Waco realtor diagnosed with rare cancer makes it to ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and rings the cancer treatment bell

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 7:43 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A Waco realtor who was diagnosed with a rare cancer rang the cancer treatment bell Tuesday surrounded by loved ones to celebrate the end of his chemo treatments.

“It’s super emotional, but it’s a much different emotion because it’s like it’s over with,” the patient, Jarrod Shelburne, said.

Shelburne, a realtor for Bentwood Realty and a father of two young children, was diagnosed with stage 2 nasopharyngeal cancer, a cancer found in the upper part of the throat, in May.

After several chemotherapy treatments, he stood near his wife and children and was finally able to ring the bell that signifies finishing the final round of chemo.

“The day was normal up until the point of everybody coming in to celebrate and ring the bell, so it was good,” Shelburne said.

It reminded him of the day that the Waco community came together to support him by throwing a golf tournament fundraiser in August. His friends and family organized the fundraiser once they found out he had cancer.

In January, Shelburne said he had been having what he thought were just tooth aches and sinus infections. After tests and procedures, they found the cancer and started a hefty treatment plan.

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

However, nasopharyngeal cancer is very rare. The American Cancer Society reports that only about one out of every 100,000 people get diagnosed with this type of cancer every year compared to breast cancer, which is one in three women and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is one in 42 men.

“This is a cancer that is brought on by the Epstein-Barr virus,” Dr. Hitesh Singh, oncology physician at Baylor Scott & White, said. “It’s the same virus that causes mononucleosis in most teenagers, and it’s possible that was the situation here that he had leftover EBV virus. The virus gets into cells, and it can be any cell--skin cells, the inside of our mouth, nose, etc...It can cause this kind of epithelial cancer or skin kind of cancer.”

Singh, who is also Shelburne’s doctor, said the virus aspect as well as the rarity of the cancer made treatment much more challenging.

“Some of our newer drugs are not tested on this particular type of cancer because we just don’t have the numbers to do that, so we still use some of the older drugs, which actually work pretty well, but it’s harder on folks because the newer drugs are generally easier and kinder to folks,” Singh said.

Shelburne said the chemotherapy and treatment did make him very sick, low-energy and tired. However, he did not have insurance as a realtor during this time, so, his community rallied around him by throwing a golf tournament in August.

His friends and family organized golf teams, raffles and food for the fundraiser, and hundreds of people showed up to support Shelburne.

“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.”

The day of the fundraiser, Shelburne was preparing for his last round of treatment. He said he was still feeling pretty down and tired.

After he rang the bell Tuesday, Shelburne and his loved ones were filled with an overwhelming sense of relief and emotion.

“Now that I’m at the end of a cycle of chemo and the bell’s been ringing, you’re kind of in a better place, like, just physically, so my body feels good, I feel good, like I’ve got my color back, stuff like that,” he said.

He appreciates all of the love and support from his family and loved ones as well as the entire Waco community. He is especially grateful for Singh who helped him through the entire process. Singh was there to watch his patient ring the bell.

“You’re announcing to the world that you beat this,” Singh said. “That’s what keeps me doing this every day, really.”

Even though nasopharyngeal cancer is rare, Shelburne hopes his story will inspire others who may be struggling with a tough diagnosis.

“Whether or not it helps out somebody because they have this diagnosis or just showing somebody that there are people that care within the community, whether it’s via golf tournament or some other fundraiser or whatever the case might be, there’s always somebody that’s there to be in your corner,” he said.

Shelburne’s friends organized a gofundme and a CaringBridge page to help out with the costly treatment expenses.

Shelburne now plans to rest and let his body recover from the months-long process. He will find out the results of his treatment in November.