CONWAY — If you like sports, or even if you don’t, you’ll want to root for Camden Bailey this fall. Entering his sophomore year at Kennett High School, Camden has his sights set on being the extra point kicker for the varsity football team, and the starting quarterback for the junior varsity Eagles.
Those seem like realistic goals this fall. A year ago, those goals were more like a dream put on hold for Camden — he was engaged in something much more important, he was battling cancer the best way he knew how — head-on, with a smile on his face most of the time and knowing he had an army of supporters in his corner. He was/is “Camden Strong” and his peeps became Camden’s Crusaders.
In March of 2018, Camden 15, the son of Jen and Chris Bailey of Jackson was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and less than three months later he underwent a cutting-edge surgery, called rotationplasty, which is a partial amputation of his left leg, and that preserved a cancer-free lower leg and foot.
Camden is doing great in his recovery. He only has an antibiotic to take. His story is a pretty amazing one, and he’ll be sharing it with the nation beginning Tuesday when he is featured on the 18th annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon.
“Over the span of 36 hours and two Boston Red Sox games, the broadcast will feature inspiring stories from patients, doctors, researchers and athletes,” the Jimmy Fund website states. “In 2018, the event raised an incredible $4.4 million to support Dana-Farber’s lifesaving mission.”
Camden will appear on WEEI (FM 95.9) at 8:10 a.m. He will also appear on NESN (Channel 34 on Spectrum cable). On Tuesday night, during the third or fourth inning of the Red Sox game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Camden will appear on the WEEI broadcast with Joe Castiglione and Chris Berman.
If anyone would like to contribute to the Jimmy Fund during the telethon (Tuesday and Wednesday) they can donate at jimmyfund.gives/guest in Camden’s name.
Camden was involved in a video shoot for the telethon. You can see a portion of it at tinyurl.com/yyfwylns.
Asked to sum up the past year in one word, Camden was quick to answer “supportive.”
“The community, and everyone, including Boston, has been so supportive,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know so many doctors and nurses, they’re great.”
Always a competitive athlete, Camden was finishing up his eighth-grade season of basketball at the Josiah Bartlett Elementary School in January of 2018. He was looking forward to trying out and playing AAU basketball. Like any growing teen who plays sports, Camden had various aches and pains, but he noticed something.
“My knee was hurting,” he said. “I played through the pain.”
A month of icing and not playing, led him to think he had improved to the point he was ready for AAU tryouts.
“He didn’t know why it hurt,” Chris, 49, a social studies teacher at Kennett High School and also a standout athlete in his own right (he was elected to the KHS Sports Hall of Fame), said. “He couldn’t think of an injury which should have been more of red flag for us. He was telling us that it was getting better.”
Camden wasn’t getting better. In mid-March of 2018, the family learned why.
“My wife called me at work crying in hysterics, starting the conversation with, ‘It’s the worst news ever, Camden probably has cancer,’” Bailey recalled. “It was heartbreaking. How could a normal, healthy, athletic boy be given such a shocking diagnosis? Our world turned upside down at that moment and all of our lives were changed forever, most importantly Camden’s."
He added: “The only way I can explain what it has been like to people that ask is that it has been a surreal experience. There have been many days when we have asked ourselves is this really happening.”
The Baileys, dad and mom, both school teachers (Jen, 46, at Josiah Bartlett Elementary School), Camden and his brothers, Braeden, 17, a senior at Kennett, and Daven, 13, a seventh-grader at JBES, saw their world change on March 21, 2018. They also saw an incredible outpouring of support from the community. “Camden Strong” was on business billboards, the back of Kennett High field hockey sticks, ice hockey, baseball and football helmets. Camden’s Crusaders, created by Sandra Yamartino, became a support group for the family, staging fundraisers, providing meals or just a simple, "we’re here for you" email.
“This community is amazing,” Camden said. “I never could have imagined I would get so much support.”
Camden started treatment on April 11, 2018.
“The course of treatment was 40 weeks,” Bailey said. “In the beginning, it was three weeks of chemo in a row followed by three weeks off to recover. In July, after his rotationplasty surgery, he switched to a new protocol and that was essentially two weeks of chemo followed by two weeks off. Of course, there were delays because his ‘numbers’ weren't good enough and he was hospitalized a few times because his numbers were so low. He also had the two lung surgeries, so with everything, it was almost exactly a year. He was diagnosed at the end of March 2018 and finished his last chemo treatment in the middle of March 2019.”
The family was given options of where they would like the treatment to take place.
“We could have done it at Maine Med., Dartmouth-Hitchcock or Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital,” Bailey said. “We were fine with those choices, but (Maine Med. and Dartmouth-Hitchcock) would have meant all of (Camden’s) treatments would have been in-patient, so he would have been hospitalized four or five days at a time. At the Jimmy Fund, all but the first one were done outpatient, so you go to the clinic during the day and you leave for the night, and just go back the next day. We were willing to make the sacrifice to stay in Boston.”
