"'You put up a hell of a fight. You can relax now.' I hope that comforted him," his devastated wife said.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 24, 2022. It has since been updated.
Matthew and Graziella "Gracie" Robertson were overjoyed when they found out they were pregnant with their first child, a baby girl, just a short while after they got married in September 2021. "The second I got the positive test, Matthew was out there looking at little baby shoes and baby clothes," Gracie, a resident of New York, told PEOPLE. "He was so, so excited to be a dad." In May, when Gracie was in her third trimester, Matthew couldn't help but feel like something was wrong. He told his wife that he felt exhausted all the time and complained of back pain, but Gracie said it "was all easily explained away."
"We would go on trips, and he was building things for the baby," she shared. "So of course, you're going to be tired, and of course, your back's going to hurt." Little did they know that Matthew had epithelioid angiosarcoma, a rare cancer that affects the blood vessels. Unfortunately, on June 6, 2022, just five weeks before his baby girl was due to arrive, Matthew died. His death came just three weeks after he visited the ER for the first time. "I feel sad that she won't get to have her dad the way that she deserves," said Gracie, 29. "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."
Dad-to-Be Dies of 'Extraordinarily Rare' Cancer 3 Weeks After First ER Visit https://t.co/kkKH62mdBT— People (@people) June 22, 2022
After Matthew complained of the sickness, he went for a medical examination to find out what was wrong with him. After his physical, his blood work came back, highlighting elevated liver enzymes, along with an elevated white blood cell count. Though the counts were higher than normal, "we didn't think too much into it and neither did his doctor," said Gracie, who works in University Support Services at St. George's University. "His doctor said, 'It's probably nothing, but let's get the blood work redrawn.'"
The count came back much higher the second time around, but the doctor wasn't too concerned. "He said, 'If you start having a fever or if you start feeling sick, go to the emergency room,'" Gracie recalls. But, just days after visiting the doctor, Matthew began to experience night sweats and kept saying he was feeling more tired than ever. One morning, he woke up and said, "I think I should just go to the ER," Gracie says.
Once he got to the hospital, he was ordered to get a CAT scan and an abdominal ultrasound. The tests revealed that he had 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. He was ordered to get a biopsy, and while he waited for the results at home, Gracie decided to find out their child's gender to cheer him up. "We found out on our own, just us two, about our little girl." But his health continued to deteriorate, and he was eventually rushed to the hospital on May 31. "When we got there, he was immediately rushed into the ICU for acute renal failure," she 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
When they got the results of his liver biopsy back, he was diagnosed with epithelioid angiosarcoma. Dr. Charles A. Forscher, MD, medical director of Cedars Sinai Los Angeles' Sarcoma Program, who did not treat Robertson, says that epithelioid angiosarcoma is "extraordinarily rare."
"Sarcomas make up one percent of tumors in people," he said. Since the prognosis was bad, doctors suggested taking him off the ventilator. "I was in bed laying with him as he took his last breath," Gracie 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." But, even during some of his hardest days, he made sure to let his wife know she was loved. "I stayed by his bedside all day and every night, but one night when his mom came, she told me to go home and get some rest because I'm pregnant," she said. "She was like, 'Don't worry, I got this.' I told Matthew, 'I love you, baby. I'll be back in the morning.' Even with the tube in his mouth, he blew me a kiss."
The widow is now sharing her husband's tragic story in hopes to raise awareness about epithelioid angiosarcoma. She believes this will encourage people to not miss their annual physical exams. A GoFundMe has been set up in Gracie's name to raise funds for her and her baby.
Cover Image Source: GoFundMe