Leukemia Awareness Month: Life with Acute Myeloid Leukemia

September is Leukemia Awareness Month and Padres Pedal the Cause would like to introduce you to a featured fighter in our community. Here’s how leukemia touched one couple’s life, altering it in an instant.

Matt’s Story

Meet Matt Fontanesi. Six months after marrying his wife Dani, they left their home in Wellington, New Zealand for their honeymoon in the States. During the trans-Atlantic flights, Matt fell ill with fevers. Just days later, on what were supposed to be the first days of their honeymoon, Life-with-Acute-Myeloid-LeukemiaMatt and Dani would discover that Matt had Acute Myeloid Leukemia. They were thousands of miles from home and terrified. Because Acute Myeloid Leukemia is an aggressive form of blood cancer, Matt required intensive treatment right away. Two days after his diagnosis, Matt began high-dosage chemotherapy to treat his blood, which was 90% cancerous. It took months for Matt to be stable enough to leave Idaho for a major cancer center.

When he could be transported, he was put on a medical flight to Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health where, in November 2015, he received the high-risk bone marrow transplant he needed to save his life. The procedure requires highly toxic intravenous chemotherapy, which kills all the blood cells, requiring constant blood and platelet transfusions before they transplant new bone marrow with a stem cell infusion. Following the transplant, Matt and Dani spent a year living in hospitals or isolation as Matt fought for his life. Dani cared for him full time, which meant she couldn’t work, creating a heavy financial strain as the $10,000 per day hospital bills piled up. Thankfully, with the help of a GoFundMe page, their story went viral and within one week, family, friends, and strangers pulled together enough funds for Matt and Dani to survive the year.

In the three years since that terrifying diagnosis, Matt and Dani’s life has changed forever. They never returned home to New Zealand. Dani learned to administer medication and other medical necessities from home while they lived in isolation. They still live with complicated health scares and medication reactions, but Matt is presently cancer-free and working as a Structural Engineer, while Dani has started her own law practice. Two years after Matt’s bone marrow transplant, they finally took the honeymoon they never got to enjoy.

Help Padres Pedal End Cancer

It’s been a long road for Matt and Dani, but they know they couldn’t have made it without the incredible care Matt received at UCSD, the latest cancer technologies, and the support they received from loved ones and strangers alike. Every dollar raised through Padres Pedal the Cause funds vital cancer research that could one-day end cancer like Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Cancer has a lasting impact on every life it touches, but with your help, we can fund life-saving cancer research projects to help create a world without cancer. Join Padres Pedal today.

When you join Padres Pedal, you’re joining cancer survivors like Matt in the fight against cancer. We asked Matt a little bit about why he has chosen to join Padres Pedal as a featured fighter this year. Here’s what he had to say and why he feels Padres Pedal is making great strides in funding vital research projects to help end cancer while raising awareness, too.

  • Why is important to you to spread awareness about cancers like Leukemia?

In 2015 I was living in New Zealand with my wife. We got married in February of that year on a little island off the coast of Auckland in a vineyard surrounded by friends and family. Life was perfect. We waited 6 months to do our honeymoon in the US with a plan of visiting all those same friends and family on their home turf. During the Southern Hemisphere winter, I picked up a cold that lingered for several weeks. When we finally got to the US on our honeymoon I climbed in bed for 3 days and slept before going to a small town emergency room. Blood tests revealed I was very sick and I was admitted to the hospital. Two days later I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia—as a previously healthy and active 33-year-old. We received incredible support from around the world as our story went viral (“Cancer Diagnosis on Honeymoon!”). That was a great reminder of the caring nature of people everywhere and how we’re all connected. And my diagnosis and treatments were made possible because of decades of development of diagnostic techniques, drugs, and immunotherapies in the cancer community. My goal is not to raise awareness of leukemia and blood cancers, but to raise awareness of the huge leaps the community has made in fighting back against this disease. 

  • Did you personally benefit from the cancer research done at Pedal’s beneficiary institutions?

Although I was initially diagnosed and treated at a small town hospital in upstate Idaho, they quickly realized my case was too complicated for their facilities. I got a medical flight to UCSD’s Moores Cancer Center where I was able to get an allogeneic stem cell transplant. This is a wild procedure where my doctors gave me chemotherapy to kill my faulty bone marrow forever and then replaced it with stem cells from my sister’s blood. Treatments like this are the result of tens of millions of dollars of research and trials, but that work was done years ago. Padres Pedal the Cause has been instrumental in funding the next wave of sophisticated and targeted immunotherapy procedures, which aim to improve recovery times and minimize complications. As the beneficiary of so many years of philanthropy and research, I have a responsibility to pay it forward to the next generation of cancer patients. The money we raise will hopefully restore the lives of thousands of people—not just in the blood cancer community but the wider cancer community.  

  • When did you first become involved with Pedal the Cause and why is it important to you?

This is my first year participating with Padres Pedal the Cause. I met Bill Koman last year and was so impressed with his story and his mission, and knew that I had to be a part of this movement. Joining me on the course will be several fellow blood cancer survivors and some of my doctors and nurses from Moores Cancer Center. 





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