“And the benefits,” Camden added.
“We didn’t think about that in the beginning, but ultimately, stuff that (the Jimmy Fund did) was right up Camden’s alley,” Bailey said. “The team trip that he did in March (to Boston Red Sox spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.), he found out about the July before and had all that time to look forward to it. I think that stuff helps a lot, it helps you mentally. It helped him a lot to have something to look forward to, to be working through.”
It turns out Camden wasn’t the only one battling osteosarcoma.
“There was another kid, like my younger brother’s (Daven) age,” Camden said. “He had the same cancer, the same surgery, everything.”
“About three months after Camden had his surgery,” Bailey said. “We actually talked to them right before they had the surgery about it. We did something similar. We talked to a boy who had it. He’s like 21 now (named Jack and he goes to Boston College), but at the time he was 20.”
He added: “This type of surgery has been around for a long time which is the crazy thing. The guy that owns the prosthetic company, it’s called A Step Ahead Prosthetics (headquartered in New York with an office in Burlington, Mass.), he said he’s worked with about 1,000 patients. It’s much more common than you realize. We had never heard of it. Our pediatrician had never heard of it too, most people haven’t.”
“I really had no understanding of what it was,” Camden said of the procedure.
“We didn’t either,” Bailey admits."Jen did before I did. It was basically looking at some videos and I’m a visual person. After I was able to see it, it was much easier to comprehend. It’s a whirlwind. The doctors are talking about this, and things are just bouncing around in your head.”
There were three options for surgery, but this was the best pathway for Camden to continue his athletic career.
“There were two that would allow sports, but one was just a full above-knee amputation,” Camden explained. “That would have been a longer recovery and the doctor didn’t recommend it.
He added: “Sports mean a lot to me. It’s just fun being around my friends.”
“It would have meant he would have an artificial knee and ankle,” Bailey said. “Now he just has the foot. This guy, Jack, who goes to Boston College. He told us he played football and baseball in high school and he still plays rec basketball. (Camden said to Jen) ‘That’s me, mom.’ That helped to solidify that. I think Camden was already leaning that way but after meeting him, seeing it and getting that confirmation kind of just solidified the decision.”
The third option, limb salvage surgery, was ruled out because it would have meant the end of sports.
“I chose to have the rotationplasty surgery,” explained Camden. “They turned my ankle upside down and my ankle became my knee joint. For me, it was really a no-brainer, because this allowed me to play sports.”
He added: “I was only really in pain in the beginning. Within one or two weeks of the surgery, I was pretty pain-free.”
Bailey marvels at the resiliency of his son.
“I’ve not heard him complain once. He’s just been determined the whole time. His goal was to be able to be active again, and that’s what he’s doing. His positive attitude through the whole thing has been really incredible.”
Camden, who is learning how to drive, is right at home on the football field. On Wednesday, prior to an interview with the Sun, he successfully booted 7-9 extra points through the uprights at Gary Millen Stadium.
“All the boys played soccer in Jackson, and Camden used to kick in the state line football league,” Bailey, who is also a coach on the football team, said. “The power, that’s a piece that’s going to take a little bit of time. The plant (foot) was an issue at first, but his prosthetist worked on adjusting the foot to help him to plant much better by changing the angle a little bit, that’s helped.”
Camden, 5’11” and 140 pounds, is a soccer-style kicker, using a one-step drop.
Asked if he was facing competition for the PAT job, Camden smiled. “My brother, but only because he knows I want to do it.”
Camden’s prosthetic weighs about 6 pounds. As he grows it will need to be adjusted and replaced. He is currently on a plan to replace it every year.
Camden and his father can’t say enough about Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund. An avid sports fan, Camden has most notably met Brock Holt and Chris Sale of the Red Sox, former Red Sox Mike Lowell and David “Big Papi” Ortiz along with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and recently retired Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski.
“It’s pretty special,” Bailey said of Dana-Farber. “For Camden, all those little extras that the Jimmy Fund does helped him keep a positive attitude. He got to go to a World Series game."
Camden’s primary care team was surgeon Dr. Megan Anderson, her nurse was Sara Swaim at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Natalie Collins from the Jimmy Fund is his oncologist. Annette Werger is his nurse practitioner. Camden plans to invite them to come to watch a game.
“I see them every three months and after three years it’ll be every six months,” Camden said.
"Though the Jimmy Fund Clinic always felt busy, except for Saturdays, we always felt like Camden was a priority,” Bailey said. “Everyone from the front desk folks, to the clinical assistants, to the nurses, nurse practitioners and doctors were always extremely friendly and helpful. It is a unique place, to say the least. In the year plus we have been going there we have never had a negative experience.”