When Cancer Struck Our Honeymoon

On August 21, 2015, Matt and I set off on our honeymoon!  We were full of excitement, happiness, and a feeling of adventure as we began our three-week trip across the U.S.  -- Coeur d'Alene, Washington, D.C., NYC, San Diego...

 

But we never made it past our first stop.      

 

Matt fell ill with a series of fevers, and three days into our honeymoon, he was admitted to the hospital with a dangerously low white blood cell count.  Two days later, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of blood cancer: Acute Myeloid Leukemia.  

Photo by Chrissy Walther

December 20, 2018

We’ve admittedly been a bit terrible about keeping up with blog posts lately - and by “lately”, I mean the last couple years.  This is largely because, well, life has kind of gone back to normal, and we figured, why would people care about what our “normal” lives look like now?  But recently we’ve received a few messages that snapped us into reality and reminded us that, for people going through what we went through a few year...

December 2, 2017

November 10th marked the 2-year anniversary of Matt's bone marrow transplant.  We've come a long way over these past two years!  We've had some incredible highs and some very scary lows along the way.

We filmed this update last week on Thanksgiving.  We thought it was the perfect day to reflect on how thankful we are for everything we have.  Thank you so much for all the support you've shown us over these past two years!...

March 6, 2017

One thing I've been struggling with over these past six months since our "return to normalcy" began is re-finding my identity.  Prior to Matt's diagnosis, my identity was largely wrapped up in my career.  I was a corporate attorney working for a multibillion dollar, publicly listed company, and I had all the benefits that came along with that.  I had a generous paycheck, an ocean view from my desk, and work that was challengin...

February 6, 2017

It's been awhile since we posted an update, and we know some of you have been wondering how things are going.  Things are generally going really well.  Of course there are hiccups and challenges still, but that's all part of the process.  

It's hard to believe it's been 18 months since Matt's diagnosis with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and 15 months since his bone marrow transplant.  We've come a long way in these past 18 m...

November 5, 2016

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit, Then I must remember there’ll be days like this” – Van Morrison

It’s been awhile since my last post. That wasn’t by design, just a lot of things changing and no clear lines of demarcation at the time. In hindsight, we’ve gone through some really significant milestones and are dealing with some setbacks that are unresolved. But as we turn this blog from an update on...

September 3, 2016

August 26, 2016, marked one year since Matt's diagnosis.  It's been a challenging year, filled with highs and lows, but we're so incredibly happy to be celebrating this huge milestone and putting the last year behind us.  

I've put together a look back over our last year in photos here, including an update on where we are now.  (We will get a proper blog update posted shortly.)

Thank you so much to all of you who have...

June 23, 2016

The most outward sign of cancer is baldness.  It’s not like the receding hairline baldness or the Michael Jordan-esque shaved head.  It’s different.  The hair, if any is left, is unnaturally patchy and withered; eyebrows and eyelashes are thin and barely perceptible; and the scalp is mottled and weirdly untanned as it’s likely seeing the sun for the first time in decades.  Even the untrained eye notices it. Something looks wro...

This video is an update on Matt's health on Day 181 post-bone marrow transplant, and an update on Matt's fertility and our future family plans ... plus a little surprise. :)

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March 11, 2016

Here's a look at what a typical day in post-transplant life entails ... we hope you enjoy this little video (particularly the ending)! :)

I'm still learning this whole video editing thing, so please excuse some of the sound issues...

[You can click on the icon at the bottom right corner of the screen to enlarge the video]

March 5, 2016

Last Thursday we celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary.  And we received the best gift we could have asked for...

[You can click the square icon in the bottom right corner of the video below to enlarge it.]

February 27, 2016

We've been getting a lot of questions about what happens now that we've reached the infamous "Day 100" milestone.  Do you still have to live in isolation?  What's different now?  What does "Day 100" mean?

We decided to answer some of these questions with a little video, and to give you a wee snapshot of our lives right now.  

Unfortunately we weren't able to go out to a restaurant on Day 100 as we had planned (as Matt...

February 18, 2016

 

Recovery

 

Tick-tock.  My 100-day period of isolation is coming to a close.  A lot has happened and nothing has happened.  Recovery is an incredibly personal experience.  At times I’ve felt like a monk sitting on top of a mountain, alone, receiving prayers, gifts, and well-wishes from my family and friends below.  They pile up, but at the base of the mountain far away from where I sit.

 

Our Routine

 

...

January 23, 2016

Today is day 74 of our 100-day isolation period.  Tomorrow will mark 5 months since we first walked into the emergency room in Coeur d'Alene, expecting to walk out with some antibiotics and doctor's orders to "get some rest."  

 

My, how things have changed over these past 5 months.

 

 (Above:  The day we were first admitted to the hospital.)

