Shelby was only 13 when she was diagnosed with advanced B-cell blood cancer in 2013. She was an avid softball player and gives credit to the game for giving her the ability to persevere and keep a positive outlook.
Originally her doctor thought she was suffering from migraines, she had headaches and became sensitive to light. Because blood cancer has no tumors it is more difficult to diagnose. Was she just dehydrated? Did she have mononucleosis? Were her bruises just the result of playing ball?
Finally, the diagnosis became clear: it was cancer. Shelby had to drop out of her freshman year of high school and put her love of softball on hold.
Her life became a rollercoaster of treatment, remission, and relapse, time and again. A bone marrow transplant in 2017 taxed her physically and mentally, as she was confined to her room and couldn't even go outside into the fresh air. She just wanted her normal life back.
She enrolled in a college near her home, but once again the cancer came back and she couldn't complete even her first semester. "I was so angry and upset. I felt like cancer always got in the way of something. It stopped my life so many times."
The bone marrow transplant failed to help and her doctors thought that CAR-T cell therapy was her next best option, even with the threatening side effects of neurotoxicity, fevers, and cytokine release syndrome.
Shelby was fascinated by the process. In January of 2018, she went to have her T cells collected and reprogrammed into CAR-T cells, while she underwent conditioning chemo to prepare her body for the CAR-T cells.
Finally, she received her infusion. She experienced "the worst" headache but fortunately did not get a fever. The therapy worked, and Shelby went into remission and has remained so to this day.
Shelby relishes the amazing people she has met throughout her journey, making good friends with so many of them. She now has a desire to help others and offers some advice on how to cope through all the ups and downs of cancer treatment: "It's OK to let out sad, angry emotions because you can't bottle those up," she says. "Take it day by day, minute by minute… Try your best. Have a sense of humor. That's what helps get my family and friends through this."