By Deanna Kirk
Corsicana Daily Sun
Crystal Shepherd has always been on the giving side of the equation — the one putting together Backpacks of Love, organizing events at American Cancer Society Relay for Life, volunteering at Camp of the Rising Sun, or counseling families through her job as a licensed social worker at Presbyterian Home and Health Services.
But now the “giver” is in the receiving seat.
In recent months, Crystal and her family have been through trials many can’t imagine — and her friends and family are stepping in to help by putting on a softball tournament, which will hopefully alleviate some financial burdens caused by her medical battle.
Saturday, April 13 beginning at 10 a.m. Lake Halbert Park will be the site for the Crystal Shepherd Benefit Softball Tournament. Entry fee is $150 per team, and 13 or 14 teams have already signed up. There are men’s and co-ed teams, and there will also be a dunking booth, bounce houses for the kids, concession stand with barbecue, sausage on a stick, and hot dogs, and friends are trying to gather items for a silent auction, too.
“We have lots of people volunteering to make sweets, bake sale type stuff, too,” said Mark Lee, Crystal’s brother.
For tournament information, contact Chris Garrett at (903) 641-6395 or Wes Young at (903) 467-4797. To help with food or silent auction, contact Dawn Jock at (903) 641-2567, Amber Richardson at (903) 654-1734 or Lee at (903) 875-8761.
There is an account at Community National Bank and Trust as well, if you wish to make a direct donation, styled Crystal Shepherd Benefit.
Crystal was a 14-year-old school girl when her parents noticed she had trouble concentrating, keeping her focus. While she was at school running, she blacked out, and was taken to the doctor. After an MRI, Crystal was sent straight to Children’s Hospital, where she had surgery at age 15 to remove a tumor from her brain. Parents Ronnie and Linda Lee and older brother Mark kept a close eye on her as she recovered, taking some medications and having regular MRIs and CAT scans. Once she became 25, doctors finally released her from care, since she had gone so long with no changes.
A close, tight-knit family unit, the family pulled together when Ronnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He fought a valiant fight, with his wife and children close by, as well as Mark’s wife Alicia, their son Landon, and Crystal’s fiancé Rocky Shepherd. A large wedding had been planned for Rocky and Crystal on March 31, 2007, but Ronnie was called home to heaven March 20, 2007. Through their grief, the wedding took place but with only close family in attendance.
A beautiful, healthy daughter was born to them on March 21, 2010, named Ronni Grace Shepherd in honor of Ronnie Lee.
Around Thanksgiving of 2012, Crystal had a seizure while at work and passed out.
“Paramedics took her to the hospital, where they did an MRI and discovered another tumor in her brain,” Mark said. “I remember we wondered if her surgery would be before Christmas or after Christmas.
“They referred her to Ennis to Dr. Robert Silverman, who discovered her first tumor. He ordered more MRIs, and he began searching for surgeons for her. They decided to send her to Baylor Hospital to discuss possibilities.”
Crystal’s 30th birthday on Jan. 11, 2013 was celebrated with a big party at Harbor Inn with many friends and much of their very large extended family in attendance.
“It was one of those milestones I don’t think she wanted to miss out on,” Mark said.
Her surgery was Jan. 16, 2013. Crystal and Rocky went up the night before, and Mark, Alicia, Linda and Landon all went very early and met with her before the surgery. All throughout the day the waiting room at Baylor swelled to capacity as more friends and family joined them to wait for word on her condition.
“She was in surgery six hours,” he said. “They told us going into it they didn’t know what her speech would be like afterward, since the tumor was near that part of her brain. They didn’t know if she’d be able to speak or not with the resulting swelling from the surgery. That night, she was able to say some words after they took out the breathing tube, which was a good sign.”
The tumor was benign, and the surgeon was able to remove most of it, though not all. Crystal was in the hospital six days, and progressively got stronger and regained more movement and speech as the days passed. Mark recalls the day she was released, they didn’t have much notice, and he got a call saying they needed an extra vehicle to help haul her gifts home. Somehow, he wound up being the one to chauffeur his sister home, right at 4:45 p.m., in the height of Dallas rush hour traffic. He doesn’t remember ever feeling so nervous or vulnerable as he did during that drive with his precious cargo.
“I said to Rocky, ‘Why can’t I drive the car with the flowers?’” he said, laughing.
Not long after getting back home, Ronni Grace got pneumonia and had to be admitted to the hospital. Mark recalled that being so difficult, because his mother and Rocky had to alternate nights staying with Crystal and Ronni Grace. Crystal was going to occupational, physical and speech therapy in Dallas every day, all day, and one person had to drive her, while the other stayed with Ronni Grace.
“Those were very long, stressful days on her right after the surgery,” Mark said.
Ronni got better and went home from the hospital, and Rocky had to return to work. Linda was able to take FLMA from work in order to take Crystal back and forth to Dallas for her daily therapy (which she is still doing).
“People brought meals nearly every day for the first month, and with Crystal coming home so tired every day it was very welcome,” he said. “Some are still continuing to do that, like Grace Community, their church.”
Crystal has not yet been released to drive, so Linda and Rocky are still taking turns driving her to Dallas for her therapy. She continues to improve daily, and her neuro “pathways” are reestablished. She is due to have another MRI next week.
“The tumor was considered benign, but because they weren’t able to remove it all, she is doing chemo to hopefully prevent it from growing back,” Mark said. “Brain tumors are often treated with chemos or radiation to stop or slow the growth. She takes a chemo pill five days out of the month, and on those days she must be very regimented in her schedule of eating and resting.”
This past Christmas, Mark and Alicia Lee hosted the gathering at their home in Eureka, and there were probably 60 to 70 family members there. Mark said they are extremely blessed with a loving, tight-knit family, including aunts, uncles and cousins.
In addition to being down to one income for several months, the medical bills are mounting. Then there are the daily expenses, such as Ronni Grace still going to daycare, gas for the daily trips to Dallas, lunch for Linda and Crystal while they’re in Dallas each day, not to mention medications, and constant checks of her blood to monitor the effects of the chemo.
“I can’t imagine having to go through something like this without support of friends and family ... shuffling things around,” he said. “What if Mama hadn’t been able to take off work, and Rocky had to stay with her all the time? He had only been at his job a year, and didn’t have that much time off.
“Chris Garrett is our cousin on Dad’s side. Dawn Jock is married to Tracy, our cousin on my Mom’s side. Amber Richardson went to school with Alicia, and used to work with Dawn ... it’s just Corsicana!”
The Navarro County “network” is coming together to help take care of one of its own, one who always makes time to help others.
Deanna Kirk may be reached via email at email@example.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org