Newlywed dies of rare blood vessel cancer 3 weeks after he started noticing symptoms
- Matthew Robertson died less than a year after his wedding and before he could meet his first child.
- He had epithelioid angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive
cancerthat affects the blood vessels.
Matthew Robertson was "so, so excited to be a dad," especially to a baby 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 started to feel tired all the time, but the couple chalked it up to travel and baby prep, she said.
But his fatigue worsened, his back ached, and at an annual doctor's appointment in May, his 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 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 just a couple of weeks.
"I feel sad that she won't get to have her dad the way that she deserves," Gracie, 29, told People. "I'm sad that he doesn't get to be the girl dad that he was so excited about being. 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."
He died weeks after his first ER visit
At his annual physical, Robertson's white blood cell count and liver enzymes were higher than normal. The doctor "didn't think too much into it," Gracie said, but a second blood draw showed even higher levels that could indicate infection or inflammation.
The doctor said, "If you start having a fever or if you start feeling sick, go to the emergency room," Gracie recalled.
Days later, Matthew felt more tired than ever and had started sweating through his sheets at night. He asked his wife to take him to the ER, where doctors ordered a CAT scan and an abdominal ultrasound.
They found lesions on his liver, spleen, and back that appeared to be cancerous. Further testing ruled out the possibility of pancreatic cancer, so the medical team took a liver biopsy to learn more.
In the meantime, Matthew got 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.
While they were able to manage his condition with dialysis, the doctors still didn't know what kind of cancer he had.
"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."
An 'extraordinarily rare' cancer
Doctors diagnosed Robertson with a cancer called epithelioid angiosarcoma. Angiosarcomas typically occur around the blood vessels, most often in the skin on the head and neck, according to Mayo Clinic.
The odds of getting diagnosed with angiosarcoma are literally one in a million in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute. The epithelioid variety, which originates in deep tissue such as the liver, accounts for a small subset of those cases.
Epithelioid angiosarcoma is "extraordinarily rare" and can be "highly aggressive," Dr. Charles A. Forscher, medical director of Cedars Sinai Los Angeles' Sarcoma Program, told People. Forscher did not treat Robertson, but he said the benefits of treatment with chemotherapy tend to be short-lived. Because the cancer is so aggressive, the prognosis depends on how much the cancer has spread and whether it has reached the essential organs.
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 of breathing support. At that point, his liver was "more tumor than liver," his wife said.
"I was in bed laying with him as he took his last breath," she told People. "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."
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