Just before Christmas 2015, Queensland Conservatorium opera graduate Matt Hirst was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer and told he had just three months to live.
One year on he is getting ready to celebrate his 30th birthday and his album to raise funds for brain cancer research has climbed to number four on the iTunes charts.
All of the proceeds from Matt’s album, “Mighty Steps”, go to the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring attention to this disease and shine a spotlight on the great work of the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation,” he said.
“Brain cancer kills more children than any other disease in Australia and more adults under 40 than any other cancer.
“The five-year survival for brain cancer stands at just 20 per cent and those figures have not improved in 30 years. But despite this, brain cancer receives less than five per cent of federal government cancer funding.”
After graduating from the Queensland Conservatorium in 2015, Matt had a promising opera career ahead of him. The talented baritone secured principal roles with Opera Queensland and had begun touring internationally.
But after noticing that his memory was deteriorating, he had a series of tests that revealed a large tumour on the left side of his brain.
A gruelling round of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation followed.
“It was tough, but you just have to pick yourself up and make the most of things,” he said.
The album started out as a keepsake for his family, but Matt soon realised he could use his music to raise money for a good cause.
“Mighty Steps” was recorded with Australian jazz pianist Tony Gould, and features a selection of Matt’s favourite jazz standards.
“All of these songs mean something to someone and they are really incredible to sing,” he said.
“I wanted to have a bit of fun and produce something that was accessible.
“I’ve always been interested in jazz, and it was an incredible opportunity to work with Tony.”
The album was recorded over several weeks to give Matt time to rest and recover.
“The recording sessions took a lot out of me and it did take me time to recover,” he said.
“But music helps me pick myself up and it’s a good distraction.
“I like to keep busy and avoid sitting around dwelling on things.
After Matt was interviewed by The 7:30pm Report and The Project, the album climbed to number 4 on the Australian iTunes chart.
“I’ve been exceptionally surprised by the response – the album has been so well received,” he said.
This month, Matt celebrates his 30th birthday – a milestone that has given him something to aim for during the tough times.
“My focus is on spending time with family and friends and planning my 30th birthday. It’s a milestone in itself, but for me it’s even more meaningful.
“I just take things one day at a time.
“Something like this gives you a different perspective – you appreciate the little things.”
To help Matt raise money for brain cancer research, download the album and use the hashtag #HirstFirst to support the album on social media.
All funds raised go direct to Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.
Watch Matt’s interview on Channel Ten’s The Project