Justin Schieffer converted his 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback to an automatic, after cancer took his left leg.
Justin Schieffer converted his 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback to an automatic, after cancer took his left leg.
August 23, 2013

Templeton - A cancer survivor who loves muscle cars and had to remake his prized Ford Mustang when a tumor took part of his left leg - which he needed to run the clutch of the hot rod's four-speed transmission - will host a car show on Sunday to benefit others stricken by the disease. This is the fifth year for the car-show fundraiser, which was initially held to help pay for Justin Schieffer's stay at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he had surgeries and chemotherapy treatments for almost a year.

Schieffer, now 31, discovered the bone cancer on his femur on a March 2009 morning when he stood from his couch and bumped a coffee table.

The table, which Schieffer built from pine, smacked his left leg just above his knee, and "I was like, 'Whoa, that really, really hurt,'" he said this week in his Templeton home.

He asked a doctor to see whether he had done more damage than a bruise, and a magnetic scan revealed the tumor. Another test showed that the tumor could spread if it wasn't removed.

They moved quickly.

In April 2009, surgeons repaired sections of Schieffer's intestinal tract that were damaged by Crohn's disease, with which he was diagnosed as a teen. Schieffer needed to be able to absorb all the nutrients he could as his body recovered from the chemotherapy that started the next month.

In July 2009, doctors planned to cut out the tumor. About a week before the surgery, they told him that it might be unsafe or impossible to remove the tumor without amputating his leg - the tumor appeared to wrap around a vein that would make the procedure tricky.

Turns out the tumor was fully attached to the vein, and there was no choice.

He awoke after the surgery, hazy, in disbelief that his left knee and lower leg could be gone.

They actually did it, he remembers thinking at the time.

The change affected so much of his life. Standing and walking. Showering.

And driving.

His 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback - which Schieffer had owned since he was 15 - had a manual transmission. He needed both feet to drive it.

"It's probably dumb, but that was almost the worst," Schieffer said.

The first car-show fundraiser was about a month after the surgery in the parking lot near Hy-Vee Food Store on the west side of Carroll. His friend, Aaron Johnston, of Carroll, helped organize it. About 110 people paid to enter their vehicles.

Schieffer rode a golf cart. He couldn't yet wear a prosthetic leg because of an infection.

He was bald from the chemotherapy.

Not long after the show, Schieffer and his uncle John Schieffer tore down the Mustang to its bare shell and rebuilt it at John's shop in Carroll, Auto Graphics Plus. They took out the manual transmission and put in an automatic and a new engine with extra juice.

They painted it green, and Justin Schieffer bought a custom license plate with "JJZ 109" - the plate number of Steve McQueen's Mustang in the film "Bullitt."

And then life went on.

Schieffer returned to his job as a case manager for Carroll County, finding money and services for disabled people who live at home.

He and wife Ericka have a little boy, Brady, who was born about three months ago. Justin is sterile from the chemotherapy, but they used his frozen sperm from before the treatments to get pregnant.

Still, Justin Schieffer thinks about the cancer every day. He climbs into a wheelchair from bed each day to get to the shower. He takes off his prosthetic each night and plugs it into the wall to charge - it has a computer that adjusts how it moves.

He can't easily get up at night when baby Brady cries.

But he's alive. And on Sunday, his car show might help others stay alive, too.