As Matthew Carlton enters his senior year at Barron Collier High School, the charismatic 17-year-old has put all of his focus and hopes on a future in film directing and developing musical scores in college and beyond.
But the local teen and his family came through a long road of fighting for survival to get where he is today. In 1997, Matthew was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia as a child, a cancer of the blood, also known as ALL.
His mother, Laura, remembered the signs she saw like it was yesterday.
“He was lethargic for a while, and he complained that his leg hurt. We were taking him to the doctor and the medications were not working. That is when Dr. Rumberger ordered a blood test, and we were immediately sent to Miami Children’s Hospital for his cancer treatments,” his mother recalled.
Every single day of chemotherapy and medication instructions were journaled by pediatric oncologists and hematologists, for the Carlton family for the next two and a half years as Matthew followed his pediatric cancer treatment plan.
“We moved to the East Coast, where we moved in with my sister and her family, and we would commute into Miami for his treatments,” Laura Carlton said. “When you hear the word cancer 10 years ago, I thought my child could die.”
Meanwhile, Laura Carlton learned she was pregnant with her family’s second child, just after finding out about her son’s diagnosis. Rather than being overwhelmed after the birth of her second child, Laura Carlton quickly decided to reserve Matthew’s younger sibling Sarah’s umbilical cord blood to help her oldest son fight his childhood cancer. Umbilical cord blood is known for fighting many diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma. Many mothers choose to store cord blood for use within their families, or donate the cord blood, instead.
“I still have the cord stored, and I am not sure if they are a match or not, but it is there if we need it one day,” Laura Carlton said.
During his years of chemotherapy, Matthew did not remember the finer details of his cancer treatments in Miami.
“I was too young to understand what was going on, but I didn’t like the shots,” he said.
But his father Jim, did recall the journey vividly. “From a parent’s point of view, you’re scared to death. We didn’t go to a mall or a movie theater for two and half years, and for him to go on to get his second degree black belt in karate, and achieve everything he is has in life, is quite an accomplishment.”
Sarah, Matthew’s younger sister, agreed with her father. “I’ve always looked up to him. And he gets good grades, and plays music, and he’s successful at everything he tries,” she said.
For Matthew, and his family, he is relaxing more as they just celebrated his 10th anniversary of cancer remission, although he still returns to his pediatric oncologist once a year.
These days, Matthew is expressing himself in his music compositions, and he often can be found collaborating with fellow creative film directors to enhance their films with his piano and music recordings. Matthew humbly admitted that he has composed 20 different songs, and there are more in the works.
“I write music all of the time, and I have 20 songs I am working on, and seven songs I have finished,” Matthew said, as he exercises his musical talents with a Roland keyboard and a Dell computer synthesizer to record his personalized movie soundtracks.
But Matthew is far from the finish line, as he enters his last year at Barron Collier High. As a second degree black belt, he also volunteers as a teacher to younger karate students at U.S.A. Karate, and Matthew dedicates several hours every weekend to rehabilitating injured animals as a critter crew member at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center every weekend.
“I work in the rehab center, and they tell me what animals need food, and what cages to clean. I get to interact with a lot of animals. I was even able to release a squirrel and a bird after they rehabilitated them, as they should be released as close as where they were found,” explained Carlton, mentioning that he takes pride in his volunteer work, and his stamina in keeping up with his high school curriculum, composing music, involvement in his school orchestra, karate, and extracurricular activities.
“I plan on applying to University of Miami, UCF, and FSU soon,” said Matthew, who wants to attend a top film school, with aspirations to reach innovative feats of two of his favorite film directors, Stephen Spielberg and Christopher Nolan, one day.