Casey Shepard of Leachville said she just wants to be 21 and have all of this behind her. She is referring to her battle with leukemia.
Less than a year ago Casey, a 2003 Manila High School graduate, was doing all the normal things of a young adult. She was going to college, working part-time, making her plans to someday be a math teacher and show young students how easy algebra really is.
Her life changed on June 13, 2006, when a doctor told her she had cancer. Not only her life changed but the lives of her family.
Casey is the oldest daughter of J.D. and Diana Shepard. She has two younger sisters, Whitney 19, and Ashley 16.
"It was devastating," Mrs. Shepard said. "I took Casey to the emergency room with what we thought was a gall bladder attack. After running tests, the doctor came in and told us her gall bladder was fine but she had cancer. His next words were, 'An oncologist is on the way to talk to you.'"
Life has not been the same for Casey and her family since. It was discovered she had a very aggressive type of leukemia (juvenile and adult). Within a week she started treatments and it has been a constant battle ever since.
When she got stronger from the first round of treatments, she underwent a stem cell transplant the first week in November.
Her sisters both volunteered to be tested for a match. Whitney was a perfect match and she started daily shots in preparation for the transplant.
"We told Whitney she did not have to do it unless she was sure, but she never hesitated," Mrs. Shepard said. "The stem cell transplant is done in Memphis, Houston, Texas, or in St. Louis. We chose Memphis because it was closer to home."
It took two days for the three million stem cells to be taken from Whitney.
It took 45 minutes for the healthy stem cells to be transplanted into Casey's system. The family rented an apartment in Memphis for the 150 plus day stay.
Everything seemed to be going well for Casey until December when she suffered blockage to her heart because of blood clots and she had to undergo angioplasty surgery.
"She had to be put on a respirator for two weeks, and she was very ill," Mrs. Shepard said. "When she opened her eyes the first time and looked at her dad, he said it was just like the day she was born."
She did recover from heart surgery and was able to come home to Leachville in March.
Casey underwent a bone marrow biopsy in February and it showed a cluster of leukemia cells had returned.
"It was explained to us 90 percent of Casey's cells were Whitney's good cells and 10 percent were Casey's leukemic cells, but the bad cells are eating up the good cells at a rapid pace," Mrs. Shepard said.
Casey is once again undergoing chemotherapy five days a week. Last Friday was her last round of chemotherapy until another bone marrow biopsy is taken.
"When we get the results of the test we will go from there," Mrs. Shepard said.
Casey is a fighter, she said she never has and never will give up even though it has been a really tough year and she suffers quite a bit from the side effects of the treatments."
Casey said she is so thankful for her family, friends and the community for all of the help and support she has received.
She was too old to be eligible to be treated at St. Jude. She is taking her treatments at St. Bernards in Jonesboro.
Casey was also too old to qualify for the Make A Wish Foundation but she was granted a wish thanks to the generosity of her friends and family.
Casey was talking to her aunt, Robin Decker, and mentioned one of the things she always wanted to do was see the Grand Canyon.
Ms. Decker shared the conversation with a friend and the ball started rolling. Benefits were held to help raise money, and Casey's dream of seeing the Grand Canyon came true. She talked to her doctors about the trip and plans were made. Casey, her Aunt Robin, and her dad made the trip by air during spring break.
Mrs. Shepard had lived in Arizona before moving to Manila as a teenager and had visited the Grand Canyon as a child.
"Casey called me when she got there and asked why I didn't tell her it was so beautiful," Mrs. Shepard said. "I told her words couldn't describe it, you just have to see it for yourself."
Casey said the trip was wonderful and a dream come true. The day they arrived the skywalk was opened to the public. The skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped glass walkway so tourists can look down into the canyon.
"It was like it was opened for me so I could get a better look," Casey said. "No cameras or picture taking were allowed on the skywalk but a photographer, originally from Fayetteville, was there and when he heard about my wish to see the Grand Canyon, he took a lot of pictures of us and sent them to me. People have been so good to me throughout all of this."
Fundraisers were held and donations were given to help with living expenses while the family was staying in Memphis and donations were given to help make Casey's dream of seeing the Grand Canyon come true.
"There are so many people it is impossible to name them all," Casey said. "The community, the churches, and a lot of people have helped me. I do especially want to thank my sister, Whitney, and all of my family members, Aunt Robin, Vonda Scoggins, Laura Oldham, Rodney Robertson, the First Responders, Tom Puckett, Rudy Burrow, Adams Land Company and Joey Robbins. I know there are others and I am grateful to each and every one of them. We have met many nice people who have given me encouragement."
Casey admits there are days when it would be easier for her to give in (especially after a treatment). She said the doctors are giving her a 20 percent chance of survival with treatments, and she is hopeful.
"I don't think by the week," Casey said. "I have learned to take it one day at a time."
The family asks for everyone to keep Casey in their prayers.