Editor’s note: After reading “As children, they survived cancer. They faced the fallout as adults” in The Inquirer, Jennifer Lowman, of Glenside wrote to reporter Marie McCullough to share her own family’s experience and gave us permission to publish her story.
My husband, Matthew Anzideo, survived testicular cancer that was diagnosed when he was 17 years old, three weeks shy of his 18th birthday and one week before he was supposed to start his freshman year at St. Joseph’s University.
He was given six months to live, at most, but after several surgeries and a year’s worth of experimental chemotherapy, the cancer disappeared from his body.
We met when Matt was 25 and I was 23 years old. My best friend set us up on a blind date, encouraging me to meet this handsome and smart man who was even better at Jeopardy than I was (her words). We were married two years later. Seven years after that, our first child was born, and our second child arrived 21 months later. We required no medical intervention to have our children, which was miraculous, given Matt’s medical history.
We had a wonderful life. A healthy daughter and son, a lovely little house in the suburbs (complete with a white picket fence), and a trusting, supportive marriage. The one thing that I could not do, however, was persuade Matt to have regular physical exams. He just wouldn’t do it.
He wanted nothing to do with doctors or the health-care system. The amount of psychic pain associated with seeing a physician was too much for him to bear. He wouldn’t even go see a dentist for a teeth cleaning.
But I didn’t want to nag him. He was an intelligent, competent adult. He could make his own decisions, I figured. And his health was remarkably good. He rarely got sick. I couldn’t recall him ever missing a day of work for an illness.
He did start having some minor back pain off and on, but we didn’t think much of it. We were in our early 40s, and we were both starting to get random aches and pains. We replaced our mattress, and Matt did go to the doctor and started receiving physical therapy. When the pain in his lower back increased after four months of PT, the nurse practitioner at his internist’s office decided to send him for an X-ray.
I’ll never forget when she called me with the results of the X-ray. She was choked up. The X-ray revealed that a mass the size of a basketball had grown in Matt’s abdomen. It was pressing into his spine and causing the back pain. He ultimately was diagnosed with something called a teratoma with malignant transformation. This highly unusual cancer was related to his testicular cancer.
Matt received chemotherapy that would typically be used to treat colon cancer. He also went through many rounds of radiation and several surgeries, including an unsuccessful attempt to remove the mass. Eventually, the cancer in the mass metastasized to several other parts of his body, including his lungs, his right femur, his left pelvic bone, and his left shoulder. He endured more pain than you could imagine. He slept in a recliner for the last year of his life because he couldn’t get comfortable in a regular bed or a hospital bed.
Matt died on Aug. 11, 2017. He passed away three weeks before our 20th wedding anniversary and four weeks before his 48th birthday.
He was the bravest, strongest, and most loyal person I have ever met. I just wish he would have received some kind of continuing medical care after he had been declared cancer-free two decades ago. I should have insisted that he see a doctor at least once every year. He really could have used professional support to help him deal with the psychological effects of having cancer as a teenager. I don’t know whether any of these things would have prevented the abdominal tumor from developing, but at least he would have had some support systems in place prior to his diagnosis as an adult.
I do hope that Penn, CHOP, and other cancer treatment centers can continue to work on this issue of how best to support childhood cancer survivors. No one should have to endure cancer twice.