When Death Blinked
By Dick Quinn, Director of Sports Information
VIDEO: Trevor Bayliss '99 speaks about his experience
battling cancer - Courtesy of Williams College Office of
USA Today first wrote about Trevor Bayliss in 1999 and on May 15, 2014 they picked up the story again in "For the Win", which you can see by clicking here
A Williamstown native and the grandson and great-grandson of standout Eph athletes, Trevor Bayliss enrolled at Williams in 1994 to run cross country, play hockey, and run track, just as he had done at Andover Academy. At the time of his enrollment he had no intention of becoming a doctor.
Bayliss's great grandfather Oswald Tower Class 1907 is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., and his grandfather Oz Tower Class of 1941 was a standout in football, wrestling, and lacrosse.
Bayliss chose Williams over Amherst because he wanted to follow in his family's footsteps and because, "I don't think my grandfather would've allowed me to go to Amherst," Bayliss said with a chuckle.
During his first year on campus Bayliss was always winded during and drained after workouts. His Williams times in cross country were not comparable to his high school times when he won the New England prep school cross country individual title as a junior and had a little less success his senior year. "Looking back, that first fall at Williams is probably when I started to get sick," noted Bayliss.
Despite his fatigue in that first year, Bayliss tried out for the ice hockey team. He played in a pre-season scrimmage at Dartmouth but was unable able to shake the feeling of being tired all of the time. He quit hockey to "just take a break, because maybe college sports was just not for me," he recalled.
Bayliss rested through the competitive winter season and then showed up for outdoor track and field practice in the spring. In early April he started to notice a bulge in his abdomen. A coach and some teammates became aware of the unusual shape of his stomach during a workout session in the swimming pool. Bayliss kept telling himself it was probably nothing serious because there was no pain.
competing in X-C
as a freshman
That summer Bayliss worked for the Facilities Department at Williams and each day when he got home he was just completely empty of all energy. The thought of running after work to prepare for cross-country was just that, a thought. He could not train. For the first time Bayliss began to consider that he might be sick.
In August of 1995 Bayliss paid a visit his doctor Eric Pillemer at The Southern Vermont Medical Center.
The protrusion he had noticed was an enlarged spleen that had to be removed. Bayliss' spleen weighed 10 lbs. A normal adult spleen weighs about 2 lbs. During the surgery it was discovered that Bayliss had large granular T-cell leukemia, a rare and indolent form of cancer usually found in people much older.
Dr. Pillemer initially recommended only "watchful waiting" with regards to the cancer, due to the unique nature of Bayliss having an slow developing form that was not usually found in someone so young.
Unable to compete in sports his sophomore year Bayliss decided to try various other approaches to get himself back to good health, including tai chi, visualization, meditation, and yoga.
|JAs Trevor Bayliss & Lizzie O'Leary|
When his junior year arrived Bayliss found he was feeling markedly better and decided to try to make an athletic comeback, while also serving as a Junior Adviser (JA). Lizzie O'Leary '98, now a host/correspondent on Marketplace on National Public Radio and Bayliss' co-JA, recalls that she and Trevor talked about whether or not as friends they should be co-JAs. "Trevor's a much nicer person than I am," said O'Leary. "I figured that I would have to be the one to come down hard on our freshmen, but we really balanced each other out and things went well that first semester."
Bayliss lifted weights and trained for ice hockey, but he wasn't getting stronger. Bayliss just could not seem to get back in shape. He was regularly having to catch his breath after climbing a single flight of stairs.
When his friends noticed that his lips and fingers were blue that winter Bayliss knew it was time to go see his doctor again. The cancer, they discovered, had invaded his lungs and his liver.
Dr. Pillemer told Bayliss that they needed to be more aggressive and begin a chemotherapy program to prepare him to go to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle for a possible bone marrow transplant.
Bayliss and his mom Ellen packed up and traveled to Seattle in March of 1997, where they rented an apartment near Hutchinson so he could begin an even more intense chemotherapy regimen.
But the cancer did not respond to the chemotherapy and Bayliss now needed to have oxygen at all times. Soon he would likely no longer be a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. Further complications caused the staff at Hutchinson to worry that higher doses of chemotherapy would probably kill Bayliss and it was beginning to look like he could not survive a bone marrow transplant.
Younger brother Jonah,
Just shy of a month after arriving in Seattle Bayliss was sitting in a conference room with his mother and his doctor who was at the far end of a long table. Bayliss learned that the Hutchinson Cancer Center could no longer offer him treatment. The way the news was delivered and the demeanor of the doctor disturbed Bayliss. With nothing more to be done for him in Seattle it was suggested by the doctor that perhaps Bayliss' best option was to go home to prepare to die.
After the dire news was delivered there was a long silence that was finally broken by Bayliss himself, "In your medical opinion how long do I have to live," he asked. "Months, but maybe only weeks," he remembers the doctor saying.
Bayliss turned to his mother and said, "I want to go home to Williamstown."
Twice while plans were being made for the trip home Bayliss found himself alone in the apartment with time to think. "I actually came to be at peace with the thought that I was going to die and it was going to be okay because I was going home to Williamstown to my family," said Bayliss.
Bayliss also took the time to write a note to Lizzie O'Leary. "I still have his note, written on a yellow legal pad telling me that there was nothing they could do for him in Seattle and that he was coming home to die," recalled O'Leary.
"I just kept trying to convince myself that everything was still going to be okay for Trevor, but I also worried what I would tell our freshmen who were all terrified," said O'Leary.
