Lejeune community comes together in support of student battling cancer - Camp Lejeune Globe: Carolina Living

Lejeune community comes together in support of student battling cancer

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Posted: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 6:00 am | Updated: 8:47 am, Wed Jun 5, 2019.

On February 6, 2019 Lejeune High School senior Matt Smith was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer. Four weeks ago, the student completed his treatment at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. The battle was fierce. Smith had trouble eating along with other symptoms which go hand in hand with the scourge of cancer. It was also a familiar one for James Bowker, LHS School Resource Officer. He had fought the same fight in 2018. That is why, on the morning of May 31, students at LHS and representatives from the Provost Marshal’s Office rallied together to mark the occasion of Bowker showing his solidarity with Smith by shaving his head.

Over the course of three days Bowker had raised over $300 in support of Smith. There was no marketing, no established campaign and no sweeping call to action which prefaced it. It was just Bowker, as he put it, paying things forward.

“I fought a similar battle with cancer,” Bowker. said “He (Smith) and I are both still fighting it. When I had my issues the school came together for me and made donations.”

The news on Smith returning to school came across Bowker’s radar due to a memo.

“It was recent,” Bowker said. “It said he was the only student who could wear a hat. That sparked something for me.”

For Smith’s parents, Staff Sgt. Matthew Smith, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, and Michele Smith, the school and community’s support was something that got them through such a difficult time.

“The school was supportive the second we found out about Matthew,” Michele Smith said. “They helped get his work completed. They set up a 504 (customized education plan). Teachers would come to visit him. They’d email him to check on him. They would hug him and show him love. They were amazing to him. We couldn’t ask for a better support system.”

Staff Sgt. Smith’s command also played a big role in providing support.

“Between this school and my battalion they’ve been phenomenal,” said the elder Smith. “They made sure I had the time and people I need. All the way from our Battalion Commander (Lt. Col. Robert M. McLellan, CO, 2nd CEB) to my Company Commander (Capt. Marc B. Bucks, Company Commander, Engineer Support Company). Capt. Bucks asked me what Matt’s favorite restaurant was and gave us a gift card. He knew he’d been having trouble eating.”

For Smith, the school was just as important.

“The school literally bent over backwards,” Staff Sgt. Smith said. “They knew he (Matt) was a good student. They were willing to go above and beyond. As a parent you can’t describe it. Everyone in this community came together. Our neighbors even put together a kickball tournament for him.”

“We’re very blessed,” Michele Smith added.

Staff Sgt. Smith also wanted to make note of his Platoon Commander, Chief Warrant Officer-3 Cory L. Surber, Platoon Commander, Heavy Equipment Platoon, who played a role in ensuring Smith had the time for his son.

Bowker agreed that the community’s true colors showed in splendor with their support of the funding and other aid for the Smiths.

“I think it shows,” Bowker said. “We only did this for three days and we have over $300. It shows a lot about these students and the whole Devil Pups culture. With him getting accepted to Penn State, I know he’s going to have a tough back and forth. This community will do anything for ours.”

As for Matthew, the enduring support has resonated. The LHS theatre department dedicated their May performance of “The Great Gatsby” to Smith, who was originally cast in the lead.

“He told me it was so special to be mentioned,” Michele Smith said. “He had three goals – the play, prom and graduation. Two out of the three worked out.”

Matthew Smith will be crossing the stage on June 14 alongside the rest of the senior class. Even cancer wasn’t going to stop him from achieving his diploma and going on to college.

And the best news of all?

“He’s feeling much better,” Michele Smith said.

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