ROXBURY, NJ – It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the family of Roxbury High School junior Justin Matthews. Finding out a dad’s breathing problems are from cancer - not just pneumonia - is a brutal surprise.
Having their father, Robert Matthews, sidelined is particularly rough for 17-year-old Justin and his 19-year-old sister, Skylar. That’s because their dad is the kind of guy who is always there for them.
“He’s been their main person,” said his wife, Jennifer.
She said her husband, seriously injured 17 years ago in a car accident, hasn’t worked since then due to debilitating back pain and nerve damage down his leg. A man of faith, Bob Matthews took an optimistic approach to being disabled by saying it allowed him to stay at home with the kids, said Jennifer.
She said her son, a member of the varsity hockey team, never missed a day of high school, an accomplishment attributable to his father.
“We always said you’ve got to credit that to my husband,” said Jennifer, who works as a phlebotomist for LabCorp in Succasunna. “”This man has not left his kids’ side since the car accident,” she said. “Even though he is in pain from his back and the nerve damage, he always gets Justin up and makes sure he gets to school.”
But now, Matthews, 47, whose parents and older brother died from cancer, is a bit on the ropes. In an attempt to help the family, the Roxbury High School Interact Club – a high school arm of the Roxbury Rotary Club – has launched an online fundraiser. Justin Matthews is a member of the Interact Club, said his mother.
“This New Year’s, everything was fine,” she said. “Then he got sick in February. At first we thought it was a cold or the flu.”
Not one to rush to doctors, Matthews waited about a month before seeking help. He was having trouble breathing and he was losing weight. “He has always been a big guy,” said Jennifer. “He was like 240 pounds. But in a 6-week period he went down to 180. Today he’s 166. If you knew him or saw pictures, you would think it was a different person.”
The first diagnosis came from an urgent care facility. That was March 5. The doctor took an X-ray, said the problem was pneumonia and put Matthews on antibiotics.
When nothing improved in two weeks, Matthews went to another doctor. “They gave him a CAT scan of his chest and we found out, on April 18, he had a tumor in his bronchial tube that was leaning on his lung, which had collapsed,” said Jennifer.
A subsequent brain scan found no issues, but a biopsy was done on the golfball-sized tumor. “We just found out this morning, at his radiation treatment, that it’s Stage 3 and they will be doing radiation until next Friday,” said Jennifer.
She said the family doesn’t yet know whether the cancer has spread beyond the tumor. That will be determined in a while, after a few more rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, with a PET scan.
Although she has health insurance through her job, Jennifer said the deductible is steep and the plan covers only a portion of many costs now being incurred. “The bills are just now starting to come in,” she said.
Matthews is hoping the treatments work, but he also believes God gave him the opportunity to be there for his children all those years and will also see him through this new challenge, said Jennifer.