‘A light at the end of the tunnel’: Community rallies around Waco realtor battling rare cancer

Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 9:42 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A Central Texas community is rallying around a Waco realtor who is battling a rare cancer by participating and volunteering at a golf tournament fundraiser.

Doctors eventually diagnosed Jarrod Shelburne, a Waco realtor for Bentwood Realty and a father of two children below the age of ten, with nasopharyngeal cancer in May. He started showing signs in January when he noticed a toothache.

“I went to the dentist in January because I had a toothache, and the dentist asked if I had any sinus problems,” he Shelburne said. “I told her yes, and it was because of the drainage, why my teeth were hurting and stuff. So, they gave me some steroids.”

But, the steroids only helped for about a month, and, then, he went to the doctor for a sinus infection.

“They gave me a steroid shot and sent me on my way,” he said.

It was not until May when he went back to the doctor two more times for a sinus infection that they noticed a mass in Shelburne’s neck. They planned a surgery to remove the mass. However, the doctor told him, if the surgery lasted an hour, it was just sinus blockage, but, if the surgery lasted only 15 minutes, it was a cancerous mass.

Shelburne woke up from the surgery and immediately asked what time it was.

“They told me 10:45,” he said. “The surgery only lasted 15 minutes, and so I knew right then and there, since it wasn’t noon or any later than 10:45 with the 10:00 surgery, that something was wrong.”

At the end of May, he was diagnosed with stage two nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

“I broke down,” he said. “Obviously, it was pretty tough.”

Only about one out of every 100,000 people get diagnosed with this type of cancer every year, according to the American Cancer Society. The chance for a woman to develop breast cancer is one in three, and the chance for a male to develop Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is one in 42.

Nasopharyngeal cancer is more common in parts of Asia where the chance of getting it increases to 15-50 out of 100,000.

Doctors recommended additional drugs to Shelburne to fight the cancer because of his young age. He said he has not experienced severe pain during all of his treatments.

But, he said the chemotherapy did make him very sick immediately after, which was hard not only for him but for his two young children.

“Even the kids, they ask, and they’re like, ‘how are you feeling today?’ he said. “And you always want to tell your kids you feel good, but you have to be honest with them. So, we ride that ride together. You have to be honest with yourself because it’s not easy.”

As a real estate agent, Shelburne said he does not have insurance, so he had to pay for everything out of pocket.

“You don’t think you’re going to be diagnosed with cancer or something like that’s going to happen,” Shelburne said. “So, three years down the road, I haven’t been to the doctor, everything has been fine, and then all of a sudden you get hit with cancer in May.

Shelburne’s community realized how much Shelburne and his family were struggling with the cancer and the financial burden from his medical expenses.

“Once he started treatment, we started putting this together kind of instantly,” Taylor Roy, a close friend of Shelburne’s said. “Then, about the last six weeks, it really took off.”

Roy and Shelburne’s wife organized a golf tournament Thursday to raise money for Shelburne’s medical expenses.

“He was my golfing buddy for the last couple of years, so we haven’t got to play much this year, and I thought it would be fun to put it on for him and raise some money,” Roy said.

They put on a golf scramble with around 32 teams. Some of the holes had fundraising opportunities. The event also offered donated food for participants as well as a few raffle ticket opportunities.

Shelburne was humbled by the turnout.

“You never think you’re going to be in a situation until you’re in it,” Shelburne said. “When you’re in it, it’s cool to see. I appreciate everybody that has come, whether it’s time or money or both, just to support me and my family. Obviously, it means a lot.”

While the survival rate over a span of five years for this cancer is 85%, which means it will likely come back within a span of five years, Shelburne is taking it one day at a time.

He gave some advice to anyone experiencing a similar battle as him.

“Hang in there,” Shelburne said. “It’s tough at times. It’s really tough, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s what I look forward to each day. It’s a super high, and then it’s a super low. So you just kind of have to ride that rollercoaster…. Obviously, we’re hoping for a cure because there’s a bell you walk past and you’re always wanting to ring the bell at the end of the journey.”

Shelburne’s friends and family have also set up a gofundme account, a CaringBridge page, a venmo account and TFNB bank will also accept donations for his medical expenses.

His last treatment scheduled for now starts end of August and ends early October.