- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

BATESVILLE, Ark. (AP) - When Matt Williams was born, doctors said he might never walk - but he played tee-ball as a boy, rounding the bases with braces on his legs.

Doctors said he may not finish high school and yet he went on to become a substitute teacher at the very school from which he graduated.

When he took a preparatory test for college, he was told he wouldn’t succeed - but he graduated in May 2012 with a bachelor of science degree and was on the Dean’s List at Arkansas State University.

At 25, Matt has had more than his fair share of challenges in his life, and now he and his wife Marilyn are coping with the latest blow, an aggressive form of a rare cancer called peritoneal mesothelioma.

But those who know him would say if anyone can fight it, Matt, the son of Debbie Hall of Batesville and Randy and Paula Williams of Maple Springs, can. In fact, his “stubbornness” is one of the qualities that attracted Marilyn to him, she said with a smile.

He said being wheelchair bound has made an impact on his life, and he’s learned to be independent. In 2012, he surprised his family when he flew to Philadelphia alone to see the Atlanta Braves play and take in the sights.

Sometimes there were struggles for his independence, he explained. “There were times my mom said, ‘You made it through elementary school, let’s home-school you,’ and I was like, ‘No.’

“When you tell me I’m not going to do something I want to go out and do it all the more.”

It started with a cough, one so bad that Matt thought he was just sore from it. When the cold persisted for a couple of weeks with no help from the antibiotics prescribed by the doctor, that’s when Matt decided to have further tests.

On Dec. 18, his sister April’s birthday, he received the news.

Cancer.

Peritoneal mesothelioma is very rare, typically present in less than 500 people in the United States each year.

“So there’s no teams of doctors researching it,” Matt said.

He took his first and only treatment on Jan. 7, thinking at the time he would take six rounds, three weeks apart, but he was so sick and weak he couldn’t get out of bed, and when he did he was in the bathroom.

Even with the chemo, Matt was facing the possibility of another surgery, but it would not be easy to find a surgeon who would take Matt’s case, with his other health problems, including having spina bifida.

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