Matt Youmans: New Hope After Dire Diagnosis

Matt Youmans’ doctors in Arizona gave him a year to live after his cancer returned in 2009. Instead, after surgery at UC San Diego Health, Youmans ran a triathlon.

Matt Youmans

Matt Youmans was diagnosed with cancer of the appendix in 2005 and PMP in 2009.

“They gave me a death sentence,” Youmans said. “But I wasn’t ready to give up. I was not ready to accept that.”

In 2005, Youmans was diagnosed with cancer of the appendix. He had the tumor removed and received chemotherapy. He thought his battle with cancer was over. But when he started experiencing stomach pain and his abdomen became distended, he went to doctors where he was living in Arizona.

They diagnosed him with pseudomyxoma peritonei, or PMP, a buildup of mucus in the peritoneal cavity, a byproduct of cancerous cells that had blown across his peritoneal cavity like grass seeds on a lawn.

Finding hope in San Diego 

Watch a video of Youmans sharing his experiences at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center.

From his hospital bed in Arizona, his family helped him find Dr. Andrew Lowy at UC San Diego. He went straight to Moores Cancer Center from the hospital.

When he arrived, Dr. Lowy’s nurse Debbie Soldano took all his information and gave him a hug.

“People had been telling him he was going to die and I said, ‘Let’s hold off on that.’ ”

Youmans’ diagnostic laparoscopy showed extensive disease. Dr. Lowy ordered a multidisciplinary approach including chemotherapy, which reduced the size of the tumor. The doctor considered giving Youmans a procedure called HIPEC, where a chemotherapy solution is circulated through the abdomen during surgery to kill any cancer cells that are not visible. But once Lowy saw during surgery on May 13, 2010, that he could remove most, but not all, of the diseased tissue, he decided against using HIPEC.

Youmans spent five weeks in the hospital recovering and then started exercising — walking half a block at first, then, after he built up his stamina, riding his bicycle. Getting into shape made Youmans feel in control of his health. By October 2011, he completed a triathlon.

“My team helped me incorporate my everyday life into my treatment,” Youmans said.  “They helped me understand that living my life in a healthy and positive way was just as important as getting chemotherapy.” 

Considering quality of life

Dr. Lowy’s expertise with PMP allowed him to offer Youmans specialized treatments he could not have found at most health systems, Debbie explained. When evaluating Youmans' treatments, Dr. Lowy was particularly careful to balance the quality of the life he would be living against the rewards of surgery.

“It was amazing care,” Youmans said. “When I went to the appointments, they were so informative. They asked how I was doing and talked to me like a person, not a number. They gave me that calm feeling-I needed a lot of that. They settled the chaos, the feelings of fear and anxiety. I feel like I’m friends with everyone there.”

One of Youmans’ greatest assets in his fight against cancer was his positive attitude, Debbie said.

“Matt is such a great example of how important it is to have a good attitude,” Debbie said. “So often, your attitude makes all the difference. You should expect to live the best life you can. My hope is to live a long time. Why should my patients hope for anything different?”

Update: After this story and video were produced in October 2011, Matt underwent a second surgery in January 2012. In 2013 he fulfilled another item on his bucket list: playing with the Arizona Diamondbacks' Fantasy Camp during spring training. He continued to share his experiences and raise funds for families stricken with cancer through his foundation, PMP Warrior. Sadly, Matt passed away in November 2015. His family is honored that his story continues to be featured here.

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