work.
Steve: How ready were you really?
Cameron: I didn't expect the fatigue that came with it all and the lack of strength. Doing a show like Home & Family is an adrenaline drain because you're on, and up, and giving it all your energy. It was my decision and everyone at Home & Family did everything in their power to keep me away. In the grand scheme of things, I did all right, but I could have used a little extra time.
Steve: Why did you choose to share the photos of your scars?
Cameron: Getting into this business, it wasn’t originally from my acting talent -- it was more that I was in good shape and I did okay as an actor. For most of my life I sort of identified with being this body guy. From my career in modeling, to the early acting days, and even my screen test for All My Children, I had my shirt off. I recalled when my wife Vanessa had her C-section for our daughter Leila. She had modeled bikinis and lingerie for 15 years, but she was so unbelievably accepting of the fact she had the scar, which didn’t heal the same way a lot of them do. The fact she never tried to hide it always impressed me. She owned it as to her it represented something beautiful. I always wondered if I could do the same thing. So, I proposed that Instagram photo to help me deal with it and to show we all have scars, some physical, some otherwise. Vanessa took the photo and it was to show how we should all love and appreciate our imperfections.
Steve: How has the experience changed your outlook on life?
Cameron: I’m much more mindful of how incredibly lucky I am to be healthy and have a healthy family. I try keep things simple. I wake up and say it’s another day, so there’s definitely that awareness. It also helped increase my compassion and my love for others who are struggling and maybe going through something.
Steve: Were you ever angry that this happened to you, especially after what you had to deal with in your childhood?
Cameron: Well, my first reaction was, “Maybe I should go back to drinking beer and eating pizza.” I kind of thought, “Screw this, I’ve been killing myself trying to eat perfectly, so why not?” So yes, I was a little angry. Having been through stuff as a kid, I felt I had the ability to be very considerate of and put myself in other people shoes in difficult situations. Going through that molded who I am as a person for sure, but to now go through something as an adult that on some level was life-threatening amped things even more. In the hospital I saw a lot of people going through what I was, and far worse. My level of compassion was only amplified, along with an appreciation for all those simple moments in life like holding my daughter’s hand on the way to school.
Steve: Did it uncover some of those painful buried memories from your childhood?
Cameron: For sure it did. I spent a lot of time in the hospital as a child going through that. For me it was easy to identify with those limitations, and on some subconscious level I identified with being the crippled kid, and it’s probably a part of the reason why I went so far the other way, trying to be the best at everything. To be in the best shape, to be the best at anything I tried. But as I got older, I realized it was okay to chill out. I’m okay with who I am, and I don’t have to keep pushing and proving myself. So it did bring up some of that, and I think that’s where some of the frustration and anger came from. Luckily, I’m in a very different place now. I’ve embraced it and learned from it, and in a sense have tried to transform it into something positive and something I can give back to others.
Steve: How are you feeling now?
Cameron: Honestly, physically I feel incredibly good. There is no pain. I'm still a little weak. I get tired quicker than I used to and I'm trying to build my strength back up, but other than that I feel great. I'm pleased to say I'm cancer-free, although I was talking to someone recently who said you usually have to wait two years before the doctor tells you that. I didn't know that. All I know is that in all the tests I've done the cancer hasn’t been indicated anywhere else in the body. The tumor was removed and my pathology report around the tumor is all clear. I go back in six months for a CT scan. So I don't know if saying I'm cancer-free is bad luck, but I think I am.
Steve: On another positive note, you also have The Christmas Club premiering November 26 on Hallmark Channel. What can you say about that?
Cameron: It’s a sweet movie also starring the amazing Elizabeth Mitchell (pictured above). I play a big-city guy who comes into town to do some deals and she’s a local dance instructor whose fallen on some hard times. It’s about paying attention to signs and possible miracles and following signs to help others. It’s a beautiful love story and a movie I’ll never forget because of my connection to observing signs, making me go see the doctor and really paying attention to things that were almost like banging me over the head, and taking care of them.
Photo of Mathison family courtesy of Vanessa Mathison.
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