Bailey brings education of his rare cancer to sports

Beth Bragg
Warren Bailey organized a softball tournament at Cartee Fields to raise money for Sarcoma Alliance on July 16, 2011.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Warren Bailey runs home from third base during a softball game July 16, 2011. Bailey organized a softball tournament at Cartee Fields to raise money for Sarcoma Alliance.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News

Warren Bailey plays sports for the competition, for the fun, and for his health.

He plays them for your health too.

Bailey, 65, has been part of the Anchorage sports scene for decades. He started playing softball in 1969 and last summer won a gold medal at the Huntsman World Senior Games as a member of a 50-and-over team from Anchorage. He's an even better racquetball player, the winner of multiple state championships and the nation's 16th-ranked player in his age group.

Bailey kept playing both sports when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer 10 years ago. When he defied dire predictions -- "They told him he had three years and six months to live," daughter Tammy said -- he decided to do what he could to help others with sarcoma, which has 50 varieties yet makes up 1 percent of all cancer diagnoses, according to the National Cancer Institute.

For the last couple years, he has put on a fundraising racquetball tournament. This weekend he decided to mine diamonds for money at the Forgotten Cancer Tournament at Cartee Fields, a 21-team softball tournament.

Among the teams entered is "Team Sarcoma," which could also be called "Team Bailey." All but one player on the team is related to Bailey, from his brothers Larry and Ray to his kids Tammy and Robert to various nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

The team is wearing lime green T-shirts that say "What in the hell is a sarcoma?" on the front, with an answer provided on the back. Bailey's uniform also includes long pants, no matter how hot it might be, because his right thigh is where his cancer started, and it isn't pretty.

"If you'd see his leg you'd die," brother Larry said.

From his right knee up to his groin, Bailey has no muscle remaining. The main artery is gone too. For a time, the circumference of his right thigh measured 4.5 inches less than that of his left thigh.

"If I go down to catch a ball, I have to throw it from my knees," Bailey said, because getting back up takes an effort. On the racquetball court, "I can't jump like other people, so I have to be real (aware) of where I position myself. I go to my left or my right instead," he said.

Bailey was diagnosed with stage IV leiomyosarcoma in 2001, when he was 56. For about 18 months before that, he had a lump in his thigh that his doctor didn't seem too concerned about, Bailey said. When a biopsy was done, the news was bad.

He's had 40 hyperbaric chamber sessions and 11 major surgeries, including two on his lungs, because eventually the cancer metastasized there. He spent most of five years getting treatment in Seattle.

These days, Bailey said, the cancer is on hold. Not gone, but on hold.

That means he is more than healthy to keep playing racquetball and softball -- and to do what he can to help others who have the disease.

Bailey said this weekend's softball tournament will raise at least $3,000 for the Sarcoma Alliance, which was founded in 1999 by a woman who went four years after her diagnosis before meeting another person with soft-tissue sarcoma. Any amount raised for sarcoma makes a difference, Bailey said, because the disease is so rare it doesn't get the fundraising attention given to breast cancer, heart disease or other diseases that strike more frequently.

Fundraising is just part of what Bailey does to fight the sarcoma. He's part of an online group that offers information to people with the disease, something that lets him use the vast knowledge he's gained since his diagnosis.

Bailey said he has survived because racquetball keeps him active and because he educated himself about sarcoma and its treatments.

"I push my body," he said. "But the main reason is I gained a lot of knowledge and I've been real aggressive in my treatment. I've researched a lot myself and I've not taken no for an answer."