Hospital News

‘Everything made perfect sense’


The care Matt Scarpelli received at UPMC Western Maryland’s Schwab Family Cancer Center eased his mind in a scary time

Last November, just a few months after turning 35, Matt Scarpelli of Cumberland was already in the middle of some major changes when he was thrown the biggest curveball of his life.

“I decided I was going to make some changes to live healthier,” Matt said. “I was at the point everyone gets to in their mid-30s – where eating better and staying in at night begin to make a lot more sense. While going through this process, I also started to be more mindful of my body. I began noticing a dull pain on my left side and assumed I was having kidney stones.”

During his next checkup with his nurse practitioner, tests found no stones, so a CAT scan was scheduled, and the results showed a 9-centimeter mass above his left kidney. Early indications of cancer were confirmed after a biopsy at UPMC Western Maryland revealed a very treatable, but rare, germ cell tumor.

Under the expert direction of Dr. Blanche Mavromatis, Medical Oncologist at the Schwab Family Cancer Center, Matt began a nine-week treatment program just after the new year. While the news hit him hard, the urgency and meticulous nature of his treatment process stayed at the front of his mind while so many changes were taking place in his body.

“There wasn’t a cut-and-dry ‘you have cancer’ moment for me,” Matt said. “It was a series of escalating results. It was shocking news for me, of course, but it was all presented in such a logical way. Stages of my treatment were explained to me as being integral to one another, so each step of the way was less of a big deal for me because I was prepared for it. I was happy to do whatever I needed to in order to follow the plan.”

That plan was scheduled to play out in the form of three rounds of chemotherapy – five days in a row from early morning until mid-afternoon, two days off; another treatment, six days off; another treatment, six days off and then finally another treatment. The same cycle then restarted and was carried out two more times.

During those nine weeks, Matt said UPMC Western Maryland went above and beyond to keep his finger on the pulse of his treatment. “I was well prepped on what to expect,” he said. “I was given a tour of the Cancer Center. I knew what sort of symptoms I would have and at what point I needed to seek extra help. I knew what food to eat and how to prepare for my treatments. I felt so comfortable that I was okay with turning myself over to [UPMC Western Maryland] entirely. Everything just made perfect sense. There was no questioning of ‘why is this happening’ or ‘why is this going on’.”

After his chemotherapy concluded, a long five-week window was needed before a PET scan could determine what, if any, additional treatment would be needed. Thankfully, at his checkup, the much-anticipated good news was delivered. “The PET scan showed the tumor reacted as planned,” Matt said. “It had shrunk to non-existence. It was completely gone.”

Now, a few weeks since that massive burden was lifted, Matt’s day-to-day activities are back to normal. His checkups, which are monthly, will scale back over time. If you ask him, his experience with cancer was just another catalyst for him to continue to improve himself. “I’m now the healthiest I’ve ever been. I’m in a great relationship with a great girl, and I’m back to working full time. I’ve been assured that I can live my life unrestricted as if cancer never happened.”

When he looks back on his experience, the care he received at UPMC Western Maryland will always be something that Matt applauds and recommends to others with the same need. “They treated me very, very well,” he said. “Everything was lined up for me. They were always prepared for me. Any appointments that were needed were handled for me. A lot of things changed, too, due to my health, and they adjusted everything for me.”

The trauma of the news and the fear of the unknown were also greatly reduced due to being able to remain in Matt’s hometown. “Cancer is obviously really scary,” he said. “There’s no getting around that. It really benefitted me to stay here for treatment at [UPMC Western Maryland]. I could be around my family and friends. Travel wasn’t anything I needed to worry about and, looking back, I know I would not have traveled well due to my symptoms. Here, I was able to go home after each step. I was able to take better care of myself.”

As he continues to treasure the perspective he has gained through his illness and subsequent treatment at UPMC Western Maryland, Matt clearly has a new lease on life. “A huge thing for me has been the distance I’ve made between myself and little nagging, nitpicking issues I used to obsess over. All that weight has been lifted. It’s all gone now. I don’t dwell on the past, and I look forward to the future. I’ve learned that you never know what life is going to give to you, but if you keep the faith and stay positive, it’s going to be great.”