 

Yesterday we went to the doctor for our typical weekly visit.  Until recen...

January 3, 2016

A lot of you have been asking what happens now that the transplant is done.  Is Matt better now?  Is he recovering from surgery?  Is the cancer gone?  When can you return to "normal" life?  There are a lot of questions, so I thought I'd answer some of them here. 

 

When did Matt have the transplant?

 

Matt had his stem cell transplant (also called a bone marrow transplant or blood transplant) on 10 Novembe...

December 27, 2015

Christmas is finally over. Today is Boxing Day (which isn't celebrated in the U.S.) and Matt and I are sitting in the infusion center waiting for his blood labs to come back.  (The infusion center is a room in the cancer center, the outpatient part of the hospital, where patients come to get whatever infusions they need through an IV.)  We're surrounded by other bone marrow transplant patients, all wearing masks and hooked up...

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The Diagnosis

Matt Fontanesi

"As some of you know, I've been laid out sick in the hospital for about about a week now. This was not how I intended to start my 3 week vacation. This was a long, cold and wet Wellington winter and everyone in my office was sick for weeks..."

Hair vs. Chemo:  The Legendary Battle

Matt Fontanesi

"There was a very obvious question from the second we heard that chemo would be necessary: Is Chemo stronger than my legendary hair?  At first I lobbied to lose only back and chest hair but Dr. Bartels, my oncologist, said he wasn't sure he could promise that. A week in to Chemo, nothing. In fact I was dealing with a 2 week long beard..."

Week 3:  The Transfer to UCSD

Dani Fontanesi

"I've been meaning to get an update posted for about 3 or 4 days now, but between all the events of the last few days, it just hasn't been possible.  On Friday, September 11th, we were transferred by private plane from the regional hospital where Matt was being treated in Northern Idaho to a major cancer center in San Diego (UCSD)..."

Week 4:  Fevers and ICU

Matt Fontanesi

"As you guys saw in our previous post, we got our transfer to UCSD. This was both preferred and necessary for my continued treatment. In the cytogenetic testing of my leukemia, an abnormal variation was identified, thus upping the potential complexity of my treatment.  So we got to SD with hearts full of optimism. I was battling another persistent high fever, and a fresh team of nurses..."

Week 5:  Finally Some Reprieve

Dani Fontanesi

"I can't believe it's been over a week since my last update.  I feel like it was just days ago that I was writing my last blog post, but so much has happened in the past week.  Last Saturday night we had a major break-through.  We experienced something that we hadn't experienced in over 4 weeks:  Matt made it through the night without fevers!  There were no ice packs.  There was no frantic scramble for Tylenol IV.  There were no nurses looking terrified as his fevers soared.  There was no pit in my stomach as I watched his face swell and his body shake.  There was nothing..."

Chemo:  A Primer

Matt Fontanesi

"I've been getting a lot of questions about my chemotherapy. This was not a topic that I knew much about before this, uh, adventure.  I, like everyone else, got the majority of my medical knowledge through watching ER. For example, I used to know that 100% of medical procedures were started by one doctor shouting "10cc's of Lidocaine, STAT!", and you can give a tracheostomy with a pen, but only if you're in an elevator that's stuck between floors.  Chemo didn't come up often on the show -- probably because it's tough to resolve cancer into a 44-minute story line -- so my knowledge was limited.  I assumed it was a single drug that made you vomit frequently.  So now that I'm basically an expert in all things chemo related, here's what I've learned..."

The Transplant Process Begins

Matt Fontanesi

"D-Day is upon us.  Today we got re-admitted to the hospital to start the transplant process.  I'm a bit anxious, a bit scared, and mostly ready. Ready is a confusing word in this context, though.  It's confusing because there's nothing to do to prepare for this.  I don't have to actually do anything except be present.  In every other context in life, getting ready for something involves some sort of preparation process.  If you're getting ready for work, you shower, shave, pick out a shirt, maybe iron it if you're feeling particularly ambitious, and you're off. But here there is nothing I can do to prepare.  There's nothing to study, no decisions to be made.  All I have to do is show up, allow the drugs to be pumped into me and the blood and bone marrow to be transfused, and then wait..."

What Does the Transplant Process Entail?

Dani Fontanesi

"A lot of you have been asking what happens now that the transplant is done.  Is Matt better now?  Is he recovering from surgery?  Is the cancer gone?  When can you return to "normal" life?  There are a lot of questions, so I thought I'd answer some of them here. 'As the name suggests, bone marrow transplant (BMT) originally required placing a needle into the interior of a bone to obtain these cells. Nowadays, in more than 90 percent of cases, equivalent cells can be collected from the bloodstream.' The transplant itself is quite anticlimactic -- it's basically just like a blood transfusion..."

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