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A special connection

Friends have helped each other through some big life challenges

Contributed by Rosie Hartwig-Benson

There is a special bond within a deeply broken-in old, raw and true friendship lasting over five decades between Litchfield alumnus Matthew Martens and Rosie Hartwig-Benson.

Rosie, a teenager at the time, holds Matthew on her lap in the early 1970s. Neither knew it at the time, but they would become life friends. Contributed photo

The two met in 1971 when Matthew was an energetic three-year-old. Rosie, a teenager, would wander across a backyard in Litchfield to care for him. A typical Saturday afternoon found Matthew enjoying fixing Rosie’s hair in a unique way by applying clothespins. When he was not styling her hair, Rosie would pull a red wagon with Matthew in tow to the local library to check out books to read to him before bedtime. Being neighbors all through their growing years, they formed a compatible connection.

Their parents, (Darlene-Bill Martens - Bev-Elmer Hartwig), instilled them with strong ethics. Rosie wasn’t surprised that after Matthew’s graduation he became a colorist for Rocco Altobelli Salons. She is proud to claim to have been his first client; all those years ago.

Matthew surprised Rosie in 2014 by visiting her at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis where she was a patient. It had been 22 years since they had spent one-on-one time together. A quick delivery of flowers to enhance happiness extended into hours of catching up on life events. Their memories flowed with laughter and maybe a tear or two when discussing the death of their parents and Rosie’s dire medical issues (gastroparesis - not being able to eat or drink orally, and being tubal-fed since ‘95). Rosie penned a memoir five years ago and Matthew was an enthusiastic cheerleader encouraging her to publish her book.

In 2016, Rosie sent Matthew a text message, “Sending positive vibes. I feel something is awry.” Matthew replied, “You always know.” He was having trouble eating and rapidly losing weight. A scenario he knew Rosie fully understood. He went on to tell her the devastating news of being diagnosed with stage 4 appendiceal cancer (pseudomyxoma peroni).

Rosie Hartwig-Benson and Matthew Martens pictured during a recent visit. Rosie and Matthew first met in 1971.Both have had medical challenges in their lives and each has supported each other through those challenges. Contributed photo

Matthew had surgery for his cancer upon diagnosis in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, in 2021, his cancer came back with a vengeance. A scan revealed it had spread to other areas of his body. Not one but four medical professionals told him he had no options for his advanced reoccurring disease. The word “inoperable” was used.

Matthew was determined not to give up hope after being told he had limited time. He found a pseudomyxoma peroni (PMP Pals) support group on Facebook, which informed him of specialists at Allegheny Health Network - and AHN Cancer Institute in western Pennsylvania specializing in this rare cancer. Matthew was a candidate for a new clinical trial that aimed to find cancer cells never detected before. Pegsitacianine, a micellar fluorescence agent, is injected a day before the surgical procedure to “light up” cancer cells. The agent reacts with the cancer’s acidity to aid surgeons in finding any cancerous tumors that may not have been detected by the naked eye.

In February of 2022, Matthew underwent an intense, 12-hour, cytoreduction surgery and HIPEC (Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy) in Pittsburgh.

After being discharged, he flew back to Minnesota to finish recuperating. It was now Rosie’s turn to surprise Matthew with a visit. They discussed the importance of living in the moment to easier weather storms. She photographed him with his beloved dog to be used for a Christmas card. Animals are tremendous caregivers in being vigilant with unconditional love.

Matthew was featured on Pittsburgh WPXI-TV in August 2023. The Pegsitacianine agent allowed the specialists to remove cancerous areas in Martens’ bladder and rectum that they wouldn’t have caught otherwise. This groundbreaking science offers good results with better success for many. It has been over a year since his procedure. Miraculously, Matthew currently has no evidence of disease within his body. He will continue with follow-up telehealth visits.

Matthew and Rosie’s motto: It will work out. Never underestimate the power of positive hopefulness during any struggles, especially medical. Reframing our thoughts begins within.

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