Trey Mancini’s story inspires Baltimore woman battling cancer

BALTIMORE — Rena Baron was still reeling from the shock of being diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in February of last year when a friend sent her a link to an article about Trey Mancini.

Mancini, at the time, was in his sixth year with the Orioles. Baron has lived in Baltimore on and off for 20 years but was never much of a baseball fan. She’d never heard of Mancini. But her 15-year-old son, Eli, is a baseball lover and an Orioles fan.

Mancini’s story, of how he beat Stage 3 colon cancer and eventually returned to playing baseball after missing the entire 2020 MLB season, resonated deeply with Baron, who thought it might strike a chord with her son as well.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, like this is perfect to talk to my son about,’ ” she said. “I knew that it was something he could connect to. And just the fact that Trey got better I wanted my son to see, and I wanted that to be his association with this cancer. So it was just perfect. Also for him at that age, like it’s just so not cool to have a mom with colon cancer, but it’s a little bit less uncool if there’s someone he loves, a baseball player, who also went through it.”

She shared the story with Eli, the oldest of her seven children and her only son. From then on, as Rena underwent a major surgery and later extensive rounds of chemotherapy, Eli made it a point to update her on Mancini’s stats.

Rena wanted to surprise Eli with a trip to an Orioles game to see Mancini in person, but her attempts to contact him and the team were unsuccessful. She finally bought them tickets to a game at Camden Yards scheduled for late August, only to find out Mancini had been traded to the Astros on Aug, 1.

She began frantically reaching out to the Astros. This time, she got a response.

On Thursday, prior to the Astros’ series opener against the Orioles — Mancini’s first game back in Baltimore since the trade — he finally met the mother and son for whom his story has served as a hopeful connection during a dark, difficult time.

“I was really confused and wasn’t sure what it would lead to,” Eli said of his mother’s diagnosis. “But knowing that (Mancini’s experience) made me feel better.”

Trey Mancini signs a baseball card for 15-year-old fan Eli Baron on Thursday in Baltimore. Eli and his mother Rena, diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in February 2021, rallied around the story of Mancini, who came back to play for the Orioles after being diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.

Danielle Lerner / staff

Rena and Eli watched from the dirt behind home plate as Mancini took pregame batting practice and fielded grounders at first base Thursday. When he was done and they started talking, it didn’t take long for Rena and Mancini to find common ground.

They discovered that they saw the same oncologist at Johns Hopkins. Baron, who 16 months out from her diagnosis still has weekly chemotherapy treatments, relayed her struggles with cold sensitivity. Mancini shared that it took him nearly six months to regain feeling in his toes after his final chemo session.

Mancini signed a baseball card for Eli and listened intently as Rena explained just how much this meeting meant to them.

“Sports provide a really nice escape from what’s going on,” Mancini told them. “Even when I was going through it, watching soccer or whatever was on was really nice.”

Mancini was 27 and a professional athlete when a colonoscopy in 2020 revealed he had a malignant tumor.

Baron’s initial diagnosis, which came when she was an otherwise healthy and active 38-year-old, was also completely unexpected. The cancer was caught only after her doctor ordered a colonoscopy based on blood in her stool. Although she felt completely normal, the disease was already at an advanced stage.

While Baron has decreased the frequency of her chemo treatments over the past several months, her cancer is persistent. But so is she.

“I’m stubborn, and that’s good because I don’t want to give up,” she said. “The easiest thing to do with cancer is to give up, honestly. But I’m not doing that.”

There are good days mixed in with bad. When Baron is feeling down, she has what she calls a “mental Rolodex” of names of people who have survived cancer. Mancini is one of them.

And like Mancini, who had the entire city of Baltimore rally behind him after his diagnosis, Baron is grateful for the support of her family and community, and she is determined to face the disease with as positive a mindset as she can.

“My life has become so much richer. I wouldn’t ask for cancer, but I would never give it away,” Baron said. “The experience and what I have gained, I’ve become a much healthier person — physically, emotionally. It really forces you to go places you don’t want to go and that are easier to avoid. The whole world is brighter, richer.”

Among the vibrant memories she will cherish now is the image of Eli meeting Mancini. At the ballpark Thursday, with a light breeze whistling through the air and one of his heroes standing in front of him, nothing else seemed to matter.

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