When Shelby Howerton was three years old, she dressed as her favorite princess for Halloween. While Cinderella didn’t stay out until the stroke of midnight, she did come home with very sore legs. Her parents assumed she had shin splints because of all the walking she did to collect candy. But her legs continued to hurt long after Halloween. When she developed a persistent fever, her mother took her to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with leukemia.
At the time, the standard treatment for leukemia lasted three years. Shelby’s doctors decided she was a good fit for a clinical trial that was shorter but more intense. She was supposed to finish in two years. But she contracted parvovirus when she was immunocompromised, which extended her treatment by six months. The trial worked, and she has been cancer-free ever since.
Today Shelby is healthy and happy. She can run a mile in under six minutes, and later this month, she will graduate from Milton High School. But she never forgot the days she fought cancer. In fact, that experience has shaped her in many ways.
When she was in middle school, her sister, Faith, started a CURE Club at Milton High School. She also became very active in the Health Occupational Students of America (HOSA) club. Faith was instrumental in the club’s push to collect toys and toiletry items for children currently battling cancer. When Faith graduated, Shelby stepped right in and continued the effort.
“We start collecting after winter break and continue until the semester ends,” Shelby explained. “Then I bring everything to CURE on Christmas Eve. Raising awareness for childhood cancer and bringing in donations is the absolute least I can do to help children with cancer.”
Shelby has plans to do much more. After graduation, she will begin her studies at Georgia Tech in the fall, majoring in neuroscience. Her goal is to become a pediatric oncologist, just like the doctors who treated her.
“Whenever I thought about a career path, my head jumped immediately to being in the hospital,” Shelby said. “There is a difference between telling your story and doing something about it. I feel like I need to do something to help kids.”
Shelby has already done so much. She has already handed off the leadership of the CURE Club at Milton High School to a new officer. Not surprisingly, she made sure to get a commitment that the toy donations will continue after she is gone.
Congratulations, Shelby. We appreciate how much you’ve done to encourage children with cancer, and we look forward to seeing all you do to care for them in the future.