The choice to go home to die isn’t one that a 20-year old athlete expects to make.
But when you are in Seattle at the last-chance-stop for non-family bone marrow transplants, the Fred Hutchison Cancer Center, and the doctors tell you that your body is not responding to chemotherapy … and the world-renowned tell you that there is a 95% chance you will not survive the transplant, you might choose to go to home to die as Trevor Bayliss ’99 did.
That was in March 1997.
Bayliss asked Dr. Candy McCoy, “In your medical opinion how much time do I have?”
“Less than a year.”
Trevor will tell you that he got mad at Dr. McCoy and screamed inside his head, “She doesn’t know me and she doesn’t know my spirit.”
Trevor’s mom, Ellen, soon thereafter saw a doctor’s report in that hospital listing Trevor’s condition as “weeks to months to live,” but she did not share that with Trevor.
After a couple of months of high-dose chemotherapy treatments at the Hutchison Center and still able to do no more than lay on the couch with his head in his mother’s lap, Trevor knew he was just too wiped out to fight.
“Almost from the moment I walked in the door of my mom’s house in Williamstown I started to feel better,” Trevor recalls. “Maybe it was knowing that medically there were no more avenues to pursue, but a lot of it was just that I was home with my family and friends.”
This is not the story of a man who has managed to outrun cancer, but it is the story of a man who was at death’s door and with a little luck, a lot of love and support from family and friends and the inspiration of a fellow Eph has at least come back to run neck and neck with cancer.
In the Beginning, It Was Just an Unusual Looking Stomach
“Hey Trev, you look like you’re pregnant,” Bayliss remembers hearing one day at Chandler Pool during a spring 1995 track team water workout. Bayliss had been aware of the distended look and bulging shape of his stomach for some time and now he knew others had noticed. It didn’t hurt and it didn’t really get in the way, it was just sort of weird.
In August, Bayliss found out what had caused his misshapen stomach, his spleen was five times its normal size and weighed just over 10 pounds.
After working most of the summer with Buildings & Grounds and working out almost daily in the Fitness Center, Bayliss just felt drained. “I was working out hard regularly, but I just could not get in shape,” recalls Bayliss.
A trip to a local doctor for a checkup led to a visit with hematologist Dr. Jeffrey Hargis in Bennington. It was Dr. Hargis who noticed that Bayliss’ blood counts were out of whack.
Trevor was talking to his mom in her bedroom the day Dr. Hargis called. When she took the phone into the bathroom Trevor knew the doctor was not relaying good news.
The tears on his mom’s cheeks when she returned to the bedroom confirmed it.
“You have cancer.”
Shortly after his conversation with Ellen Bayliss, Dr. Hargis left the area for another position. Trevor then began working with Hargis’ partner, Dr. Eric Pillemer.
Pillemer told Bayliss he had LGL T-cell lymphoma, a slow-progressing and rare form of cancer. Only about 100 people in the world are known to have it. There is no cure. Many people live five years without any treatment at all, is what Trevor heard the doctor say, but (there’s always a but in these situations)…but Trevor’s spleen would have to come out immediately.
When there is no medical cure, patients turn to alternative forms of treatment and even go so far as to meditate, visualize and start taking huge amounts of vitamins. Trevor was no different. He did all of that and he had a lot of support from his family.
Every morning his dad would deliver a power-shake of beets, carrots and celery to his door in Mission and his mom began to cultivate and grow wheat grass. Bayliss was hoping to stave off his illness long enough for a technological break through that could help him…even though no one even hinted that that might happen.
One of the concerns with the impending splenectomy was the large size of Trevor’s spleen. There could be severe bleeding and a large loss of blood. Bayliss began meditating and visualizing in preparation for the surgery.
Dr. Sam Singer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston was surprised at how little bleeding Trevor had. After the surgery Dr. Singer came by and said the surgery went beautifully. He couldn’t believe how little blood was lost.
“I think meditation and visualization played a role in that,” states Bayliss. “We can’t even begin to understand the power of visualization and the mind-body connection, but it’s definitely there.”
“When I meditate it’s really a mind clearing, focusing thing. I focus only on the breaths, the air going in and out. When a thought passes through my mind I acknowledge it and then let it go. It clears me, relaxes me, it just seems to put the world in order.”
To Bayliss, his meditation and visualization sessions are all about trying to get control. “It’s all about trying to take control — trying to control the uncontrollable, trying to do it, because that’s all there is to do except give up.”
When the school year began in September of 1996 Bayliss was a Junior Advisor in Williams C and thinking of returning to the sport of hockey. A summer of working out had given him the confidence to at least consider a return to sports.
As September turned into October, Bayliss noticed that as hard as he was working out to be ready for hockey tryouts, he was feeling increasingly drained and soon one flight of stairs was making him winded.
When he found himself just heaving trying to catch his breath on the first landing of a trip up the stairs in Williams C in November, he figured it was time to get back together with Dr. Pillemer.
When Pillemer saw how easily winded Bayliss was he ordered a lung function test. “You’re not breathing very well,” Pillemer said. “The cancer may have spread to your lungs.” The lung function test showed a severe loss of power in Bayliss’ lungs and Dr. Pillemer then did a lung biopsy to confirm his suspicions.
“Trevor, the cancer cells have infiltrated your lungs,” Pillemer informed Bayliss. “We have to start chemotherapy immediately.”
Bayliss was shocked and upset. “You told me that I could live a long time with this cancer…five years without treatment.”
“This is a rare form of cancer that has unexpectedly changed its course.”
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy for a cancer that can not be cured. So much for waiting for a technological breakthrough.
Chemotherapy treatments started in December. Bayliss shaved his head because he did not want to watch his hair fall out. At first, the chemo was not too bad. It was a low dose. The worst part was a nasty fever and only being able to lie in bed for two days each time a new cycle was started. It was tolerable, but would it be effective?
A visit to Tampa, FL, to consult with Dr. Tom Loughran a specialist in LGL T-cell cancer, confirmed that a bone marrow transplant was the way to go.
By February 1997, plans were underway to head to Seattle to the Hutchison Center as three non-family bone marrow donors had been located (as matches for Bayliss).
Meeting Matt Stauffer
In August of 1995, the senior captain of the men’s soccer team at Williams, Matt Stauffer, was diagnosed with leukemia. Stauffer was unable to play in the 1995 season, but he was undoubtedly the inspiration that powered his teammates to the NCAA title culminated on Cole Field in a 2-1 win over Methodist College.
Stauffer and Bayliss met in the Snack Bar in Baxter Hall one February night in 1997. “Matt was so supportive of my situation,” Bayliss remembers. “It was comforting to talk to someone who knew exactly what I was going through. He had received bone marrow from his sister Emily and he told all about what to expect.”
Stauffer’s insights and suggestions were invaluable to Bayliss’ confidence and mood, but it was the end of the conversation that meant the most. “I stood up to shake his hand and he gave me the biggest and best hug I had ever had. He told me, ’We’ve got to stick by each other.’
A few weeks later when Bayliss went to the Williams Inn on a Friday night to sing in the lounge with his dad, a lot of Williams friends were there as well. The word was out. This would be Trevor’s last appearance at the Inn before heading to Seattle. All the way in the back, flashing