Cynthia Kimball Humphreys
HARRISVILLE, Weber County — "Is your music an iTunes download?" "Will you sign my backpack?" "You're amazing!"
Students at Harrisville's Orion Junior High School first gave a guest performer a standing ovation during a recent assembly, then swarmed him afterward.
No, it wasn't an "American Idol" contestant but someone even better.
Matt Pond, 38, learned he had brain cancer in May of 2006. He remembers thinking, "Cancer? You don't understand. … I'm going to school, have a family, I'm working and I don't have time for cancer. Maybe in 30 years or so I'll be ready for it, but right now, I don't have time for this."
Almost three years and three surgeries later, after enduring rigorous chemotherapy and radiation regimes, losing his motor skills and reasoning (he had to learn to walk, talk, write and drive again) the vision in his right eye (which he's since regained), and going through a divorce, Pond is still grateful for his cancer.
He gives back by performing his "If I Only Had a Brain" show at school assemblies, youth conferences and firesides in Utah and Idaho and by serving on the Huntsman Cancer Institute's Patient Education Steering Committee in Salt Lake City. His message is relayed through a combination of storytelling, singing, guitar playing, pictures, jokes and humor.
"This is life and we're going to have good and bad days, but regardless, be the very best you can and do the very best you can," he tells students and anyone else who will listen.
Pond, the second youngest of 14 children, was raised in Idaho Falls, and is from a tightly knit musical family. He and his siblings performed in Michael McLean's Forgotten Carols. His oldest brother, Ron, died in 1992 at age 42 from bone cancer three months after being diagnosed. He left a wife and six children. (His youngest was just 5 months old.)
Fourteen years later, it was Matt Pond's turn to battle cancer.
Pond was your typical father of three, a master woodworker who likes to play basketball, write songs and perform in music theater — that is until he started having to sit down for a couple of minutes here and there and after discovering that big words would come to his mind, but weren't coming out of his mouth.
"I was like, 'Man, what is this?' "
Simply thinking he was overworking himself, Pond continued attending night classes at Boise State to finish his degree, putting down wood floors and jumping on the trampoline with his boys.
But when symptoms — lightheadedness, forgetting things, having to take breaks and sit down all of the time, wanting to voice thoughts that were coming to mind but not being able to and not being able to breathe — began occurring daily, Pond knew there was something seriously wrong.
"It scared me like crazy."
After two surgeries, Pond's doctors told him to kiss his kids goodbye; there was nothing more they could do.
Hearing that, Pond said, "If this is what the Lord has in store from me, I'll do it, but I still prayed like crazy."
If being diagnosed with brain cancer and told he was going to die wasn't enough, Pond said his wife kicked him out of their house and they have since divorced. He began preparing for his funeral services, but his large family wasn't quite ready to hear the fat lady sing.
Wanting a second opinion before they closed another music box, younger brother Mark Pond and other siblings took Matt to the Huntsman Cancer Institute where he met with neuro-oncologist Dr. Michael Glantz, who after looking at Pond's films said, "We can fix this."
"We just bawled," Pond said. "Going from 'kiss your kids goodbye' to 'we can fix this' was truly a miracle and news that was indeed welcomed."
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