Ask Matthew Downer to show you his senior ring with the big blue stone and a grin flashes across his face. The Fort Payne High School graduate was tapped for membership in the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society, was named Citizen of the year by the local Kiwanis Club, worked at a local restaurant part-time, rebuilt the motor of his ’94 Chevy pickup in his spare time – and has battled brain cancer since 2009.
The first signs of his illness -- vomiting and headaches -- were initially diagnosed as a stomach virus. But when Matthew failed to get better, his pediatrician ordered a CT scan and referred Matthew to pediatric neurosurgeon Curtis Rozzelle, M.D. at Children’s of Alabama. Soon, Matthew was undergoing surgery to remove a large mass inside the frontal lobe of his brain. The diagnosis was grade 4 glioblastoma and required radiation for six weeks and chemotherapy every two weeks for a year. “He was in such good spirits the whole time,” his mother, Denise, said.
In January, 2014, Matthew relapsed and required repeat surgery by Dr. Rozzelle followed by further treatment under the direction of Children’s pediatric neuro-oncologist Alyssa Reddy, M.D. According to Dr. Reddy, new advances in cancer biology allowed our neuro-pathologists to identify a genetic mutation in Matthew’s tumor called “BRAF.” She began treating him with a newly-developed drug that inhibits what happens in tumors with this mutation. “His case is an example of how this new technology, referred to as ‘personalized medicine,’ is offering new hope to patients with deadline diseases,” Dr. Reddy said. “After a few months on the drug, we no longer saw the tumor on his MRI and he's been in remission now for two years.”
Today, Matthew continues treatment and sees Dr. Reddy once a month. “He’s stronger than I can ever hope to be and he’s more faith-filled than most adults,” Denise said. The cancer hasn’t deterred his plans to enroll in Gadsden State Community College’s auto body and collision repair program so that he can have a career doing what he enjoys best.