By Rob Patrick
Ian Shuttleworth is a hale and hearty 6-foot-2, 255-pound 15-year-old that played some tight end as a[more] sophomore on the Bryant Hornets football team last fall and is playing first base and pitching for his Babe Ruth baseball team this spring.
He also has cancer.
Fortunately, his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was discovered in its early stages but that was only revealed last week when he checked into the hospital for his first round of chemotherapy. For about two weeks, he and his parents, Ken and Janet Shuttleworth along with the rest of his family and friends, knew he had the disease but not how serious it was.
“It’s something that nobody should have to hear, ‘Your boy has cancer,’” Ken stated. “And when you hear that, it’s devastating. But then you say, ‘Okay, here’s what we’ve got. We can either turn and walk away from it or we can face it.’ You give it to the Lord and ask Him to show you what to do.”
“We’ve always known that everything’s in God’s control,” Janet agreed. “So we’ve never had a moment of not truly trusting and believing that everything was going to be fine. The only thing that really bothered us was just not knowing what that stage was and at what point we were. It was just fear of the unknown.”
Ian had already been through a lot in 2010. While playing baseball in April, he fractured his hip. He took a month off from athletics and recovered but, just after getting released to participate in spring football practice in May, he re-fractured it. He had surgery on July 1 and was able to play football last season.
But in the fall, he started feeling ill.
“Ian would go to school and he wouldn’t be there very long,” Janet recalled. “At 9, 9:30, 10 o’clock, I’d get a call from him. He’d say, ‘Mom, you’ve got to come get me. I feel horrible.’ I’d pick him up and he’d just be soaking wet from sweat.”
Asked how he felt, Ian said, “I couldn’t really explain it when Mom would ask me. It was during winter so it’s really cold outside and everyone’s out there freezing but I’m over there just sweating up a storm and I’m like nervous for some reason. It just became where I couldn’t concentrate in class.”
“I’d bring him home and he’d lay down and he’d sleep for maybe a couple of hours,” Janet said. “He’d get to feeling better, eat something and then he’d go back to school. We knew something was wrong. We thought something was going on at school and we questioned him. He said, ‘No. Things are fine at school.’ Then we had a couple of episodes on Sunday mornings at church so it was like ‘Okay, is God working on you or what? What’s going on here?’ It was sporadic, usually in the mornings.
“This went on for quite some time,” she continued.
Eventually, an appointment was made with Dr. Allan Stanford at Central Arkansas Pediatrics in Bryant. All sorts of tests were run including a chest x-ray. The results moved the doctor to send Ian to Children’s Hospital for another on x-ray of his chest.
“There were some enlarged lymph glands,” Janet recalled. “At Children’s, they saw the same thing. Dr. Stanford then sent us to a pulmonary doctor at Children’s and she had a CT scan run to look at the lymph nodes. From there, they sent us to UAMS to do a biopsy and that was when it was actually determined.”
It was late on Wednesday night, March 30. Dr. Stanford called.
“He said, ‘I never thought I’d be telling you this but Ian has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,’ Janet recounted. “I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ He said, ‘No. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.’ I said, ‘Where do we go from here?’”
Ian was getting ready to go out with a friend to a movie. Janet woke Ken and told him then they both went to their son.
“The first thing he said was ‘Can I still play football?’” Janet noted. “I said, ‘We’ll get all these answers but as far as I’m concerned, you can do whatever you can for as long as you can.’ Then he said, ‘Okay, can I go now?’ He was fine. He wanted to go to the movies.”
“It took a couple of days to sink in,” Ian admitted. “At first, I really didn’t think much about it. A couple of days later, it kind of hit me. I know it’ll all work out for the best but it was a little shocking.”
Without knowing what stage he was in and knowing full well what the worst case scenario could be, was he scared?
“Not as much as people were thinking,” he replied. “I think everyone else was more scared than I was. Once you’ve broken your hip twice in one year, it takes a lot to scare someone.”
