Power of positive thinking

Published 12:07 pm Sunday, May 18, 2014

Matthew Bazemore is joined inside his Milwaukee home by his mother, Donna, and pet dog, Lady Bug. The 13-year-old, visually impaired due to a brain tumor, is spearheading a fundraising effort next week for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Matthew Bazemore is joined inside his Milwaukee home by his mother, Donna, and pet dog, Lady Bug. The 13-year-old, visually impaired due to a brain tumor, is spearheading a fundraising effort next week for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

MILWAUKEE – It’s rare when a town and a school decide to host a special day for a 13-year-old.

But then again, Matthew Bazemore is a special young man.

The 7th grader at Conway Middle School was diagnosed in 2011 with Juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (JPA), a rare childhood brain tumor. As it is in most cases, Bazemore’s tumor is benign, but it has left him with balance problems and vision abnormalities, as well as bouts with headaches and nausea.

Despite having life deal him a bag of lemons, Matthew opted instead to make lemonade.

“Don’t feel sorry for me; there’s a lot of people out there in worse shape than I am,” said the youngster, sitting comfortably on the living room couch of the well-kept Milwaukee home he shares with his mom, Donna, and pet dog, Lady Bug.

Such is the attitude possessed by this amazing young teen…a positive outlook that he feels will help him return to good health.

“The doctors, they’ve tried all sorts of chemotherapy on me with different results,” he said, adding that although his tumor is benign, the treatments are the same as if it was cancer in an effort to reduce its size. “I think they’ve got the right one for me now. God gave them the right one this time. It’s God’s work that will heal me one day.”

Blurry Blackboard

The 2011-12 school year was just a few months old when Matthew first experienced trouble with his vision. He was in class at CMS and the teacher was writing vocabulary words on the blackboard.

“I couldn’t see the words; I got real close to a classmate, Luke Davis, and was looking at his paper,” Matthew recalled. “Still I would have to keep switching positions to even see what was written on his paper; if I stared at it for more than three seconds the words would fade away.”

There was no forewarning of his pending ailment. In the summer of 2011, Matthew was an all-star pitcher in the Northampton County Rec League, and then, just a few months later, his world was turned upside down.

“It was like one week I was fine, and the next I’m totally blind,” he noted.

After making his mother aware of what had occurred at school, an appointment was made to visit Dr. Scott Edwards at his Optometry & Optical office in Ahoskie.

“He knew something wasn’t right and told me I need to see a specialist,” Matthew recalled.

The appointment with a specialist never materialized. A mere four days after the visit with Dr. Edwards, Matthew and his immediate family made the trip to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, VA. There, after an MRI and a CT scan, the news was revealed….there was a tumor, about the size of an ostrich egg, pressing against his optic nerve.

“The minute they told me that Matthew had a brain tumor, I stepped out of the room he was in and cried, and cried, and cried,” Mrs. Bazemore recalled. “I had to be counseled to get my emotions together before I could walk back in that room and face my son. He told me not to cry anymore because God will take care of him.”

Matthew was transferred to UVA Hospital in Charlottesville, VA where he underwent emergency surgery on Oct. 4, 2011. During the 10-hour procedure doctors were able to remove a portion of the tumor.

“They got about one-half of it; they couldn’t get it all because of the way it was positioned in my brain, right there on my optic nerve,” Matthew noted.

He did regain some of his vision following the surgery and an ensuing 14-day stay in the hospital, but as it turned out, that sight was only temporary. There was so much fluid in the tumor, it shifted back onto his optic nerve.

In December of 2011, the decision was made to try chemotherapy in an effort to reduce the size of the tumor. The treatments, still ongoing, are at Duke University Hospital.

Never say never

One thing is for certain…with all Matthew has been through over a period of three short years, he’s a fighter.

“As I was going through this, I refused to give up,” he boasted. “I’m not giving up; I will get my eyesight back.

“You cannot get anywhere in life, no matter what trial you’re going through, without a positive attitude,” Matthew continued. “You’ve got to remain positive. Sure, I have some bad days, but you move past them, you move on.”

Currently, his vision is limited to light and color. He said can see better out of the side of his eyes.

Despite limited vision, Matthew remains an active student at Conway Middle School. He attends class just like any other student, using a laptop computer to take notes and tests. He’s also learning brail.

“My classmates and teachers mean a lot to me, they help me out every day,” he said.

Every two weeks Matthew receives specialized instruction in computer and Internet access as well as training with a mobility coach.

Matthew, an accomplished trumpet player, is a member of the CMS band. On Wednesday evening he joined his fellow band members in a concert at the school.

“I don’t have to have my eyesight to live life to the fullest,” he stressed.

Matthew’s Day

The idea started simple….to hold an fundraiser at CMS for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Matthew said he sent Principal Oliver Holley an email last November, asking permission to hold such an event later in the school year.

Since that time, the event has sprouted wings, to include the town. The May 22 event also comes during Brain Tumor Awareness Month.

“I feel this is something I want to do, to help the Foundation who has already helped me out,” Matthew remarked. “They do research, they give money to Duke, to find a cure for these tumors. I’m thankful for what they do.”

The in-school fundraiser includes a “Quarters for a Cure” campaign. “Team Bazemore” t-shirts have also been sold for $10 each.

“The town (Conway) got involved after Mr. Holley approached them to see if they were interested in partnering with the school for this fundraiser,” said Mrs. Bazemore.

Two weeks ago, mother and son attended a meeting of the Conway Board of Commissioners, making them aware of the pending fundraiser.

The town jumped onboard the Team Bazemore bandwagon. On May 22, Conway’s downtown area will be decorated with gray Brain Tumor Awareness ribbons on the welcome signs on the west and east ends of town, as well as on poles throughout the downtown area. Town citizens are encouraged to place gray awareness ribbons at their homes and businesses.

“I’m very proud of the way Matthew has handled all of this; he is more thoughtful of others than of himself, that’s why he wanted to do this fundraiser for the Brain Tumor Foundation,” said Mrs. Bazemore. “He does this because he is so generous to others, to their needs. He’s my inspiration; he’s made me a stronger person.”

Once there is a cure and Matthew hopefully returns to a normal life, he has thought about his future. He admits he loves to write, even at one point asking about a future job with this newspaper, and has an affection for music.

“With or without a brain tumor; with or without my eyesight, I’m still going to be me….Matthew Bazemore. I do want to thank everyone for all they’ve done for me and for supporting me and the Foundation,” he closed.

In Matthew’s corner is a family that generates love and support…..from his mom, his sister, Brittany, and his grandparents, Joe and Faye Jenkins, and Frances Bazemore, and his dad, Steven Bazemore.

Matthew’s aunt, Rhonda Jenkins Brown, has set up an online registry for donations via the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.  To donate, visit www.curethekids.org, click the “Get Involved” tab, click “Plan a Fundraiser” on the left.  In the “Find a Fundraiser” section, key in first name “Rhonda”, last name “Brown”, and select “Brown, Rhonda”.  Once you get to the fundraising page, you are encouraged to view the very moving video “Can’t Stop Now” telling you Matthew’s story.  To donate, click on the green button on the right “DONATE NOW” and follow the prompts to make a secure and safe donation in Matthew’s honor.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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