Contributor Traci Shirk – Bravery in the Face of Blindness

Matthias Vescelus is a brave 4-year-old that isn’t letting blindness hold him back. At just 3 months old, Matthias was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare cancerous tumor in his eyes. He spent the majority of his first year fighting for his life and endured six months of chemotherapy, monthly laser and cryo-therapies, and exams under anesthesia. Near the end of treatment, his main tumors started growing again and there were too many seed tumors to count. Before Matthias’ first birthday, despite his doctor’s best efforts, his parents made the hard decision to have both of his eyes enucleated to completely remove his cancer.

“Watching Matthias battle cancer as an infant was the most difficult thing our family has ever faced,” says Katie Vescelus, Matthias’ mother. “We felt hurt that he was permanently losing his sight and relieved that he would finally be cancer free. It was an intense mixture of emotions.”

When people meet Matthias, they see a cute little boy that is full of life. A three-year cancer survivor, Matthias is learning to swim, ride a tricycle, run, jump, climb, and play piano. He hasn’t let blindness keep him from attending preschool with sighted peers and playing with his older brother, Magnus, and neighborhood friends. But unlike his peers, Matthias still visits an oncologist every six months due to a genetic mutation that makes him predisposed to developing other cancers.

Life beyond cancer has posed some challenges for Matthias, but with each comes greater triumph. Matthias’ parents are both sighted and are the first to share that they teach him all they learn and are committed to creating opportunities for him to get out and experience the world in his own way. Matthias is currently learning to use his cane, mastering Braille, and beginning to use a computer.

“It is difficult to watch him struggle,” shares Craig Vescelus, Matthias’ father. “We try to treat Matthias just like our other sighted son, Magnus. We have learned to back off and allow Matthias to figure out how to do various activities and tasks on his own.”

This year Matthias was chosen as a St. Baldrick’s Foundation 2013 Ambassador. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money to fund the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives. The five Ambassadors are selected to give a face, name, and voice to kids with cancer. Matthias is most excited to help shave his mother’s head this year at one of the annual St. Baldrick’s signature head-shaving, fundraising events.

Matthias is also eager to participate in his first Jr. Spartan Race in April, which Magnus participated in last year with their dad. The race is a thrill-filled half-mile challenge over a variety of scaled down obstacles. Matthias says, “I can’t wait for my race and to play in the mud!”

(Article contributed by Vescelus Family and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.)

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