Most couples in their mid-to-late 20s don’t have to deal with life-and-death issues.
Trey Mancini and Sara Perlman are not one of those couples.
Mancini, the Orioles’ 28-year-old outfielder/first baseman who underwent colon cancer surgery on March 12, has had a caring companion in Perlman.
The 25-year-old Perlman, who was MASN’s sideline reporter for the first half of last season before moving on to NBC Sports Washington, went to visit Mancini during spring training. Then the shocking diagnosis came.
“We were new in our relationship,” Perlman said this week in a phone conversation.
Mancini underwent surgery just as the coronavirus pandemic overran healthcare, and the Orioles’ best player has had to navigate the process differently because family and friends aren’t allowed in hospitals.
After his surgery in March, Mancini began chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins, commuting from Perlman’s Washington home on alternate Mondays. Perlman can’t accompany him, but she has been by his side.
“It was kind of difficult at first because we had a nurse come,” Perlman said. The nurse was there to remove Mancini’s port two days after treatment. She had to make sure that things were spotless.
“I was really stressed I was trying to learn everything,” Perlman said. After several arm surgeries, she did know how to put in and remove an IV, but she knew what she didn’t know.
“I’m not a nurse, no one in my family is a nurse, that was the hardest because it was the first few weeks,” she said, calling it “overwhelming.”
Mancini needed help with the most basic of tasks.
“He can’t take a shower for two days, I help him clean off,” she said. “All that was kind of difficult.”
Mancini is 6 feet 4, 230 pounds. When he began his biweekly chemo treatments, he was warned he’d lose weight, and Perlman wanted to follow instructions and prepare basic foods.
‘Trey loves peanut butter and for treatment they told me, make simple foods,” she said. “I made him a peanut butter wrap, and to this day, if a mention peanut butter or wrap, Trey’s going to throw up all over me.
“At the time, we didn’t’ know what was going to make him sick and what wasn’t going to make him sick.”
Mancini and Perlman will discuss living with cancer and other relevant topics on a new podcast: “Call Your Shot.” The first episode is scheduled to drop on Friday.
“Looking back now, we laugh,” Perlman said. “His first few treatments were difficult, one of his medications was making him really sick and he wouldn’t eat and he couldn’t drink water because he had such crazy cold sensitivity. I was running to the store at all hours to get Pedialyte, and making sure it wasn’t cold Pedialyte … I was learning a whole new world.”
Mancini has three treatments left and said things have gotten easier as he’s gone along. One drug, which was giving him nasty allergic reactions was switched out, and he’s handled the treatments better.
This wasn’t treatment week, and Mancini sounded robust when he chatted about how well the Orioles were playing without him. He’s watched “every inning” on television.
He said he has a lot to be grateful for and that he’ll use his voice to speak about the growing incidences of colon cancer in younger people, and that he’ll have a eager partner in Perlman.
Mancini doubts that in this time of Covid-19 he could have managed without Perlman’s help
“No shot, honestly,” Mancini said. “I tell her that all the time, too. I don’t know how … I don’t know on a mental and physical level, don’t know how I’d have gotten through this without her.
“It’s made it a hundred times easier having her and you would think, especially during Covid and getting diagnosed with cancer and everything, I would like sit back and at some point would have had some sort of huge mental breakdown almost, but I haven’t come close to that at all.
“She’s helped me see the positive side of things. She’s helped me though every day, when I’m not feeling well, especially those days after treatments. The medicine that I leave in for two days that I go home with, she takes out. Every Wednesday, she helps me. I’ve got a [catheter]. I can’t get it wet, and I have to take a waist down bath. I couldn’t do that by myself. I couldn’t do any of this by myself. She’s definitely been the MVP of this times a million of this whole ordeal.”
Perlman wasn’t sure she could provide the help Mancini has needed.
“Now that we only have three treatments left, it’s gotten to be a lot easier,” she said.
“At certain times it was difficult, you never know how you’re going to handle someone being sick. I’m a patient person, but I just never knew how to take care of someone who was throwing up or really tired or couldn’t drink water and couldn’t eat. I didn’t want to cook anything that could smell weird or could make him sick. I look back now and think that’s so normal, but at the time we were thinking, ‘that’s not going to work.’
“We look back and say, ‘that was really hard, but now we can get through anything.’”
During the weeks Mancini doesn’t receive chemotherapy, he’s been active. He and Perlman play tennis, a sport he played as a boy in Florida, three times a week, go for runs and throw a tennis ball around.
There’s a lot of time to think and talk.
“I’ve known Trey for a few years before we even started dating,” she said.
“We were friends. We worked together. We always say, in a million years, we never would have pictured this happening to anyone, let alone him, but I’m a firm believer that you’re put in someone’s life for a reason and whatever reason this reason was, help him through this or teach me a lesson. I think it’s done that.
“I certainly have a greater appreciation for health and seeing someone feel really good and strong sounds so funny, but when I see him feeling good, it makes my day and week a million times better than those first few weeks and months when we were really struggling.”
When Mancini underwent surgery, Perlman received sympathetic messages from women who were caring for men in their lives — boyfriends, husbands, brothers and fathers.
“When I first got those messages, I thought, ‘I don’t need support,’” she said. But she soon thought differently. “It is difficult.”
For the couple, life has evolved.
“It’s just brought us really, really close,” she said. “We joke now that we’re really an amorphous blob. I know his daily activity, showering habits. It’s been crappy for most of it, but I think Trey is going to be able use his voice to raise awareness for cancers, colon cancer.
“It’s crazy how much the percentage has gone up in young people. It doesn’t happen to 28-year-olds, and we shouldn’t be talking about it. We should be going to parties and whatever …i t’s gone up dramatically in young people. I really believe Trey will be healthy and really fine after this, and he was able to get through chemo fine.
“You think about the people who don’t play baseball that don’t get physicals done and their blood work done yearly, he never would have caught it.”
“The doctor told him he had such an aggressive form of cancer that if they wouldn’t have caught it through baseball, it would have been Stage-IV, and it’s really, really hard to live when it gets to that point. Some days, we’re really sad, but I think to myself, if he didn’t play baseball, his chances of living were so slim because it becomes metastasis so quickly.”
As challenging as this year has been, Perlman received more bad news when, in a budget cut, Perlman lost her job at NBC Sports Washington.
“It was tough,” she said of the layoff. “I really did love NBC but, with that being said, life was put in a whole different perspective going through this these last five, six months. I couldn’t even be sad for more than two seconds.”
“I gave it my all. Covid was unpredictable. Cancer was unpredictable. I’m just going to roll with the punches. I was upset but, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the end of the world. Trey’s cancer diagnosis helped me a lot with that. It helped me put things into perspective. It sucked, don’t get me wrong, you don’t want to lose your job but, at the same time, if I had to go back to work now when he was finishing treatment, it would have been really difficult for me.
“I want to get through these next three treatments, then I’ll figure out what’s next.”