Man spends life overcoming health struggles

BATESVILLE, Ark. (AP) - When Matt Williams was born, doctors said he might never walk - but he played tee-ball as a boy, rounding the bases with braces on his legs.

Doctors said he may not finish high school and yet he went on to become a substitute teacher at the very school from which he graduated.

When he took a preparatory test for college, he was told he wouldn't succeed - but he graduated in May 2012 with a bachelor of science degree and was on the Dean's List at Arkansas State University.

At 25, Matt has had more than his fair share of challenges in his life, and now he and his wife Marilyn are coping with the latest blow, an aggressive form of a rare cancer called peritoneal mesothelioma.

But those who know him would say if anyone can fight it, Matt, the son of Debbie Hall of Batesville and Randy and Paula Williams of Maple Springs, can. In fact, his "stubbornness" is one of the qualities that attracted Marilyn to him, she said with a smile.

He said being wheelchair bound has made an impact on his life, and he's learned to be independent. In 2012, he surprised his family when he flew to Philadelphia alone to see the Atlanta Braves play and take in the sights.

Sometimes there were struggles for his independence, he explained. "There were times my mom said, 'You made it through elementary school, let's home-school you,' and I was like, 'No.'

"When you tell me I'm not going to do something I want to go out and do it all the more."

It started with a cough, one so bad that Matt thought he was just sore from it. When the cold persisted for a couple of weeks with no help from the antibiotics prescribed by the doctor, that's when Matt decided to have further tests.

On Dec. 18, his sister April's birthday, he received the news.


Peritoneal mesothelioma is very rare, typically present in less than 500 people in the United States each year.

"So there's no teams of doctors researching it," Matt said.

He took his first and only treatment on Jan. 7, thinking at the time he would take six rounds, three weeks apart, but he was so sick and weak he couldn't get out of bed, and when he did he was in the bathroom.

Even with the chemo, Matt was facing the possibility of another surgery, but it would not be easy to find a surgeon who would take Matt's case, with his other health problems, including having spina bifida.

And, Matt said, he was only a 10- to 15-percent candidate for the surgery anyway because of the spina bifida. Matt has shunts in his head, back and stomach to keep fluid from building up on his brain and spine, and a neurosurgeon would've had to move the shunt tubing in his stomach to his heart cavity just so they could try to remove the cancer from the lining of his stomach.

And then, "After the surgery I would have spent weeks on a ventilator and the result of how much cancer was left would have been uncertain."

He was dealing with too many unknowns - and was sick from the chemo - so Matt made the decision to not continue with treatment.

"I could tell Matt was at peace with his decision," Marilyn said.

"My faith on Earth is so strong - God is going to take you out of this Earth when he wants you. ... I know he has given us medicine to help us, but I just feel like it's time to give him control."

That was the day before his second treatment, which had been scheduled for Jan. 29.

While he stayed home, his mom and pastor went ahead and met with the doctor, who gave Matt two to eight weeks to live.

Depending on the day, he takes it pretty hard. "I think to myself, 'What could I have done to be a better person or done more to help people?'"

Matt said he's not afraid of dying, and while some might feel cheated, he doesn't.

"I've lived my whole life being able to speak, see, hear and communicate, and there's people every day that don't get that," he said.

Marilyn said they've decided not to look at the time Matt has been given as the end of his life, but rather embrace it as an opportunity to live life to the fullest.

Now he and Marilyn are planning a trip to Florida next month to see the Braves take on the New York Yankees during baseball spring training.

They said it is not a "bucket list" trip but a celebration.

While Matt's family wishes he would continue the treatments, they also know that after 25 years of having spina bifida and 20 surgeries in his lifetime, he is tired. As Matt explained, "Not the 'I want to take a nap' tired but the 'I'm too tired to do this again' tired."

They all supported his decision in the long run.

He feels fortunate to not hurt too much through it all - just weak. He's hoping the pain stays away while he and Marilyn go on their trip and they're able to enjoy every moment.

"God has been so good to me, and I hope when someone sees me they see him and not just another person with cancer. He has blessed me in so many ways it's kinda hard not to smile after thinking about it all. Hopefully having this cancer doesn't damper my smile because I've got too much not to smile including the promise from him (God) that when I pass from this life I'm going to heaven where there is no more pain or dying."


Information from: Batesville Guard,

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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