OCEANSIDE — It’s been over a month since Matt Chewiwie, 32, a beloved stage tech teacher at Mission Vista High School, found out he had an aggressive form of brain cancer.
It started on Feb. 7, a Thursday, when Chewiwie was teaching. He had a seizure and collapsed in the middle of class, which prompted his students to rush to his aid and call the school nurse.
That day also happened to be his seven-month wedding anniversary with his wife, Maeve Camplisson, 27.
He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he continued to have seizures. Once he was stabilized he went through multiple CT scans and MRIs, which is how they discovered a large tumor on the right side of his brain.
Two days later, Chewiwie underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. His neurosurgeon got most of it but not all, and the tissue that was removed was sent to pathology for tests.
On their first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, the results came back confirming he has an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Chewiwie was released from the hospital a few days later and went to an acute rehabilitation facility. He was supposed to spend an entire month relearning how to walk and regain mobility there, but he graduated from the facility after just one week.
Chewiwie said he tries to push himself without going too far. Camplisson is usually right by his side to encourage him to try a move just to see if he can do it.
“I’m always amazed from day to day by the progress he’s making physically and mentally,” Camplisson said.
After Chewiwie’s surgery, he was unable to move. Now, he’s walking around without using a walker.
Camplisson is also amazed by her husband’s ability to cope with the situation.
“I’ve seen him in the past couple weeks go through some stuff that I can’t even imagine going through,” she said. “Even with as much as he struggles, a few minutes later he’s still making me laugh again.”
The couple started dating in 2015. They had attended the same college — California State University San Marcos — and had mutual friends of friends, but the two officially met late one night at the Edwards San Marcos 18 movie theater.
Chewiwie worked there at the time, and Camplisson was still in the parking lot late one night when he was leaving work. Her car wouldn’t start, her friends had already left and it was raining at the time, so Chewiwie offered her a ride home. As they were talking Camplisson decided to ask him out, and a year later they were engaged.
“We couldn’t have written it better,” Chewiwie said.
The two married on July 7, 2018.
The first year of marriage can be hard for some couples as they navigate through life together. For Chewiwie and Camplisson, the first year has turned out to be unusually trying. Despite the cancer and all the pressures that come with it, Camplisson said the two are still enjoying their time as a newlywed couple.
“We just have to carry on the best we can and try to do the same things we’ve been doing together,” Chewiwie said.
“We’re always making each other laugh,” Camplisson said with a big smile.
The couple, who live in Escondido, also spend more time together now than before. Chewiwie is currently on leave from work and Camplisson, who works as an independent contractor teaching painting lessons, has put her job on hold so she can take care of her husband.
“She’s helping with everything,” Chewiwie said. “She didn’t ask for this but she’s taking it on like a champ.”
Camplisson handles the organizational side of everything, like scheduling and keeping track of doctor appointments (there are a lot now), making sure Chewiwie takes his medicine and managing the day-to-day bills and housekeeping.
“I just want you to focus on healing,” she told him.
Chewiwie is also making sure his wife remembers to take care of herself as well.
“I’ve been telling her that any time she can she should take a break,” he said.
Because Camplisson doesn’t get paid leave as an independent contractor, and having brain cancer (or any cancer for that matter) is pretty expensive, the two have set up a GoFundMe page to help supplement financial needs. For example, the two have “endless copays” and needs for Chewiwie, like a shower chair, that insurance doesn’t always cover.
Camplisson first set the GoFundMe up with a smaller goal amount that was quickly met within an hour. They’ve raised the goal amount as they found out new information and come across financial gaps. So far the two have raised more than $27,000 of their current $40,000 goal.
The couple is grateful to their family, friends and complete strangers who have donated to them.
“I’m amazed by how people responded,” Chewiwie said. “I did not expect people to give like that, it’s incredible.”
Camplisson said people she doesn’t even know have been “coming out of the woodwork” to donate, saying that Chewiwie had helped them in some way in the past.
“Matt has definitely built up a lot of good karma,” she said. “He’s a really good person.”
Not working has been difficult for Chewiwie, who loves both his job as a teacher and as an electrician and stage crewmember at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. He is currently on leave from the high school and isn’t sure yet if he will be able to take on the physical activities Moonlight would require of him once the theater season opens.
The free time has allowed him to work on developing a website for his class, mvhstech.com, something that he didn’t have time to do before. He also visits his students in class when he can.
Camplisson said she likes to brag about her husband’s work.
“His admins are always saying he’s an example of the CTE (Career and Technical Education) program really working as it’s intended,” she said. “I’m super proud of him.”
Chewiwie and Camplisson are in the “calm before the storm” right now as his radiation and chemotherapy treatment approaches. Chewiwie will start a six- to eight-week course of daily radiation treatments and will begin chemotherapy during that time as well.
The couple remains positive but know they have a difficult journey ahead. Even if Chewiwie goes into remission, it’s possible the cancer will return.
“It’s something we have to check on forever,” Chewiwie said. “We’ll always have to be vigilant.”
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son