Bemidji State's Matthew Fabian reflects on challenges, changes during college career

Bemidji State will hold three graduation ceremonies at the Sanford Center on Friday, May 5, one for each college. Each ceremony is also available via livestream on BSU's social media pages.

Chemistry and molecular biology student Matthew Fabian is set to graduate as part of Bemidji State University's class of 2023 on Friday, May 5, at the Sanford Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — No matter what happens in his life, Matthew Fabian is able to count his blessings.

Throughout seemingly impossible circumstances over the past three years, Fabian has never lost sight of his goals and on May 5, will accept his diploma from Bemidji State University having majored in chemistry.

This comes after he earned his degree in biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology last spring with summa cum laude honors.

After graduation, he plans to make time for the simple things many people may take for granted.

“As of right now, my summer plans are to start driving again, do some fishing, decompress and figure out the path and direction that I can be the most productive in,” Fabian said.


His biggest challenge

Fabian came to BSU in 2018 after graduating from Pequot Lakes High School.

He had an initial interest in becoming a doctor, though his aspirations started changing at the tail end of his sophomore year at BSU. Fabian started developing headaches in mid-March 2020 right as the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the world.

“It was about the time when all of the universities shut down and everybody had to move back home because of COVID,” Fabian recalled. “I thought at first (the headaches) were because of stress, moving back and transitioning to online classes. Finals happened and I thought, ‘Well, that’s just normal. Everybody’s stressed during finals.’ But they kept getting worse and worse.”

The headaches continued through July 2020 when Fabian started developing nausea. His mother brought him to the emergency room a week before he was meant to start classes for the fall 2020 semester and underwent a CT scan.

Fabian noted that as a baby, he had sagittal craniosynostosis, a condition that affects the skull.

“There have been reports of people who were my age that had surgery as a baby to correct (the condition) having recurring head pain many years after the fact,” he said.

However, nobody expected the CT scan results that would seemingly change the trajectory of Fabian’s college experience and life in general.

“After the scan, the doctor came back into the room with big eyes saying the helicopter would be there in 15 minutes to bring me to St. Cloud as I had a mass on my brain stem and fourth ventricle.”


Because of COVID restrictions, nobody could accompany Fabian to St. Cloud. “I was airlifted for surgery that night without my parents,” Fabian added.

Once in St. Cloud, doctors successfully removed Fabian’s brain tumor. However, he would experience a stroke the day after this surgery.

“The surgery was a success, but from that, I suffered a stroke. Among other things, the stroke took away the ability for me to move my right side, swallow and I developed double vision,” Fabian explained.

Around this time, doctors inserted an external ventricular drain to relieve pressure in hopes his brain could start absorbing fluids on its own. Days later, he would develop double-lunged pneumonia.

Learning to adapt

Fabian was soon on the rebound, however, as he rehabilitated in the hospital over the following three weeks. He started relearning how to walk around the time he was sent to Mayo Clinic to begin seven weeks of radiation treatment followed by six months of chemotherapy.

“Because of changes in the MRIs and fear of relapse, I was scanned monthly for seven months,” Fabian explained. “Many scares, but all were determined to be markings from surgery and treatment.”

Fabian earned the “OK” to return to BSU after he completed chemotherapy in April 2021. His return came with its own set of challenges as he recovered from the side effects of his treatments.

“As the school year started, I had major chemo fog, fatigue and hearing loss from the chemo and processing, retention and learning struggles from brain trauma due to surgery, the stroke and treatment,” he said. “(It was) a very tough year with parts I don’t even really remember.”


With the support of BSU’s biology and chemistry departments, however, Fabian’s return was a little bit easier to navigate.

“They have gone over and above in helping me and understanding some of my struggles, even allowing me to take Zoom appointments with Mayo oncology doctors in their offices during school days,” he added.

Fabian is currently scanned every three months and will remain on that schedule for the next couple of years. He will continue to be monitored throughout his life with check-ins from various doctors.

A new trajectory

While it hasn’t been easy, Fabian has remained active in campus life and demonstrated that he is more than what’s happened to him.

He aided the BSU Trap Club during its inaugural invitational trap shoot in 2018 by shooting a 98 out of 100 in his first event, helping the club to secure its win against three other collegiate teams.

Fabian found success in a national trap shooting tournament in high school, as well.

“As a team, our high school finished 19th in the nation,” he detailed. “As an individual, I finished in the top 400 in the nation.”

Because of inner ear damage, he is unable to shoot but has been fulfilling a role with the club to ramp up its operations this past semester and potentially host tournaments once fall comes around.


Fabian is currently undecided in terms of a future career but has an interest in volunteering at his high school this summer. He was a teacher’s assistant for organic chemistry and anatomy and physiology classes at BSU, leading him to consider the teaching field as a potential career path.

He also builds fishing poles, a pastime he picked up from his dad who used to be a fishing guide.

“In high school, I did that a little bit. When I was recovering, I couldn’t do a whole lot else,” Fabian said, “so I really got into it then. It’s really cool to catch a fish with a rod that you made.”

With the summer to look forward to, he continues to navigate his new normal.

“There are a lot of things that are different now, but slowly, I’ve been learning to adapt and to do things differently,” Fabian left off, “to make things easier based on the new me.”

Bemidji State will hold three graduation ceremonies at the Sanford Center on Friday, May 5, one for each college. Each ceremony is also available via livestream on BSU's social media pages.

A ceremony for the College of Arts, Education and Humanities will take place at 9 a.m. Graduates from the College of Business, Mathematics and Science will be recognized at noon. The College of Individual and Community Health will have its ceremony at 3 p.m.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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