From Strike Out to Home Run – Cancer is No Competition for Baseball Player

A college baseball player from Canada says he’s no stranger to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Diagnosed with testicular cancer he’s facing the competition with an all-star coach – IU Health oncologist Dr. Lawrence Einhorn.

It was a recent Monday morning when Dr. Lawrence Einhorn entered the infusion pod of Jason Freeman. He was bringing good news: Freeman’s numbers were good.

“Going through this process you never know if you’re going to hear good news so to hear your numbers are improving and to hear it from Dr. Einhorn feels great,” said Freeman. Dr. Einhorn is known around the world for his successful treatment of germ cell tumors using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.

Like many of Dr. Einhorn’s patients, Freeman traveled nine hours—from his home in Mississauga, Ontario to Indianapolis. The game plan began with Freeman in ER at IU Health Methodist Hospital after he spiked a fever on the cross-country road trip. Once he was stabilized Freeman had his first face-to-face with Dr. Einhorn.

But the renowned oncologist, who has treated countless men between the ages of 16 and 45, was already part of Freeman’s team long before the two met at IU Health.

It was on another Monday in July 2018 when Freeman first wondered if something might be wrong. This is a guy who played baseball at the college level and typically works out five days a week. He had joined his friends for a softball game and played 18 holes of golf – along with his usual workout – when he started feeling a little lightheaded and a little tired. The next day he spiked a fever and decided to go to the doctor.

“He’s one of the healthiest guys I know,” said his mother Dianne Freeman. Dianne and Rob Freeman, along with Jason’s girlfriend traveled to Indianapolis for the duration of Freeman’s treatment. Jason Freeman has two older brothers – Kevin and Adam. Together the brothers enjoy camping, exploring the outdoors, and fishing for bass, walleye and pike – in Northern Canada’s provincial parks. And they enjoy attending sporting events and cheering for their favorite teams – baseball, basketball, and hockey – the Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Raptors, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Freeman also plays hockey on a recreational league.

Weeks before he spiked a fever, he was having an ache in his rib cage. He just thought it was a pulled muscle – something brought on by his active lifestyle.  He made regular visits to a chiropractor and sometimes it eased the discomfort.

“I really didn’t think too much of it and even asked my chiropractor if I should go in for an x-ray,” said Freeman, 25. When the fever spiked, and he told his doctor about the pain, an x-ray was one of the first tests to determine the cause of the pain. The images showed a 16-centimeter mass on top of his right lung. A week later he received the definitive diagnosis of germ cell cancer. Four cycles of chemotherapy followed. By late October the tumor had shrunk and he celebrated by ringing the bell – signaling the completion of treatment.

By the first week in December he was back in the hospital for thoracic surgery to remove the tumor on his lung. After three weeks of remission, the cancer returned. It was another oncologist – the Freemans knew from their church – Danielle Doyle, who had completed a fellowship at IU Health and knew of Dr. Einhorn and his work with germ cell tumors. A connection was made and the Freemans began making plans to come to Indiana. Even before they made the trip, Freeman’s oncologist at home had been consulting with Dr. Einhorn. After another round of chemotherapy in Toronto, Freeman’s plan at IU Health is a second dose of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant.

One of the first people they met when they arrived in Indianapolis was Maria Siddons, a clinical coordinator with IU Health’s Destination Services. “The whole team has been great helping us find housing and understanding the whole process and what we’re in for,” said Rob Freeman. “We knew at the beginning about Dr. Einhorn’s pioneering treatment and then when we got here he had really studied Jason’s file.”

And Rob Freeman knew too that Jason was not a quitter – no matter how big the challenge.

“The first thing he said when we learned of the diagnosis was ‘don’t worry dad. I’ve got this,” said Rob Freeman. He remembers the same persistence when his son was young. Sitting on the deck of the family’s home he’d watch a young Jason hit a baseball with a plastic bat. He was only about four and would spend hours practicing the sport he loved.  By the time he was five he was playing in a league. He continued playing all through his youth and into high school, mostly in the corner infield spot. He went on to play at junior colleges in Texas and Oklahoma. After earning his bachelor’s degree in business, he returned to Toronto where he was working at the Toronto Dominion Bank when he received his cancer diagnosis.

“I have never had a surgery in my life – no wisdom teeth, no tonsils, no anesthesia – so now it’s been six months and I feel like I’m taking it day by day,” said Freeman.

“It came out of nowhere and shows it can happen to anyone. My advice to other young men is don’t take life for granted. Enjoy life to the fullest and be resilient and trust the process.

“My competitiveness has helped me get after it and not back down. I’ve learned perseverance from baseball – there are some games you strike out and some games you hit a home run but you just keep at it.” 

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email