Palisadian Teen Cancer Survivor Seeks Donations for Competition to Help the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

By JENNIKA INGRAM | Reporter 

Sixteen-year-old Matt Fahn never questioned the outcome when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma on October 11, 2018, at the age of 14.

His story began two years ago when he woke up one morning and found it hard to breathe.

“I told him to go to school and see how he felt,” his mother, Alphabet Streets resident Jewlz Fahn, explained to the Palisadian-Post. “Later in the day, he told me when he would take a deep breath, his back hurt. He was on the junior varsity football team, so I thought he cracked a rib.”

Matt started playing tackle football for the first time in ninth grade at Palisades Charter High School. His father, Terry Fahn, played in high school at Beverly.

Matt worked hard over spring and summer, earning himself a spot on the varsity team. He was a nose guard, number 51.

“When I went to pick him up from practice at the end of the day, Matt told me he needed to go to the doctor,” Jewlz continued. They discovered Matt had a fever and an elevated heart rate.

“The doctor thought he had pneumonia and sent him for a chest X-ray,” Jewlz explained. “She put him on antibiotics, and the X-ray came back fine.”

When less than a week later, Matt still wasn’t feeling right, the doctor sent him to the ER.

“They thought he had a blood clot in his lung, so they did a CT scan and found an enlarged lymph node under his arm,” Jewlz said. “After another round of antibiotics and ultimately a biopsy later, my 14-year-old son was diagnosed with HL Stage 1A.”

“I never had any doubts that I was going to make it through,” Matt shared. “I was just focused on the future. I always thought to myself, ‘I’m in this situation, I can’t mope. I’ve just got to move through it.’”

Jewlz noted that he lost his hair—but not his spirit.

Photo courtesy of Jewlz Fahn

“HL occurs when white blood cells called B-lymphocytes become abnormal and begin growing and dividing so fast that normal cells in the immune system cannot keep up,” according to the City of Hope website.

In 2020, approximately 8,500 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with HL, the American Cancer Society reported. Of those, around 85% of those cases will be curable.

“I had to go through four rounds of chemotherapy in three months,” Matt said. His chemotherapy began on Halloween 2018 and continued through his 15th birthday, November 21. Unable to attend school, he took online classes.

A determined individual on and off the football field, Matt knew it was a matter of being positive, keeping his routine as much as possible and taking the necessary steps to overcome his illness that would give him a good chance to become healthy again—and that’s what he did.

“I didn’t want anything to be treated differently,” Matt explained. “I’d still hang out with my friends. I’d still crack jokes. I just wanted to keep a normal lifestyle, and that really helped me.”

Matt finished his chemotherapy on January 11, 2019, and was able to rejoin his classmates at Pali High in February. From there, his mission became to help others.

“Our football and Palisades community rallied and brought us three meals a day for three months straight,” Jewlz said. “They were amazing.”

Jewlz explained that she went on Twitter to post a thank you video after returning from Matt’s second round of chemo. The video went viral, with professional athletes, coaches and others sending Matt encouraging videos and messages.

Matt received inspiring personalized videos from athletes Kobe Bryant, Rob Gronkowski, Matthew Stafford, Daniel Rodriguez (former Clemson receiver and Army veteran) and Teemu Selänne.

He received tweets from Ben Roethlisberger, Steve Kerr, Leonard Williams, Josh Dobbs, Rex Chapman, Omri Caspi, Fred Lynn, Ashley Brewer and Matt Hasselback, as well as a radio interview, personalized video and tweets from Johnny Manziel of Barstool Sports.

Walking his dog, Lucky

“A hockey team in Canada sent him a signed hockey stick,” Jewlz shared. “The video was viewed over two million times, retweeted 36,000 times, had over 54,000 likes and more than one million comments.”

When Matt’s video was trending on Twitter, one of the organizations that reached out to him and offered their support was the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a nonprofit organization funding new research and helping families who can’t afford their treatments.

“When LLS first got in touch with me, I knew I wanted to participate in this,” Matt said. “I really wanted to get involved with them and give back.”

LLS has a yearly event called Students of the Year (SOY), which is a fundraising competition run by a handful of teams of high school students who compete to raise the most money.

“On January 11, Matt went into remission. On January 12, Matt spoke at an LLS event,” Jewlz said. He went on to raise $17,000 for a SOY campaign when he joined a fellow survivor’s fundraising team.

“Matt won Teammate of the Year for the most money raised by one person,” Jewlz said, adding that he was nominated to run for SOY himself. The competition aims to cure blood cancers, and every dollar raised counts as a vote.

This year, Matt’s team, “Tackling Cancer,” began a seven-week fundraising campaign on January 16.

“Matt has a big goal of $200,000—but curing cancer is a big goal and he is taking it on,” SOY Senior Manager Madeleine Hamingson said.

Jewlz shared that Matt has already procured commitments for $5,000 to $10,000 from two companies.

“I didn’t do this for everyone to say, ‘Good job,’” Matt explained. “When I was going through chemo, I would always think to myself, ‘What if I had to stay for longer? How bad would it be?’ … I saw all those little kids … Even if I was 7 years old, I would have the same mindset. I really just wanted to give back.”

Photo courtesy of Jewlz Fahn

For Matt, it’s not about celebrity or material things, it’s about doing what it takes to help other kids and people affected by this disease.

“Matt’s passion and competitive nature make him an incredible contender for the title of SOY here in Los Angeles,” Hamingson said.  “While his story is incredibly compelling, his desire to raise money to take care of others who are impacted by the disease and not make it about him is incredibly mature.”

Now that Matt’s been clear of cancer a year, he still goes for a scan every six months, but he’s also looking toward the future.

Matt plans to take the SATs, attend a good college and pursue a career related to sports: perhaps sports medicine or sports agency. He just finished his varsity season on the football team at Pali High.

“I’m trying to stay healthy for football,” he added. “I actually gained weight on chemo. I try to go outdoors and go hiking. When you don’t have something for so long—like I couldn’t go outside—you really appreciate stuff more.”

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