Because now, Matt’s liver is failing, the veins breaking down from the high doses of chemotherapy and radiation. He floats in and out of consciousness in the intensive-care unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, unaware of his surroundings.
“I’ll be honest: I’ve asked them, ‘Is he going to survive this?’ ” said Susan Kent, Matt and Mike’s mother, a look of sheer resolve on her face. “Of course, the doctors won’t answer.”
Such an awkward spot for a mother who had raised two boys on her own. One of them, a college sophomore, is playing out his dream, preparing to pitch in college baseball’s national championship tournament, his life spread out before him. The other son, 26 years old and a late-bloomer who was just starting to get his life in order before the diagnosis, is fighting for his life.
How do you handle such a fate? You play up the positives, that’s how. You visit Matt in the hospital — Matt being the one who taught Mike the game of baseball, in the absence of a father — and you tell him, in great detail, about all of Mike’s solid outings at Clemson: the scoreless relief appearances, the saves. And you spare him the gory details about the ugly ones — the three-run homers, the bases-loaded walks, the losses.
And you give Mike the barest of details about Matt’s setbacks: There are some complications. Some side effects. But while Mike knows most of the more pertinent information — the liver failure, the ICU — you emphasize what is important, the thing Mike needs to know: Your cells are doing great.
Throwing extra innings
The injections, the doctors told Mike, would make him feel like he had the flu. The drug, Neupogen, was being given — in eight doses, spread over four days — to produce and stimulate white blood cells in his body in preparation for the stem cell transplant. One thing he shouldn’t try to do, they told him, was play baseball.
This was in late April, in the heart of Clemson’s ACC schedule, and the team, by coincidence, was playing at Maryland, roughly halfway between the Kents’ Springfield home and Matt’s hospital room in Baltimore.