EDITOR’S NOTE: Prior to going to press, Matthew Phelan, who is highlighted in this article, unexpectedly passed away. His mother, Pat Perrott, asked that her son’s story still be told as a tribute to his remarkable life and so that it can inspire others who are living with cancer whether as patients or caregivers. As a volunteer at City of Hope,
Pat plans to continue to share her message of hope with other parents who occupy the shoes she once wore. Today she is as committed to her crusade as the day her son received his diagnosis because she believes the legacy of her son’s life is to help others find the power of hope that helped both of them over the years.
Pat Perrott, left, with her son Matthew Phelan
Pat says neither she nor Matthew took a single day for granted, and she is thankful for the twenty years of memories she would have never had with her son had it not been for the compassion and care of the doctors, nurses and entire staff of City of Hope.
Pat requests that gifts in honor of Matthew’s memory to help others battling cancer and other diseases be sent to City of Hope.
Pat and Matthew’s Story
In 1990, Pat Perrott was confronted by the sudden and unexpected threat of cancer when her eldest son, Matthew Phelan, was diagnosed with lymphoma. However, this parent’s worst nightmare became the seed of an incredible, lifelong crusade for a mother determined to share with others the hope and healing that her family discovered at City of Hope.
It all began when Matthew was diagnosed with a very virulent cancer, often considered a childhood form of lymphoma, in the third decade of life.
When the news descended, our family was “in a state of exhaustion and under a cloud of despair,” said Pat. “In spite of some wonderful intentions, Matthew’s condition grew worse under the care of local physicians.”
Meeting with City of Hope’s Dr. Pablo Parker, Pat, Matthew and the rest of their family were very apprehensive. They had been told at other facilities that further treatment for Matthew would be to no avail, and they feared Dr. Parker would say the same. “Instead, he told us that Matthew would be accepted as a patient at City of Hope, and the search for a marrow donor would begin immediately,” said Pat. “He also truthfully prepared us for the battle ahead and told Matt, ‘We will be with you every step of the way.’”
A nationwide search for an acceptable bone marrow donor began, and a one-in-a-million match was found in a woman named Cindi in New Jersey. A City of Hope staff member flew to the East Coast and returned with a bag of bone marrow held safely in her lap.
After intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the new marrow was fed into Matthew’s veins, with the hope that it would populate his bones and produce cancer-free blood. But Matthew’s problems were not over. In the coming months as Dr. Parker and Matthew’s family waited to see if the bone marrow transfusion would succeed, Matthew was so ill that his autoimmune system could not fight back against a torrent of illnesses. Dr. Parker helped Matthew survive pneumonia, several severe infections, hepatitis and surgery to remove his gall bladder.
The Sound of Hope
Pat stayed at her son’s side as he fought the battle for his life. Late one night at the transplant unit, she left Matthew’s room to get some rest. But, filled with worry, she could not sleep. Returning to his room, she heard the beautiful sound of a woman’s voice. Seated on the edge of Matthew’s bed was his night nurse, singing to him in the most enchanting voice as she carefully held his hand.
The tension and worry were gone, replaced by an awesome sense of peace. Pat slipped away unnoticed because “my presence wasn’t needed,” she said.
“Matthew was in the care of an angel!” Over time, Matthew began to feel better; the cancer resolved. After saying goodbye to the beloved nurses who had done so much to make him well, Matthew went home.