Ty Kildow knew it was a problem, but he didn’t want any distractions.
He just completed his first year at Waynesburg University, and had helped the baseball team to its first playoff appearance in four years as a utility infielder.
When the season ended in May, he was ready to enjoy his first summer as a college student.
Two days later, Kildow, 19 going on 20, got the shock of his life.
Ty’s mother, Julie, noticed a lump on her son’s collarbone.
When she asked what it was, Ty told her he had been meaning to bring the lump to her attention.
It had been bothering him for a while. Looking back, Kildow said it could have started back in December or January. Not wanting it to interfere with his baseball season, however, he kept it quiet. Julie was worried, and took Ty two hours from their home in Bethesda, Ohio to the nearest hospital, located in Columbus.
It didn’t take long for the doctors to suspect it was cancer, as the golf ball-sized the lump was a typical sign.
The Kildow’s found out for sure two weeks later. Ty had Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the second most serious stage. According to Cancer Research UK, Stage 3 patients have lymphoma on both sides of the diaphragm, and treating it typically requires between six to eight chemotherapy sessions.
Upon hearing the diagnosis, Julie was shocked. Ty’s father, Todd, was upset, as was the family doctor. From afar, Ty told his teammates the news via text. One of his best friends, catcher/first baseman Chris Lee, was speechless.
“Honestly, I thought he wasn’t being serious,” Lee remembered.
The only person who stayed calm, his mother said, was Ty himself. He showed no panic. No tears, not even fear. Mainly, he was worried about finishing up the treatments, which were scheduled once every other week from June 15 to Nov. 14, and getting on with his life.
“I thought I could definitely do it and be semi-fine with it, not let it bother me too much,” he said. “I guess I was just looking forward to getting it over with, and then getting the tests to find out if I [needed] to have more treatments or not.”
Kildow has never been a chatterbox. Lee found this out freshman year when he hosted the then-high school senior on an overnight visit.
“I couldn’t get two words out of the kid,” Lee said. “He’s real shy.”
Although Julie knows this better than anyone, her son’s composure upon hearing ‘the C word’ surprised even her.
“I mean, he’s always been that way, but when you think about cancer, you think maybe he might not take it as well,” she said. “But he makes life so easy. He’s such an easy going guy, and all he cared about was getting back to school and getting to play baseball.”
“If you weren’t close with Ty, you wouldn’t even know [his situation],” Lee said. “He handled it amazingly. I’ve never seen anything like that before… he couldn’t have handled it any better.”
Kildow doesn’t always take his nonchalant persona with him into battle.
A three-sport athlete in high school, who happened to be an all-section performer in basketball, Kildow is as competitive as anybody, and can’t stand the thought of failure. While this competitive mindset is generally appreciated— Kildow won Waynesburg’s Heart and Hustle award at the end of his freshman year— his teammates don’t always love it.
“He can get under your skin,” Lee said.
As it turns out, not even tumors entering his body could stop Kildow from competing. He played on his summer league team, having to miss games due to treatments and doctors’ appointments.
He knew he was fortunate to not have the other disease with “Hodgkin’s” in the title, as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is far more likely to kill. As he continued to grind, one bible verse was especially meaningful.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Ty kept his cool. But as the treatments progressed, however, they began to wear on him, and by fall, Kildow had gotten used to the routine.
He began to lose weight, going from and already skinny 150 pounds to around 142. He was often weary for multiple days after a treatment. He lost some of his hair, although not as much as the doctors thought he would. Academically, he had to cut down his workload to the minimum 12 credits to allow for Friday afternoon treatments, which required a three-hour commute from Waynesburg to Columbus.
“The first four days after [treatment], your stomach feels kind of weird,” Kildow said. “Not necessarily that you have to throw up, but you kind of want to.”
Eating turned into a chore, as Kildow’s favorite foods no longer tasted the same. As for drinking, Kildow would find himself liking the taste of water one day, and Gatorade the next.
“I was tired all the time,” he said. “Especially the three or four days after. I took a lot of naps. I was just tired keeping my weight up. Hard to eat and stuff.”
It was also hard to balance this weariness with school work. But through it all, Kildow only missed classes on the days where he absolutely had to. The rest of the time, he was there, pencil in hand. He made no excuses in the classroom, and as the baseball team began its fall season, to the surprise of his doctors, he put on his spikes and went to work.
It had been more than 10 years since Kildow hit a homerun.
He is, in baseball terms, a singles hitter, and even on his healthiest days, none of his teammates would have ever expected him to go deep.
The chances of him doing it three months into chemotherapy treatments seemed to be about as likely as Charles Barkley winning the Masters.
Although the real season was several months away from starting, the Jackets were fired up on this crisp fall afternoon in Greene County. It was their first game against another school since May, against Penn State New Kensington, before a full crowd.
Kildow stepped up to the plate for the second time that day. He got ahead in the count, 2-0. The next pitch, Kildow remembered, was “A little high and a little in.”
“I just pulled it down the line and pretty much knew it was going to be out,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever hit a ball that hard. I was kind of shocked a little, as I bet most of my teammates were because I’m not known for being a power guy.”
His teammates ran out from the dugout to great him, creating a scene similar to that of a walk-off winner. In reality, it was far more significant.
“When he hit the home run, excitement and joy just filed the stadium,” Lee said. “Man, it was awesome.”
In March, the spring season began in Florida. Kildow was ready to take on a bigger role with the team. He was going to see more time as a utility infielder. Most importantly, he was going to inspire his teammates, who were wearing blue bracelets that said “Kildow Strong.” Kildow hoped to help the Jackets get back to the playoffs, and who knows, maybe even go deep against a conference rival such as Washington & Jefferson. It seemed the sun was back shining on Kildow.
Once again, life threw a curveball.
Before Kildow or any of his teammates knew it, the season was cancelled. His goals for 2020, squashed. Worse yet, Ty’s health problems raise concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than year after his life got turned upside down, and still processing the 2020 season that never was, Kildow hasn’t changed. Upon coming home early from school, he got a job at a local grocery store, and plans on taking an online class this summer to make up for lost time in school. Through it all, Kildow goes back to Romans 8:28. He knows that, one day, he’ll be healthy, and he’ll have that chance to play the game he loves with his best friends.
“It’s in God’s hands,” he said.
For now, however, he waits. He doesn’t worry about what’s been taken out of him, but rather, waits for what life is to give him in the future.
“To this day, he’s never shed a tear over it,” Julie said. “He probably doesn’t tell people that, but I’ve never seen him remotely upset, really. He just went with the flow. That’s just how Ty has always been.”