After six months of chemotherapy, radiation treatments and stem cell transplants, Trey Sissom, head coach of the Travis Tigers football team, is ready to coach football.
“I had the month of July to get my strength back up, and now it’s August and time for football,” Sissom said.
Sissom found out he had cancer last January.
“Throughout last football season and the playoffs, I was having back pain,” he said. “I thought it was muscle spasms. After the playoffs, it didn’t go away and got worse. During Christmas break, it got to the point where I could hardly walk. I thought it might be a kidney stone. We ran all of the tests, but nothing showed up. But in January I had a CT scan and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Of course, we had no idea what multiple myeloma was,” Sissom said.
What it is is a rare cancer of the white blood plasma cells that produce antibodies to fight infections. The cancerous cells, called multiple myeloma, create abnormal antibodies, called M proteins, which cannot fight infections. As the abnormal cells multiply, they replace the good cells and reduce the body’s ability to fight infections.
“Myeloma causes the M proteins in your bone marrow to grow rapidly, and the only way for them to get out of the marrow is through your bones. When I was diagnosed, my rib cage looked like swiss cheese, and my spine was beginning to be damaged. Normally you find out you have myeloma by breaking a rib when you cough or breaking some other bone because it has deteriorated,” Sissom said.
Immediately upon being diagnosed, Sissom’s doctor sent him to the emergency room and he spent three days in the hospital.
During this time, his doctors developed a playbook to treat the cancer. Multiple myeloma is not curable, but it can be treated.
“We sat down with my medical team, I had gone from one doctor to a team now, and we developed a plan of treatment, and one week later I was down at M.D. Anderson,” Sissom said.
Sissom’s game plan was to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment to kill the cancerous M proteins. Then, healthy blood-forming stem cells would be introduced into his body to produce healthy white blood cells.
“I went through radiation treatments and had chemotherapy during the spring. I was on medical break from Travis from January through most of March. I came back to Travis in late March even though I was still undergoing chemotherapy,” Sissom said. “I had to convince the doctors that I was well enough to coach spring training. We played our spring game on a Tuesday night, and then the next day I started my stem cell transplants.”
The transplants took most of June.
“I was at M.D. Anderson for most of the month of June. The stem cell transplants are essentially you pull out some of your stem cells, kill the bad protein and then inject them back in. It’s a reset for your body,” Sissom said. “In September, I will go back to my regular doctors, and begin a maintenance program. I will be taking medicine to keep the stem cells in check. I am in a clinical trial and the results have been tremendous so far. Right now, I am in 100 percent remission, which is kind of unique at this stage. Going forward, I just need to take care of myself. Fatigue has been a big issue, so I have learned that taking a nap really helps me keep going.”
In addition to being head football coach, Sissom is the athletic coordinator for Travis. This means he is responsible for all athletic programs at the school. While he was gone for essentially the entire spring semester, the athletic program continued to function smoothly.
“I really have to thank my assistant athletic coordinator Nicole Hitt. She stepped up and acted as the coordinator and our programs didn’t miss a beat. I think she proved she can be an athletic coordinator and hopefully she will get the opportunity in the near future,” Sissom said. “My assistant coaches did a great job with the football team. I couldn’t ask for a better staff.”
“I also want to thank my wife Kellie, and my kids Dru and Kylie. They were really strong and got me through this,” he added.