0 comments 18.10.2015
Every Monday, I will share a resident of the South Bay contributing to making our community a better place.
Today’s #MCM title belongs to South Bay resident and my Hero, Matthew Morales, 6, who is kicking cancer’s butt all while keeping his contagious smile.
Upon meeting Matthew, I couldn’t help but notice a distinct yellow cap on his head. After telling him how much I liked it, I was surprised to learn from his mother and aunt who were nearby that this was his “lucky” hat and apparently, he went nowhere without it.
Matthew, like most kids, loves sports, super heroes, and dinosaur-shaped chicken; but Matthew is not like most kids. When asked what makes Matthew so special, he simply replied, “My sickness. I have cancer.”
At only six years old, Matthew is able to explain to me that he has leukemia and has had it since he was four. He remembers the year before being diagnosed when his mom tried to wake him up. His mom, Brandy Jackson says, “He was so grumpy. He did not want to be woken up.”
Brandy explains that she has noticed Matthew was more tired than usual, not acting like his upbeat self and complaint of leg pain. Although there was nothing specifically wrong, Brandy felt like something wasn’t right and when the symptoms were not lessening and an onset fever continued, Brandy decided to take little Matthew to the hospital. Within just 10 days, four hospital visits, and after being misdiagnosed, Matthew was finally diagnosed with leukemia at just four years old.
In order to ease Matthew’s comfort and allow him to understand a little better of his illness, his Doctor, Dr. Kirov joked that Matthew had monkeys in his ears and rocks in his throat. In result, Matthew believes that the monkeys in his ear are sick, causing him to feel ill.
Although Matthew’s visits to the hospital have lessened to just 2-4 days a week, it wasn’t always this way. Brandy explains that she and Matthew spent nine months in 2014 in the hospital. At one point during this time, Matthew’s organs were not stable enough, causing kidney stones, ulcers in his stomach, a drop in sodium, and had vomited so much, it resulted in dramatic weight loss. Matthew had dropped to only 24 lbs.
Brandy explains that because of this, he was unable to eat or have any liquids for five days straight. This was one of the worst experiences for Brandy to witness in that everything was happening at once, including her young child, “begging, pleading, and crying for food.”
From September of 2014 until early this year, Matthew had a dry cough and severe fever which cause his to have slight hearing loss. Brandy explains that it’s as though he can hear his own heartbeat, which makes noise and sound too much to handle sometimes. This causes Matthew to become irritable and annoyed of even the slightest sounds.
Matthew’s current condition is considered “stable,” while he continues to receive Chemo treatments. The treatments can have an immediate effect or sometimes won’t be noticed until 2-3 weeks later. During that time, Matthew will also lose patches of hair which upsets him. However, his subtype of leukemia is treatable, but it is longer than most at 3 ½ years.
Matthew’s favorite part of the hospital is seeing his friends Niko, Ryan, and Jack, which is very bittersweet. Brandy explains that two of Matthew’s friends have lost their fight to cancer, yet he doesn’t know.
Brandy faces many challenges today in result of the sickness including anxiety, stress, and financial concerns. The pill that Matthew must take daily costs $9,000 for only a month’s supply. After having to quit her job to be by her son’s side, she finds small ways to make extra income.
Brandy explains that she didn’t realize that she was having post-traumatic stress until a Doctor explained her anxiety and hearing ambulance bells and hospital sounds were a result of the stress. In addition, she was recently diagnosed with vertigo, causing periodic moments of severe dizziness. However, it doesn’t take much to make her happy. Brandy explains that sitting anywhere outside, even outside of the hospital, alone, brings her a sense of peace. She has learned to handle things, “One day at a time.”
In addition to the financial, emotional, and mental stresses, Brandy must remain a strong mentor for her two older boys, Michael, 7, and Martin, 11. “I have to give my sons warnings when Matthew is on steroids, because he can be very mean. He does get disciplined, but my kids need to know that his behavior is in result of the medication,” Brandy states.
Despite the emotional toll, Brandy explains the most important thing for her is to remain as most honest as she can with Matthew. Doctors have told her that kids with cancer need to feel a sense of control, so she has allowed Matthew to decide when he can take his pills by allowing him to decide based on when the big-hand on the clock reaches a number of his choice.
And regardless of the long hours, stress, financial stress, and worry, Brandy says she wants Matthew to fight and be angry and not like it. “If he doesn’t get fussy or mad, it means he is giving up. I want him aggravated and fighting,” she explains.
Matthew has no problem swallowing pills on his own, but many of them result in him becoming sick from it which is hard for a mother to witness. However, Brandy insists that she needs Matthew to trust her so she doesn’t lie when she knows things will hurt and lets him know ahead of time. Since the beginning of his diagnosis, Matthew now has trouble sleeping alone and feels most comfortable with his mother by his side.
While Matthew cannot go back to school due to his restrictions on his immune system, he is homeschooled and can read and signal sign-language incase his hearing is ever completely gone. Matthew wants to one day grow up to build things and be a “You-tuber.” He loves Spiderman because he “shoots webs and climbs walls.” According to Brandy, he has dressed up as Spiderman for Halloween several times and wants to be him again this year.
Although Spiderman is Matthew’s hero, I can’t help but think how special of a person Matthew is and how much of a hero he is to me. At such a young age, he is amazingly mature, polite, and most of all, courageous. Thank you, Matthew, for bringing a smile to all the people who are blessed to be in presence of you.
Matthew was also filmed in a small commercial that can be seen here.