Shelby Matthews is adjusting to a new kind of normal.
This summer, the 15-year-old is learning how to drive, like any other budding teenager her age.
She got her permit July 23 and at every chance was begging to get behind the wheel.
But unlike her peers, Matthews is also fighting a second battle much bigger than herself.
A number of individuals from around Cass County are gearing up to support the Harrisonville teen with a fundraiser to benefit her family Saturday, Aug. 3.
The otherwise healthy Matthews was devastated to learn of the news earlier this summer that she would also be fighting for her life after doctors confirmed to her on June 10 that she had at least 15 tumors growing in her body.
Since April, Matthews has been in pain and visiting a number of local doctors with no avail.
“The doctors said it was a really bad case of strep,” Matthews recalled.
The “strep” became so bad Matthews could barely eat or keep food down, losing 40 pounds within a matter of weeks.
“We kept taking her to the doctor and they kept telling us it was strep throat or tonsillitis, and even bronchitis at one point,” said Sherry Giles, Matthews’ mother.
“I couldn’t swallow anything but they kept saying I was fine,” Matthews said. “I mean I was getting better, only because we later learned the steroids they gave me for my ‘strep' was shrinking the tumors.”
After a fainting episode, Matthews was taken to St. Luke’s East Hospital in Lee’s Summit for a CT scan.
After the scan, Matthews was placed in a room with her dad as they awaited an answer. Her mother was still at work.
“The doctor came in and didn't even hesitate and looked right at my dad and says, ‘She might have lymphoma,’” Matthews recalled. “I was shocked. I didn't know what lymphoma was. I felt like my heart had stopped there at the hospital. I was hyperventilating, crying and screaming.”
Matthews was immediately rushed from St. Luke’s to Children's Mercy Hospital by ambulance for more tests, and determined her cancer was in the form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Among the tumors doctors found, Matthews had a six-inch wide tumor on her chest that was pressing on her heart and slowly closing the airway to her right lung.
Tumors were also found in her brain, in both ears, spleen, liver and in both kidneys.
“My first reaction was, ‘What is lymphoma?” I didn’t know what it was, and when a lady told me it was cancer, I lost it. I never dreamed in a million years that your kid would have cancer,” Giles said with tears in her eyes.
Matthews said she was heartbroken with the diagnosis and the fight hasn’t been easy in killing off the disease.
“There have been times that I’ve wanted to stop fighting and just give up because I’d rather be dying than having to feel the pain,” Matthews said.
Giles, Matthews’ best friend, Lauren Hensley, and other family members, have all shaved their heads in support of Matthews.
“It’s frustrating that you’re 15 and you can’t enjoy this time,” Giles said. “She’s had her breakdowns, and we just hold her and tell her that there is nothing we can do and you just have to keep fighting it because I’m not going to let you give up.”
A bone marrow test came back negative two weeks ago, meaning for now, Matthews is in remission, but will continue chemotherapy treatments for two years.
But the ongoing journey hasn’t been easy.
During one of the times Matthews went in for clinic last month, she began to have a very difficult time breathing.
Doctors determined one of her lungs to be completely full of fluid and performed an emergency surgery to put a tube in Matthews lung to drain it out.
Within the first 30 minutes that the tube was working, doctors drained two liters of liquid from her lung.
The unusual amount of fluid was due to the massive tumor on her chest.
“When the chemo disintegrated the tumor, it pulled apart from one of her main veins in the area it left holes, so when she was eating, all of the fat that had gotten digested was coming back up and filling it,” Giles explained.
Matthews may also have radiation treatments in the future.
With driving, Matthews doesn’t have any restrictions other than her doctors have urged her to use her best judgment when she’s not feeling well or immediately following chemotherapy treatments.
Matthews is also set to have a homebound tutor to assist her with at least her first semester of classes as a freshman at Harrisonville High School.
A fundraiser is being held for “Shelby’s Fight” is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Aug. 3 at Slick Willy’s South, 1100 N. Scott, in Belton.
The event will feature live music, raffles, food and drink specials.
Attendees are encouraged to wear lime green in support of Matthews.
“Fight Like a Girl/Shelby’s Fight” bracelets will be available for purchase.
Area businesses, including Gail’s Harley Davidson, Simply Charmed and Pampered Chef, and local celebrity Tate Stevens, have donated items for the raffle.
All proceeds from the fundraiser will help the family with medical and personal expenses.