It was her junior year in high school and Shelby was looking forward to college, with her sights set on becoming a fashion designer. But a softball game would turn her world upside down.
A slide into 3rd base resulted in leg pain. Seventeen years old, Shelby says the pain was not only severe, but it progressed rapidly. X-rays revealed something their family never expected: a mass on Shelby’s spine. A biopsy later delivered the most shocking blow of all. Shelby had cancer. She had a rare tumor for which there was no cure and no identifiable treatment. Her doctor recommended standard chemo and radiation. After much deliberation, Shelby and her parents opted to get a second opinion. They boarded a plane for Houston and headed to MD Anderson.
Shelby learned about a clinical trial that doctors thought could be helpful. She enrolled immediately and would spend the next two months in Houston undergoing tests and treatment. Afterwards, Shelby and her family traveled back and forth from their home in Charlotte, North Carolina to Houston every two weeks so she could stay in her clinical trial. All the while she kept up with her education, finishing her senior year and graduating from high school.
At first, things looked good for Shelby. The trial worked well. But then… it didn’t. “And that’s how it went for the next five or six clinical trials,” Shelby says. “I would have so much hope and then it would just stop working. Ultimately, the cancer spread to my brain.”
Shelby returned to North Carolina and underwent therapy using a gamma knife. Doctors hoped to eradicate the four brain tumors they found. The procedure was successful on three of them. The fourth tumor, however, had moved to Shelby’s spine. When doctors tried removing the last tumor, the technique, which included the use of a long needle, hit a part of her brain, which affected her speech, the use of her limbs, her ability to walk, even Shelby’s eyesight.
At that point, eight years after her initial diagnosis, her cancer was getting worse. Shelby felt as if her doctors in North Carolina had given up. “For my birthday I told my dad I wanted to go to MD Anderson. I wanted to find another clinical trial. I knew it was my only hope.”
The cost to travel to Houston, more than one thousand miles from home, created a challenge for Shelby’s family. They had been down this road before. Each trip to Houston cost at least $700 in airfare, hotel bills, and Uber fees. It was devouring their savings. Shelby’s dad, Tim, recalls the day they discovered Lazarex Cancer Foundation. “We had been working with another group to get financial help, but we weren’t getting what we needed. One day, in 2017, when we were at our wit’s end and on the verge of giving up, a social worker told us about Lazarex Cancer Foundation. That changed everything and allowed us to continue in the trial.”
Today, three years later, Shelby continues her travels from Charlotte to Houston to take part in her clinical trial—her seventh at MD Anderson. Shelby says her doctors are amazed at how well she’s doing. Her cancer is stable, and she’s feeling good. “I’m able to work and I enjoy interacting with people. I love online shopping and watching Netflix.”
Shelby’s family says there’s no way they could afford the trip for the life-saving treatment on their own. The bottom line, says Shelby’s dad, “if it weren’t for Lazarex, Shelby wouldn’t be here.” Shelby echoes her father’s sentiment, “I can’t express how much gratitude I have toward Lazarex. My local hospitals were giving up on me. I thank Lazarex from the bottom of my heart for the help they gave me.”
To watch a WCNC interview with Shelby, click here.