Matthew Noonan lived in Parma with his parents and three siblings until he was 11. That was when the family moved to a 21-acre farm in Ashtabula County, about 60 miles east of Cleveland. He wasn’t happy, but he managed to adjust, even caring for his own horse during his teenage years.
For 10 years, after graduating from high school 1983, Matt and his sister Heather helped care for their mother, Mary Ann, who was living with multiple sclerosis. He also worked for a couple of life insurance companies.
After Mary Ann passed away in January 1993, Matt took a management position in the compliance field and moved to San Francisco. His career had taken off, but something was missing. He returned to Cleveland in 1996 and enrolled at Cleveland State University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English. His career continued to advance. He left Cleveland again for Washington D.C., then California, then New York City.
In 2016, at age 51, Matt was diagnosed with Stage 3 prostate cancer, first detected in a PSA blood test taken during an annual physical exam. After 45 days of radiation, he was pronounced cancer free.
A couple years later, Matt started his master’s degree in legal studies at CSU. He flew back once a month until deciding to move back for good in early 2020. He enjoyed spending more time with family.
Soon, Matt started noticing pain in his lower back and leg swelling. He didn’t think it was anything that occasional over-the-counter pain medication couldn’t fix.
Matt finished up his degree in May 2021. By the end of 2021, however, he was no longer working remotely as vice president of development for an insurance company. His position for the past 10 years had been eliminated. With his new downtime, he began swimming several days a week at the Seven Hills Recreation Center and contemplated his next personal and professional moves.
The morning of April 23, 2022, Matt couldn’t get out of bed. He couldn’t feel his legs below the knees. At the insistence of his brother, he was rushed to MetroHealth Medical Center.
For months, Matt’s back pain had worsened so much that he had been using various creams, over the counter medicine and canes to remain mobile. At MetroHealth, doctors told him the back pain and the loss of feeling in his legs was being caused by a cancerous mass in his lower spine the size of a peanut shell. The cancer that he had been treated for seven years earlier had spread to his lower spine.
Orthopedic surgeon Jonathan Belding, MD, removed the mass that same day, on April 23, 2022. The surgery was successful, but Matt now had a new diagnosis: stage 4 prostate cancer.
Matt doesn’t remember much about his first few hours at MetroHealth, other than a tearful goodbye to his sister Heather before surgery. He stayed on the Trauma ICU floor for a week. The moment that he started moving his left leg was the moment his physical therapy began.
There was no question that Matt would remain in MetroHealth’s care for the physical and occupational therapy he would need. Initially, Matt’s Medicaid insurance wouldn’t cover inpatient care at the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute.
An appeal letter written by one of his therapists helped to reverse their decision.
On April 30, Matt was transported to the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute at the Old Brooklyn Campus. He had to learn how to walk again. Over the next four weeks he had daily physical and occupational therapy sessions. Under the care of oncologists Tonjeh Bah, MD, and Matthew Kurian, MD, he had 10 days of radiation and began taking hormone pills and injections. He also was under the care of urologist Carvell Nguyen, MD.
On the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, Matt was discharged to his sister Heather’s house. He had progressed to being able to get in and out of the shower with a special chair. He could get in and out of his sister’s car. It was all “lift and shift,” he says.
Before he went home, a therapist had taken Matt to see the therapy gym where he would have his outpatient sessions. But he wouldn’t be ready to start for a couple more months.
A deep wound had developed on Matt’s backside because of non-movement. To give it time to heal, Matt’s care team decided to delay outpatient therapy for a couple months. He had regular appointments with orthopaedics nurse practitioner Denise Forster-Paulsen for the wound care. And in June, the first of three MetroHealth nurses Matt had met during inpatient rehabilitation began working with him part-time while he continued to recover at his sister’s house.
Matt’s wound was healing so in July Matt was cleared to begin working with physical therapist Deanna Bouman and Juliet Giganti, a Cleveland State University student, and occupational therapist Liz Galvin.
Immediately he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But he was up for the challenge, anything to help him achieve his goals of walking again and regaining his independence.
Liz’s first impression was about how positive Matt was.
“He had this attitude that anything was possible,” Liz says. “That was only going to help him with therapies.”
Each time Matt arrived for his session, he was a different patient from the person who had been there days before, she says.
“I saw him make progress at each session,” she says. “He was progressing twice as fast as some other patients. Things we try together, he’s not afraid to try at home. He’s not afraid to put therapy in action.”
Matt took his “homework” seriously, buying ankle weights that he used when kicking his legs up or “marching” around the house with the walker.
Deanna pushed Matt to do things he didn’t necessarily want to do but that he was ready to do, like going down steps.
“It was, ‘This is what we’re going to do today,’” Matt says. He was amazed at how much they did in the 45 minutes.
“They teach you and they do it with this kindness, and it’s fun to go,” he says of Liz and Deanna. “I know why you’re ranked as one of the best rehab hospitals in the country.”
Knowing that it would be difficult to manage the steps, Matt considered selling his house and looking for a condo. He shared this plan with his sister Heather, who offered a different solution. She and her husband would sell their house, too.
In July, they used the proceeds from the sale of the two houses to buy a spacious ranch in Seven Hills. Matt’s in-law suite includes a dining room, kitchen, living room, laundry room, bathroom and two bedrooms. There was also plenty of room for Matt’s dogs, Archie and Edith Bouvier Bunker Noonan.
After two months, MetroHealth PM&R nurse Sonia Armstead handed over her part-time duties to her colleague, Nadine Iacco, who helped Matt adjust to his new space. After retiring in the fall after a 30-year career in PM&R at MetroHealth, nurse Lillian Brown-Way started working part time with Matt at home.
Matt continues his physical therapy session with Deanna Bouman and goes at least once but more often twice a week. He’s also working with occupational therapist Liz Galvin. And he continues to stop on the terrace and sixth floors to say hello to visit his other caregivers.
“These people saved my life, in more ways than one,” he says.
He is walking with a walker.
He can walk up and down stairs.
He handles all his self-care.
He can get up out of a chair with his own strength.
By December, his wound was completely healed.
Matt has accepted that he will have stage 4 prostate cancer for the rest of his life. He continues to take medications to keep his cancer from spreading any further. His PSA in the normal range, a far cry from the very high reading of 300 ng/mL that was recorded when he was in the hospital in April 2022.
Over the Christmas holiday, Matt helped Heather assemble their annual donation to the crisis nursery Providence House. And he’s already looking forward to a big birthday celebration in 2023.
“It’s very important for me to put the effort into being thankful and to show kindness and joy and gratitude,” he says. “I’m going to make every single day of my life joy. I’m so excited about what tomorrow is going to bring.