St. Paul’s volleyball player Mattie Bayne spent much of the summer before ninth grade doing all the things that other 14-year-old girls do.
She didn’t think much of the sharp pains in her side, but fortunately for Bayne, her mother did.
Jennifer Bayne took her daughter to several doctors, who could only determine that Mattie’s hormone levels were abnormal. Still, they kept visiting doctors without getting any answers. Some said it was just growing pains, but Jennifer wasn’t convinced.
In 2011, when Mattie was in ninth grade, doctors found a tumor on her left ovary. They removed the tennis-ball-sized tumor and performed a biopsy.
The tumor was malignant.
Not only that, she had a Sertoli-Leydig cell tumor, a rare form of the disease seen in younger women but only found in less than 1 percent of patients. Doctors at Johns Hopkins said Bayne only would have about a year to live if the tumor wasn’t removed.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20,460 were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009, the latest year for which data is available. The statistics showed 14,436 women died of the disease that year.
“When they told me, I cried,” Bayne said about the diagnosis. “I think I kind of knew it was cancer. I had this weird feeling that it was cancer. I think I was in shock.”
Bayne didn’t dwell on the news for long, however, as she chose to be proactive in dealing with the disease.
“I decided it was all about how you approach the situation,” Bayne said. “I decided I wanted to be in control. Cancer doesn’t always lead to death, and I wasn’t ready to give into it. I couldn’t control cancer, but I could control how I faced the situation.”
Bayne, now a junior outside hitter for the Gators, joined the Baltimore Women’s Classic and became the youngest member of the organization’s board of directors. The Classic, a five-kilometer road race exclusively for women, raises money for research to combat various forms of gynecologic cancers, as well as money to help women with the diseases.
It was just the spark Bayne needed. She has solicited her classmates to donate and volunteer for the event.
After having the malignant tumor removed, Bayne went through three rounds of chemotherapy. She said some of the drugs used during the sessions were so powerful that they would burn her skin if she touched it.
“It’s poison. The chemo was awful,” she said. “I lost my hair, but my friends at St. Paul’s were always there for me. They helped to get me through this. They sent me care packages and had a surprise party for me. “
Bayne, who has attended St. Paul’s since sixth grade, said she looked forward to volleyball because it provided a sense of normalcy for her.
“I love volleyball. It’s a big deal here. I knew I wanted to play on the volleyball team when I was in the sixth grade,” Bayne said. “I didn’t want to let this stop me. The girls on the team were incredible. They helped me to feel like I wasn’t so alone. “
This year’s team, a junior-dominated squad that St. Paul’s coach Kelli Wilkinson said might be the best team she has ever coached, begins the season ranked No. 2 in The Baltimore Sun. The Gators play on the road against No. 10 Broadneck in the regular-season opener Friday at 6:15 p.m.
Wilkinson said Bayne has helped her put things in the proper perspective.
“As a coach, we always want to win and be the ultimate champion. After what she’s been through, that all takes a back seat,” Wilkinson said. “I love this team. They are great kids. They play for each other, and they love the school. They are a very close-knit group. Matti is a big part of that.”
Bayne finished her chemotherapy Dec. 31, 2011, and she is showing signs of being cancer-free. She still has to get a blood test once per month, and she will not be officially pronounced cancer-free until 2016.
With a wide smile and strong and engaging personality, Bayne looks like just another player on the volleyball team trying to make a name for herself. And she likes it that way.
Wilkinson said Bayne isn’t just a great spokesperson for cancer prevention but also for herself.
“She’s just never one to say, ‘why me?’ “ Wilkinson said. “To me, she’s just Ms. SPSG [St. Paul’s School for Girls]. She’s the perfect ambassador for the school and for herself. I just couldn’t imagine anyone handling this better than she has.”
For Bayne, it’s all a matter of how you define yourself.
“I don’t want to be seen as a victim,” she said. “Cancer is a label, but it’s not my label. It doesn’t define me.”