Long road back
The teenager survived that night only to find out he would be in for another fight for the next four to six months battling cancer. His mother and father would spend the next four months at their son’s bedside in a Memphis hospital as Rhett fought lymphoma cancer.
“I had to decide at the beginning whether I was going to get down on myself and wonder why that was happening to me or I could step up and hit cancer harder than it hit me and keep a positive attitude,” he said. “I took the second choice. I decided that I wasn’t going to let cancer beat me. It may make my body weak, but it wasn’t going to keep my spirits down.”
While Bailey’s mother, Missy, said the survival rate for the type of lymphoma Rhett was diagnosed with was “80-90” percent, it required an extremely aggressive type of chemotherapy that was administered seven days a week. Missy and her husband spent the next four months traveling between Memphis and their Elkmont home, to take care of Rhett’s seven younger brothers and sisters.
“The hardest part was knowing that the chemo was killing everything about him,” said Missy. “Your child doesn’t look like your child anymore. It’s so scary not knowing the outcome. You try not to, but you think, ‘What about the other 10 percent?’ It’s difficult because you are trying to keep him positive the whole time.”
Doctors originally told the Bailey family they would be lucky to make it home by Thanksgiving. But Rhett had other ideas. In less than four months after beginning chemo, the Baileys were back in their Elkmont home by the end of August.
Sports ‘not an option’
Although his body had fought off cancer in the span of one summer, Bailey was not ready for any strenuous activity. But that wouldn’t keep Rhett away from helping his friends and teammates at Elkmont.
During his sophomore year, Bailey was able to practice with the basketball and baseball teams and dress out during games. And although he was extremely careful to avoid contact, Bailey wore a bulletproof vest to protect his abdomen.
While Bailey sat patiently watching his Elkmont teammates, he was still told he would not be able to compete the way he once had due to a blood clot that might cause him to bleed out if it were disturbed.
All that changed with Rhett’s latest doctor’s visit of course and the junior is making the most of his opportunities.
“We told him we would start working him in,” said Elkmont head coach Sean Holt, who is also Rhett’s uncle. “You’re looking at someone who started as a ninth-grader, offense and defense. We knew if he ever came back, we would start working him in. It’s not that we were going to get him the ball the first play, but we thought we had an advantage with him against whoever was covering him.”
Removed from football for the past two years, Rhett didn’t miss a beat. He scored the first time he touched the football, drawing a standing ovation from both sides of the crowd that knew his story.
“That was unreal. It was like something out of movie,” said Missy. “It was amazing. I had already cried all the way through warm-ups. Just seeing him doing what he loved before he got sick was special. When he scored, we were all overcome with emotion.”
While he was excited to score a touchdown, Bailey is staying optimistic, happy just to be out on the field with his friends again.
“It will be hard to follow that up,” he said. “I’m just hoping to get out there and do the best I can and encourage the players on our team to not take anything for granted. No matter what the issue is, if you just look to God and have hope you can get through it.”
Although Elkmont went on to lose the game 41-14, Bailey’s touchdown in the second quarter was a victory over something much bigger.