He was extremely excited to be a father and made many plans for his growing family when he found out his wife is pregnant with their first child.
A young New York man passed away just three weeks after visiting the emergency room to find out that he had an extremely rare form of cancer called epithelioid angiosarcoma. The condition, which affects the blood vessels, took no time in claiming Matthew Robertson's life at the age of 30 on June 6, 2022—just five weeks before his first child was due to be born.
He is remembered by his wife Grazielle 'Gracie' Robertson, who shared that the couple found out they were pregnant shortly after getting married in September 2021. "The second I got the positive test, Matthew was out there looking at little baby shoes and baby clothes," Gracie told PEOPLE. "He was so, so excited to be a dad." However, as they waited fervently for their baby girl, Robertson started feeling tired all the time and complained that his back was hurting.
Dad-to-Be Dies of 'Extraordinarily Rare' Cancer 3 Weeks After First ER Visit https://t.co/kkKH62mdBT— People (@people) June 22, 2022
Gracie explained that Robertson's symptoms were pretty explicable based on his schedule at the time. "We would go on trips, and he was building things for the baby," she said. "So of course, you're going to be tired, and of course, your back's going to hurt." They never expected it to be epithelioid angiosarcoma or that it would lead to Robertson's death just three weeks after his first ER visit.
A horrible epithelioid angiosarcoma arising in the thorax. The keratin staining can send us down the garden path... pic.twitter.com/QqSbfsfv5r— Elizabeth Montgomery, MD (@LizMontgomeryMD) February 22, 2022
"I feel sad that she won't get to have her dad the way that she deserves. I'm sad that he doesn't get to be the girl dad that he was so excited about being," 29-year-old Gracie said of their unborn child. "I know she'll bring so much joy and happiness into our family during this time of heartache, but it's bittersweet because he should be here."
By sharing their family's tragic story, Gracie hopes to raise awareness about this rare form of cancer and emphasize how important it is to go for annual physicals. It was during one such annual physical that Robertson found out he had an elevated liver enzyme and an elevated white blood cell count. "His doctor said, 'It's probably nothing, but let's get the blood work redrawn," the soon-to-be-mom shared.
The results from the redraw showed even higher counts for his liver enzymes and white blood cells. But his doctor still wasn't too concerned. "He said, 'If you start having a fever or if you start feeling sick, go to the emergency room," Gracie shared.
We lost my incredible brother-in-law this week to the evil epithelioid angiosarcoma, a highly aggressive and rare cancer targeting his blood vessels. My older sister is due with their baby in 5 weeks. We are so grateful for all of your prayers. https://t.co/MgmSmvkgtO— Angela (@fearlessange) June 9, 2022
Soon after, Robertson started having night sweats and feeling even more tired. One morning, Gracie recalled, he woke up and told her: "I think I should just go to the ER." Upon going to the ER, he was asked to get a CAT scan and an abdominal scan which found lesions on his liver, spleen and back. "The doctors were like, 'We think it's cancer, and you need to do something about this,'" Gracie said. Since Robertson's doctors suspected there may be lesions on his pancreas too, they sent him to a pancreatic cancer specialist. After a blood marker test, the specialist ruled out pancreatic cancer and thought he might have lymphoma. She recommended a liver biopsy, which they got done the next day.
Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma on #FNA. Large cells with abundant cytoplasm, prominent nucleoli, and subtle vasoformative features: intracytoplasmic lumen and acinar-like structure formation. These are also seen in epithelioid angiosarcoma. #cytopath #cytology pic.twitter.com/W1MsPk2Iuc— Chris VandenBussche (@cjvand) March 19, 2020
However, Robertson's condition kept getting worse. "He couldn't sleep, he couldn't eat and he felt super bloated," Gracie shared. "He couldn't do anything." In an attempt to cheer him up, she decided to find out the sex of theit baby. "He was getting really depressed, so I said, 'You know what? Let's just have some good news just us, and we'll find out the gender of the baby,'" she recalled. "We found out on our own, just us two, about our little girl. He was so excited because the whole time anybody would ask, he would say, '60 percent I want a girl, 40 percent I want a boy.' But he would tell me secretly that he really, really wanted a girl. He was so excited about being a girl dad."
Dad-to-Be Matthew Robertson, 30, Dies of "Extraordinarily Rare" Cancer 3 Weeks After First ER Visit...— Dr. James E. Olsson (@DrJamesOlsson) June 22, 2022
- Epithelioid angiosarcoma...
- A rare cancer affecting the blood vessels...
- Elevated liver enzymes and an elevated white blood cell count...
- People pic.twitter.com/GvLumbjnca
Despite their joy, Robertson's condition continued to deteriorate. On May 31, he had to be taken to the ER because he wasn’t consuming any solids or liquids. Gracie explained: "When we got there, he was immediately rushed into the ICU for acute renal failure. They put him on a round of hemodialysis, which is just three or four hours of just heavy-duty dialysis. Then they switched him to CRT dialysis, which is a continuous and slower method of dialysis."
His condition was in a constant state of flux as doctors waited for the liver biopsy report. "He would get better and then get worse—it was really a rollercoaster," Gracie said. "Doctors didn't even think he was going to make it through that first night. But he did, and he fought so hard." Even when Robertson was intubated, the couple didn't lose hope. "The doctors were taking every extreme life-saving measure they could—they even shocked him four times because of his blood pressure dropping—but they said his liver had become more tumor than liver," Gracie shared. "His body was just being beaten up."
His liver biopsy results finally revealed that he had epithelioid angiosarcoma, which often occurs in the deep tissue region. "Sarcoma means fleshy growth, and angio means blood vessels," explained Dr. Charles A. Forscher, MD, medical director of Cedars Sinai Los Angeles' Sarcoma Program. "So an angiosarcoma is a malignant tumor, or cancer, that's trying to be a blood vessel, but it's malignant, so it's not doing it right."
Dad-to-Be Dies of 'Extraordinarily Rare' Cancer 3 Weeks After First ER Visit pic.twitter.com/aJMp6N2oZA— People (@people) June 22, 2022
These forms of cancer can start in the liver, spleen, heart, breasts and bone and often "occur without a predisposing entity," said Dr. Forscher, adding that it is extremely difficult to diagnose. "Sarcomas make up one percent of tumors in people," he said. "There are about 15,000 soft tissue sarcomas a year in the United States, and angiosarcomas are maybe around two or three percent of that." While there are chemotherapy drugs that have been utilized to treat angiosarcomas, according to Dr. Forscher, the benefits tend to be "short-lived."
Gracie was right by her husband's side as he passed away. "I was in bed laying with him as he took his last breath," she said. "I said, 'Thank you so much for fighting so hard. All the doctors are so impressed with you. You put up a hell of a fight. You can relax now.' I hope that comforted him." Gracie's family has a GoFundMe to help support her and her child.