FAIRBORN — The Fairborn community is being called upon to support a family of its own.
Joe Smith, a Fairborn Wee-Hawks Football coach, was diagnosed with high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma and is currently undergoing treatment at The James Cancer Center at The Ohio State University.
He is 27 and the father of five children.
“I’ve had some of the (football) parents come up to me and tell me you would never think he was battling cancer,” said Ashley Smith, Joe’s high school-sweetheart and wife. “He was out there everyday because he wanted to be there for the boys.”
Joe noticed a pebble-sized lump near his lymph node/thyroid area earlier this year, leading him to see a doctor who would diagnose him with an infection that believed formed out of an abscess from getting his wisdom teeth removed. He was prescribed antibiotics after seeing a doctor on four different occasions, Ashley said, until he finally saw a different doctor who expressed concern and suggested a biopsy that would allow them to find out if the lump was cancerous or filled with fluid. The biopsy revealed that it was lymphoma or thyroid cancer, allowing the family to prepare themselves for what was to come.
“He was ready to fight from the beginning,” Ashley said.
The doctor who told them the lump was cancerous later contacted them and said he was wrong about the type of cancer. Joe’s sister works at a cancer center in Texas, so they scooped up the kids and traveled down to Texas, making it a “family trip,” Ashley said. Within two days, they discovered the type of cancer he was battling.
About a month after the Smiths returned from Texas, they found out his mother had passed away as well.
“It’s been one thing after another,” she said.
Ashley posted on social media that high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma is common for men older than 50 and the placement of the lump in Joe’s case is also very rare. The lump at that point was pushing even more into his airway and was impacting his heart rate. Joe underwent his first round of chemotherapy at the cancer center in Texas, but finished up 21 more rounds at Miami Valley South Hospital in Dayton.
The Smiths found out in a PET scan last month that the chemotherapy was unsuccessful. Ashley said the temperatures outside were beginning to drop at that point and he was having even more trouble breathing. She advised him to go to the hospital, but he went to an urgent care facility instead and found out he was also battling bronchitis.
Ashley explained that Joe attended football practice, but some of the parents expressed concerned after observing that Joe was having trouble breathing. When he returned home, she checked his temperature which read 103-degrees. She said he was “stubborn” and wanted to attend the game because “the boys work harder when he’s there,” and it was the team’s final game. Joe talked to a friend, who took him to Soin Medical Center after the game concluded. He was then sent via CareFlight to The James.
His airway had collapsed.
Joe had a stent placed inside, but it caused him to stop breathing because it was placed incorrectly. According to the social media post by Ashley, Joe underwent surgery three times before the medical professionals decided they were not going to try to place a stent in him anymore because the “simple procedure almost costed him his life.” She was able to stay with him at the hospital in Columbus following the surgery, but was awoken at 3 a.m. because Joe couldn’t breathe. He was placed on a ventilation machine, which she posted had helped. Joe also started an immunotherapy drug trial that had displayed a good outcome. His heart later stopped beating, but doctors were able to use medication to make it start again.
Joe has since started emergency radiation treatment and has been stable for the last three days at the time of the interview with Ashley.
“I hope it works because we need him home,” she said.
Coach Neil Williams, who has stepped up to coach first-and-second-grade Joe’s Wee-Hawk Football students while he battles the cancer, described him as “an awesome coach and dad.”
“He’s a really hard worker and he makes the kids laugh,” Williams said. “He gets on them when they mess around, so he’s still firm, but he’s a positive role model for all the kids on the field.”
Terry Blakley, a local real estate agent, formerly worked with Joe when his son was on the Wee-Hawks team. Blakley started a Go Fund Me fundraiser, and his wife opened up a charity account at Wright Patt Credit Union titled “Coach Joe Strong” in which 100 percent of the donations will go toward the family. The goal is to raise at least $10,000.
“When I heard about what was going on at the ball field, it really hit home personally,” Blakley said. “I am the father of four children. I think it hit home for a lot of people. Someone had to do something to help them … Joe is a very heard-working person and works numerous jobs.”
Within the last week and a half, Blakley said just more than $3,000 has been raised to benefit the Smith family.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know we’re not alone,” Ashley said. “Joe has never been the type of person to accept help. Terry didn’t give us the option to tell him no. He just said ‘we’re helping.’”
Ashley and Joe met during their freshman year of high school. She gave birth to their first son, Kyair, 11, soon after. They got married and later welcomed Xayden, 7, Zaxton, 6, Lavyon, 3, and Joeley, 2, to their family.
“I’m asking everyone to keep them in your prayers — keep the family in your hearts and minds and whatever the community can do to help, don’t hesitate to reach out,” Williams said.
Ashley, a Fairborn native, suggested that the family move to Fairborn because she wanted to raise her family in her hometown. Joe is not originally from Fairborn, but Ashley said he “knows more people than she does” and said described Joe as “an outspoken family guy.”
“Thank you,” Ashley said to Terry and the rest of the Fairborn community for their assistance. “I’m speechless because of the outpouring of support — support I didn’t even know I had. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s like an overwhelming feeling, but a good overwhelmed … I’m thankful for the prayers and the coming together to help.”
Contact Whitney Vickers at 937-502-4532.