In fact, there was some thought that the hip problems might’ve stemmed from the cancer but a bone biopsy determined that it was not.
“They believe it was just because he’s such a big kid and his muscles overpowered his bones,” Janet mentioned.
Regarding the cancer diagnosis, she added, “It totally caught me off-guard. I was shocked. But then, you don’t stay there. You pick up and you go on. That’s exactly what we’re doing.
“(Dr. Stanford) sent us back to Children’s and the doctor we’re going to (David Becton) happens to be the Chief Oncologist there,” Janet said.
The two-week wait for Ian’s first treatment and the discovery of the status of the cancer ensued.
“We have all the faith that God is involved with it,” Ken stated. “Janet lost her job two months ago. Now she can be there and be with him all the time. We know that the doctors are guided by God’s hands, with the treatment and all that. We just give it over to God and say, ‘Okay, do what needs to be done.’”
“Ian is incredible,” Janet added. “He said right from the first, ‘This is not going to get me. I’m going to fight it.’ And he’s determined. We have a very strong faith and Ian has a very strong faith.”
On Tuesday, April 5, the day after Ian pitched a no-hitter for his baseball team in the Bryant Athletic Association pre-season tournament, he checked into the hospital and the good news began with the discovery of the early stages of the cancer.
“Saying it’s only Stage 1 is — well, we are blessed that it’s Stage 1 because it’s very treatable and very curable,” said Janet.
“If you’ve got to have a cancer, that’s the one to have,” Ken allowed. “God gave us that one.”
After a treatment on Tuesday night and another on Wednesday, Ian came home Thursday.
“We’ll go back this Tuesday (April 12) and he has an out-patient treatment,” Janet said. “Then, we wait 21 days then we’ll go back and do the same process. After that, we’ll do a PET scan to determine how the treatment is going. We’re scheduled to do one more series after that.
“The doctor believes that that is all he’s going to have to have,” she stated. “He thinks he can do it in three treatments and it’ll be done. The doctor we have is super. He knows how much athletics plays in Ian’s life. He has four boys of his own and he has told Ian, ‘We’re going to get you through this so you can get back to football in June.’ He’s really a very personable doctor and relates really well to us.”
The therapy has had an interesting effect, Ian revealed. “My taste buds are changing,” he stated. “Some of the most delicious food like pizza and ketchup are disgusting to me now.
“There’s been a couple of days where I’ve been a little tired from not even doing anything,” he added. “But then again, there’s days like Friday, my first day back to school, I went to football and worked out fully and I was fine. I got tired but then everybody on the team was tired.
“Coach (Paul) Calley knows that whenever we do our drills and stuff on the offensive line that I can’t have contact but I’m still in there running the plays and stuff,” said Ian. “He has moved me from tight end to left tackle. Before this, me and Coach Calley had a good relationship but, after this, I’m seeing him as like a father-figure now also, just because of all the things he’s done for us, coming to see me, calling us. He’s been great through it all.”
“He’s going to come back as strong as he was,” Ken asserted. “He’s a big, strong kid. And it’s not ‘if’ he plays (football), it’s ‘when’ he gets back to it. We’re sure that’s going to happen.”
Ian admits that the fact that he has cancer has changed his perspective a little.“Whenever I would see the commercials and things on TV about cancer stuff before, I would think it was just another one of those commercials,” he related. “Now, it actually means something to me because it’s actually happened in my life. It has an effect on how I live and how I treat other people.”
“God gives us the strength to handle this and maybe somebody’s watching us to see how we handle it,” Ken concluded. “If that’s the task we’ve been given, well fine. That’s what we’ll do. We’d rather not be going down this road. But, if Ian can be an inspiration to one person or if we can as a family, that’s what we’re going to do. We know Ian’s going to come through it. We have plans. He has plans. This is just bump in the road. That’s all.”