- Matthew Robertson died less than a year after their wedding and before they could meet their first child.
- He had epithelioid angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that affects the blood vessels.
- His wife is due to give birth to a girl soon, and he hopes to spread the word about cancer screenings.
Matthew Robertson was “so, so excited to be a father,” especially to a girl, his wife Gracie told People.
The New York couple found out 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 began to feel tired all the time, but the couple put it down to travel and preparing for the baby, she said.
But her fatigue worsened, her back ached, and at an annual doctor’s appointment in May, her blood work showed signs of illness. Less than a month later, the 30-year-old newlywed was dead.
Roberston had epithelioid angiosarcoma, a rare cancer that affects blood vessels. He died three weeks after his first visit to the emergency room, where doctors found injuries to his liver, spleen and back.
His wife is due to have their baby in just a couple of weeks.
“It makes me sad that she can’t get her father the way she deserves,” Gracie, 29, told People. “It saddens me that he won’t get to be the daddy girl he was so excited to be. I know he will bring so much joy and happiness to our family during this time of grief, but it’s bittersweet that he should be here.”
He died weeks after his first visit to the emergency room.
At his annual physical, Robertson’s white blood cell count and liver enzymes were higher than normal. The doctor “didn’t think much of it,” Gracie said, but a second blood draw showed even higher levels that could indicate infection or inflammation.
The doctor said, “If you start to get a fever or if you start to feel sick, go to the emergency room,” Gracie recalled.
Days later, Matthew felt more tired than ever and had begun to sweat through the 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 his liver, spleen and back that appeared to be cancerous. Additional tests ruled out the possibility of pancreatic cancer, so the medical team took a liver biopsy to find out more.
Meanwhile, Matthew took a turn for the worse. He couldn’t sleep; he felt swollen 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 control her condition with dialysis, doctors still did not know what type of cancer she had.
“It would get better and then it would get worse, it was really a roller coaster ride,” Gracie said. “The doctors didn’t even think he was going to survive that first night. But he did, and he fought very hard.”
An ‘extraordinarily rare’ cancer
Doctors diagnosed Robertson with a cancer called epithelioid angiosarcoma. Angiosarcomas typically occur around blood vessels, most often in the skin of the head and neck, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The odds of being diagnosed with angiosarcoma are literally one in a million in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute. The epithelioid variety, which originates from deep tissues such as the liver, represents a small subset of those cases.
Epithelioid angiosarcoma is “extraordinarily rare” and can be “highly aggressive,” Dr. Charles A. Forscher, medical director of the Sarcoma Program at Cedars Sinai Los Angeles, told People. Forscher did not treat Robertson, but said the prognosis for similar cases is not good.
After taking extreme life-saving measures, including shocking his heart four times and putting him on a ventilator, doctors recommended that Matthew be taken off respiratory support. At the time, his liver was “more tumor than liver,” his wife said.
“I was in bed lying with him when he took his last breath,” she told People. “I told him, ‘Thank you very much for fighting so hard. All the doctors are very impressed with you. You put up a great fight. You can relax now.'” I hope that comforted you.”