Matt Fahey is no stranger to intense challenges, risk, and life-threatening situations. As a producer and camera operator for Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch, he's battled many storms and has willingly gone back for more.
We talked with Fahey about how he ended up in film production, why he pursued getting on Deadliest Catch, and his biggest challenge yet -- battling Stage III B colorectal cancer or, as he candidly refers to it, ass cancer.
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Fahey says he originally wanted to be a writer, and while he ended up behind the camera, he still feels he's a storyteller.
"At some point, a friend of mine turned me on to film," says Fahey. "It wasn't like I had a realization that I want to tell stories with cameras, I just liked working with images. It wasn't until the last few years that I've been working in images and telling stories with cameras and audio that I realized, I'm doing what I always wanted to do: story-tell."
Being a river guide for 20-plus years in the Grand Canyon helped him be able to tell stories as well, and the beauty of his surroundings turned him on to the art of capturing life behind a camera.
Fahey says he bought his first camera in 1999. Since then, he's gone from the little $1,000 handycam to the $500,000 cameras he uses on his shows, and says he realizes what a long way he's come.
On the river, Fahey worked with Todd Stanley, who went on to work for Deadliest Catch, starting in its first season. Fahey says he bugged Stanley to get him on the show for years, and finally he got his wish.
"The attraction of doing an adventure, getting paid, and being creative were the three things that drew me to it," says Fahey, of wanting to join the show.
Fahey garnered much success filming Deadliest Catch, even winning an Emmy in 2012. Fahey says it was like receiving the confirmation that you know you're doing something good. Everything was going right for Fahey, until while on site in Alaska for Deadliest Catch he noticed blood in his stool. When he went to see a doctor once he got back on land, the doctor didn't tell him much else.
"The doctor's like 'you have blood in your shit,' and I'm like, 'I know, that's why I came,'" says Fahey. "Then he says, 'Yep, okay, go see another doctor,' and I'm like, Oh, all right, here's $1,000 for you to tell me something I told you when I came in.'"
Fahey scheduled an appointment with a GI surgeon and underwent a colonoscopy. On November 16 of last year, Fahey was diagnosed with anal cancer and embarked on the road to recovery. He went into surgery that same night, with the tumor and about six inches of his gut and butt getting removed, re-sectioned with "clean margins," or cancer-free areas. They also removed 10 lymph nodes from the area to test.
The results came back as Stage III B colorectal cancer, but Fahey refused to wallow. His initial response was to make a joke out of his less-than-stellar results.
"I found this guy Anthony Jeselnik, who's like a super-offensive comic, and I love his stuff," says Fahey. "He had a whole cancer bit where he interviews an oncologist asking what would he say is the most amusing cancer. The doctor replies with none, and Jeselnik says he thinks it's anal cancer. And I was like, totally it is, it's anal cancer."
Attitude has become one of the most important factors for Fahey when it comes to his approach on life. But that positive outlook would be tested, when after just his first procedure and hospital stay, Fahey's hospital bills had reached $51,000.
"I didn't have insurance when I got cancer, and I had just come back from winning an Emmy and was thinking I'm going to buy a house," says Fahey. "Then all of the sudden I was like holy shit, I'm not buying a house anymore, maybe I could buy a house to die of cancer in, I guess."
Several of his friends suggested doing a fundraiser, which turned into starting what is now his fundraising page on the site Rally.org.
Rally.org was co-founded in 2009 by Tom Serres, Brian Upton, and Jonas Lamis. Spokesman Nick Warshaw says the original vision of the company was to be an online fundraising platform for political candidates. The site transformed into Rally.org, and is used by large and small organizations, from people raising money for college to paying for brain surgery, to Fahey raising money for his cancer treatment.
Fahey was reluctant to post anything on Facebook or anywhere publicly about his fundraising, so his sister and friends helped spread the word.
"If I post something on Facebook, it's something stupid," says Fahey. "I don't post political stuff, or pictures of what I ate, or 'help me, I have cancer and I'm poor.'"
In about a week they had raised $15,000. Since its inception in early January, they've raised over $35,000 toward Matt's treatment costs, which are expected to reach over $100,000. They set a goal of raising $65,000 and are more than halfway there.
"It's absolutely both overwhelming and encouraging," says Fahey. "I feel so good all the time, because I can't believe so many people love me and want me around on the planet."
Warshaw says there are a few reasons why people took to Fahey's cause -- his infectious personality being one of them.
"Fahey isn't letting cancer get him down. He's laughing at it and using it to make himself feel better," says Warshaw. "I think people are really responding to this approach, even people he's never met. "
Fahey has had donors from 34 states and counting, as well as in seven countries, including Australia, Canada, and Germany.
"For my health, my mental health, for me to realize how many people love me, it's fucking incredible," says Fahey. "I want to somehow instill a momentum that can help other people get through their trials and errors with cancer -- whether it's with support, humor, or inspiration."
What are you reading?
I'm actually reading a lot of technical books on my Kindle -- I like my Kindle because I can pack a lot of books on it when I travel. I'm trying to improve my work, so I bought a bunch of books on set lighting and just lighting in general for photography, or for video or for film. Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It by Scott Kelbywhich is kind of like a photographer's book on how to light something and photoshop it, from beginning to end. I got another one on speed lighting.
What was the last book you read?
The last book I was reading before I found out I had ass cancer, I was in the middle of reading it, was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.
How do you pick your next books to read?
When I used to have more time in my 20s, the books I read would have to be, like good stuff. I read a lot of Bukowski, some of the books I enjoyed the most were Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which I've read a few times. It used to be like I'd read something like On the Road, and I'd be like who is this guy, Allen Ginsberg, and I'd get a book on them.
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What's next on your list?
Next on my list is probably The Brief Life of Oscar Wao. I should finish it.
For more information on Matt Fahey, see his website.