Newlywed dies of rare blood vessel cancer 3 weeks after he started noticing symptoms
Matthew Robertson died less than a year after his marriage and before he could meet his first child.
He had epitheloid angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that affects the blood vessels.
His wife is due to give birth to a baby girl soon, and she hopes to spread the word about cancer screening.
Matthew Robertson was "so, so excited to be a dad," especially for a little girl, his wife Gracie told People.
The New York couple learned they were pregnant with their first child shortly after their wedding in September 2021, Graziella "Gracie" Robertson told the magazine. Amid the excitement, her husband felt tired all the time, but the couple attributed it to the trip and preparing for the baby, she said.
But his fatigue worsened, his back ached and at an annual doctor's visit in May his blood work showed signs of illness. Less than a month later, the 30-year-old newlywed was dead.
Roberston had epitheloid angiosarcoma, a rare cancer that affects the blood vessels. He died three weeks after his first visit to the emergency room, where doctors found lesions on his liver, spleen and back.
His wife is due to have their baby in a few weeks.
"I'm sad that she won't have her father the way she deserves," Gracie, 29, told People. "I'm sad that he can't be the girl dad he was looking forward to. I know she will bring so much joy and happiness to our family at this time of heartbreak, but it's bittersweet because he should be here."
He died weeks after his first visit to the emergency room
At his annual check-up, Robertson's WBC count and liver enzymes were higher than normal. The doctor "didn't think too much about it," Gracie said, but a second blood draw showed even higher levels that could indicate infection or inflammation.
The doctor said, "If you get a fever or feel sick, go to the emergency room," Gracie recalled.
Days later, Matthew felt more tired than ever and began sweating through his sheets at night. He asked his wife to take him to the emergency room, where doctors ordered a CT scan and an abdominal ultrasound.
They found lesions on the liver, spleen, and back that appeared to be cancerous. Further testing ruled out the possibility of pancreatic cancer, so the medical team performed a liver biopsy to learn more.
Meanwhile, Matthew got worse and worse. He couldn't sleep; He felt bloated and weak and soon stopped eating and drinking. On May 31, Gracie took him back to the hospital, where he was treated for acute kidney failure.
Although they were able to treat his condition with dialysis, doctors still didn't know what type of cancer he had.
"He would get better and then worse — it was really a roller coaster ride," Gracie said. "The doctors didn't even think he would make it through that first night. But he made it and he fought so hard.”
An "extraordinarily rare" cancer
Doctors diagnosed Robertson with a cancer called epitheloid angiosarcoma. Angiosarcomas typically appear around blood vessels, most commonly in the skin of the head and neck, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The chance of being diagnosed with angiosarcoma is literally one in a million, according to the National Cancer Institute in the United States. The epithelioid variant, which originates in deep tissues such as the liver, accounts for a small subset of these cases.
Epithelioid angiosarcoma is "extraordinarily rare" and can be "very aggressive," said Dr. Charles A. researcher, medical director of Cedars Sinai Los Angeles' sarcoma program, to People. Researchers didn't treat Robertson, but he said the benefits of treatment with chemotherapy tended to be short-lived. Because the cancer is so aggressive, the prognosis depends on how far the cancer has spread and whether it has reached vital organs.
After he resorted to extreme life-saving measures - including four heart shocks and a ventilator - doctors recommended Matthew be taken off breathing support. By this point, his liver was "more tumor than liver," his wife said.
"I was in bed with him when he took his last breath," she told People. "I said, 'Thank you for fighting so hard. All the doctors are so impressed with you. I hope that comforted him."
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