The second time he was alone in the apartment with his own thoughts, Bayliss found himself getting a little worked up. "I'm a fighter," he thought. "I'm going to live every day I have to the fullest and anything can happen."
Shortly after returning to Williamstown Bayliss went to see Dr. Pillemer, where he related all that he had been through in Seattle. How he had been on oxygen all the time and how the chemotherapy did not work. When he finished speaking Bayliss was surprised that Pillemer did not respond right away. "I looked at Dr. Pillemer and he kind of cocked his head to the side," he stated.
Pillemer's response to Bayliss was far more valuable than any drug or therapy Bayliss had received to this point. "He said, 'You don't look that sick. That was the best thing he could've said to me," Bayliss said. "It gave me hope and it made me think that the little bit better I had felt since coming home might mean something."
On the Internet and through consultation with Dr. Pillemer, Bayliss learned that Tom Loughran, a doctor formerly at Hutchinson and now in Tampa, Florida (Moffitt Hospital) had found that a low dose of methotrexate (a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis) was successful in getting rid of cancer in a few patients with symptoms similar to his.
Bayliss started using methotrexate along with some powerful steroids and the results were both dramatic and heartening. "Who would have thought two pills a week and some steroids could make such a difference," Bayliss said.
As the summer before his senior year progressed Bayliss started feeling better and better and by summer's end he felt confident in saying he felt great. Even better -- he was found to be in remission. It took only three months to rid his body of cancer.
Bayliss re-enrolled at Williams, which he described as having been "super supportive throughout the entire ordeal."
Always a competitor Bayliss decided to re-kindle his dream to compete in college athletics. Even though he feared that he had lost all of his athletic capacity Bayliss tried out for ice hockey and ended up being the last cut. "That was tough," he said. "But it also gave me the confidence that I could still compete."
Bayliss joined the Eph indoor track & field team for the pre-season and concentrated on running shorter distances than he had run outdoors.
Gradually Bayliss could feel that he was getting stronger and more comfortable on the track. Running different and shorter distances than what he had competed at before was a good approach. "It helped that I had never run the 300-meter and 600-meter events, so I did not have any times that I could compare to what I was doing that December and January," he said.
Competing in his first indoor meet in the Towne Field House on Jan. 16, 1999, Bayliss really did not know what to expect "I just tucked myself in behind the leaders and tried to stay near the top," he said. "When we got to the last lap I was really feeling good. I was near the front so I just went for it." Bayliss won that 600-meter race in a time of 1:26.14 in front of his grandfather and his mother. Excited to win, Bayliss was more thrilled to have been on the track, feeling strong throughout, and knowing he was rounding into competitive shape.
4x400: Trevor Bayliss, Aaron
DeCamp, Ed Rossier & Brian Hennessey
A little over a month later Bayliss finished second in the Division III New England Championships in the 400-meter (50.78), earning All-New England Division III individual honors (his distance medley team also placed). Later he would earn All-Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III honors as well, capping off an amazing comeback 18 months after starting his methotrexate regimen in May of 1997.
During the 1999 outdoor track & field season Bayliss won the 400-meter in the annual Little Three Meet versus Amherst and Wesleyan in a time of 49.01. Additionally, he earned All-NESCAC honors (400m, 4x100m & 4x400m) and Division III All-New England honors (400m, 4x100m & 4x400m).
The Eph 4x400-meter relay team was close to qualifying for the NCAA Championships, but they needed to run at least 3:17:00 at a "last chance" meet at RPI to qualify. The Eph quartet of Trevor Bayliss, Aaron DeCamp, Brian Hennessey, and Ed Rossier was hopeful.
They ran unopposed, the only relay team on the track, and finished in 3:16.00, punching their ticket to the NCAA Championships. Despite lowering their time to 3:15.67 and far exceeding their expectations at the NCAA Championships the Eph team finished 13th.
On June 21, 1999, Bayliss received the ECAC Award of Valor. "Awarded annually the ECAC Award of Valor was established in 1985 to honor ECAC athletes whose courage, motivation and relentless determination serves as an inspiration to all. The recipients of the Award of Valor exemplify strength of character, perseverance and most importantly, accomplishment deserving recognition as being truly triumphant."
It was his experience with the doctors in Seattle who gave him the bad news and how that news was conveyed that inspired Bayliss to fight for his life and eventually pursue a career in medicine treating patients with cancer.
Bayliss took a year off after graduating from Williams determined to get his medical school prerequisites at nearby Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, while helping coach track at Williams. Although he had majored in biology at Williams he had been leaning towards a career in ecology.
Bayliss graduated from Albany (NY) Medical School in 2007 and then headed to Dartmouth's Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital for his residency and a subsequent fellowship, each lasting three years.
In August of 2013 Bayliss came home to live in Williamstown again, this time with his wife Amanda and their three sons Everett, Charles and William. This homecoming was so Bayliss could join the staff at Berkshire Health Systems in Pittsfield, Mass., as an oncologist/hematologist.
"Everyone has their own experience with cancer so I usually do not tell my patients that I had cancer, but because I had cancer I can perhaps relate a little better to their situation," Bayliss said. "All any patient really wants is to be respected and to know that his doctor is committed to him and listening."
In the fall of 2013 Bayliss finished fourth in the Steel Rail Half Marathon and this winter he is teaming up with younger brothers Jarrett and Jonah to play hockey in the men's league in Berkshire County.
When death blinked, Trevor Bayliss seized the opportunity to fight for his life, eventually earning the right to help others battling cancer.