On a cold, sunny afternoon at Getterman Stadium, Mark Lumley wears a gracious smile as he watches Baylor’s softball practice from the shadows of the dugout.
He wishes he was out on the stadium’s new turf, instructing the Lady Bears’ batters and hitting balls to the fielders. That will all come in the near future, but for now he’s following doctor’s orders by limiting his activities until he’s fully released to perform all his coaching duties.
Lumley underwent surgery on Nov. 12 after cancer was discovered in his rectum. While recovering, he won’t make the season-opening trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where the Lady Bears will play five games beginning Thursday.
He’s lost 35 pounds since the surgery, but he’s never lost his sense of humor.
“I’m not going to make the trip to Puerto Vallarta, I just want to be safe,” Lumley said. “But I’ve been fully released to run my mouth and crack a few jokes and encourage players.”
Until a few weeks ago, Lumley wasn’t sure if he would be back for his 19th season as Baylor’s hitting coach. But after 32 biopsies showed he was cancer free, Lumley began to gain confidence that he could still do the job he loved.
“There was a time when I was wrestling with whether I wanted to do this,” Lumley said. “I’m 62 years old. But it’s been good, all the prayers and support from the players. It’s been phenomenal, the notes, the gifts, the texts, just everything. I thank God I’m getting through this and have more years of coaching left in me.”
Since the surgery, Lumley has gradually grown stronger and more vibrant. All the support from Baylor softball coach Glenn Moore, the players, and Baylor administrators like athletic director Mack Rhoades and President Linda Livingstone made him want to do everything he could to get back on the field.
“I got a card from President Livingstone that said ‘Hey, do what you have to do, get yourself healthy,’” Lumley said. “Mack Rhoades called and told me the same thing. Don’t come back too soon until you’re healthy. That’s why I came to Baylor 19 years ago and why I’ve never left.”
Nobody was more relieved than Moore that Lumley is returning to coaching. They’ve developed an incredible bond after coaching together for the last 21 years, beginning with two seasons at LSU before coming to Baylor in 2000.
“I was thinking over the holidays the whole time that it would be like cutting off my right arm because we’ve been together for so long,” Moore said. “I joke about his wisdom. But he has tremendous wisdom, and I love to just run stuff by him and contemplate whatever the situation is and hear his thoughts on it. I’m happy to have him back, even though it’s at a limited capacity right now.”
Lumley hoped his battles with cancer were finished in 2007 when he had his prostate removed. After the surgery, Lumley felt great and the Lady Bears were thriving on the field, making 10 NCAA tournament appearances with four trips to the Women’s College World Series since 2007.
Lumley developed some of the best hitters in the country, including All-Americans Ashley Monceaux, Brette Reagan, Shelby Friudenberg and Lindsey Cargill.
His annual colon screenings kept coming back clean until last fall when tests showed he had rectal cancer.
“I felt great,” Lumley said. “I was loving life and had no idea anything was going on. I had no issues, did my checkups. I skipped one year and that’s when it came back. I don’t think it would have made any difference. It wasn’t a real spreading tumor. But it just kept growing inward.”
Lumley underwent four chemotherapy treatments last October, but he wasn’t getting the results he wanted and decided to undergo the rectal surgery.
Lumley’s surgery at Baylor Scott and White in Dallas took 9½ hours. His wife Stacey, Moore and other friends and family were relieved when the procedure was finished.
“I had always been a pain in the butt, literally,” Lumley said. “I had Glenn and so many people in the waiting room, and they were thinking we’d be done by dinner time. It was supposed to be a four-hour surgery, but it was nine hours.”
During the weeks following surgery, Stacey took time off from her job to be with her husband. They’ve been married for six years, but Lumley said they’ve never felt closer as he’s gone through his recovery.
“She’s my angel, no doubt about it,” Lumley said. “She’s been with me through this the whole time. I don’t know if I would have made it. She used to leave me notes on the mirror: ‘You’ve got this. We’ll get through this.’ She’s been there with me every day and has encouraged me.”
Moore has constantly been at his old friend’s side, gradually easing him back to his coaching duties. He always worried if Lumley was revealing how much pain he was actually feeling because it’s against his nature to complain.
“It’s been tough,” Moore said. “He’s been through two cancers now. But it was like he was between two locomotives in this one. It was a rough surgery. He’s not a whiner or complainer. He’ll complain about the infield not being soft enough or the hitters not hitting. But when it comes to himself, he’s not a complainer at all.”
As Lumley went through chemotherapy treatments and later surgery, the Baylor softball players showed remarkable support. Sophomore catcher Ashley Marchand surprised him with some banana bread pudding from Buc-ees.
“After Lum’s last session of chemo treatment, we wanted to do something special for him,” Marchand said. “I went and got him Buc-ee’s banana bread pudding. That’s his favorite. We just celebrated him getting through it, kind of a milestone in his treatment.”
Simply talking to the players meant a lot to Lumley during the time he couldn’t be with them. After freshman third baseman Kassidy Krupit was named to the USA Softball Junior National Training Team in early January, they had a lengthy conversation that brightened his spirits.
“I’m at home recovering, and she calls me and we have a three-hour conversation about her making the junior national team,” Lumley said. “I’m like a kid in the candy story. I told her ‘I’m so proud of you.’”
While undergoing chemotherapy, Lumley met other people who were dealing with cancer treatment. The more he talked to them, the more grateful he felt to be alive and still have a chance to coach softball.
“I met a lady who had had five different cancers, and she said, ‘Coach, I’ve got a great husband, I’ve beaten it four times and I’m going to beat this one.’ There were so many inspirational things that happened. A local kid who had cancer had undergone a ton of chemo treatments and she’s fighting. You just realize I’ve lived a great life and I’m living the dream right now.”
Life is certainly different for Lumley now, but he’s adjusting. He’s wearing a colostomy bag that he has to change periodically to dump his waste. But in typical Lumley fashion, he’s found a way to joke about his new accessory.
“I haven’t sent Mack (Rhoades) a note yet, but I was going to tell him I had a call from a colostomy bag company to be a model,” Lumley said. “You know I look pretty handsome right now. But I turned them down. I’m going to stay at Baylor.”
Lumley feels thankful for the things he can do as he gets closer to full recovery. He’s excited that he can critique players on video, watch them hit and give advice.
The Baylor players are glad to have Lumley back with the team and are inspired by the willpower he’s shown to return to coaching.
“It’s meant everything to us that he’s done everything in his power to get back to us,” said Baylor junior shortstop Taylor Ellis. “He’s a funny guy, a great guy. Anyone who has talked to him knows that. He has no enemies, just an awesome guy with an awesome spirit about this whole thing. He has a winner’s mentality and that carries over to our team and it’s infectious.”
Shooting for their ninth straight NCAA tournament berth, the Lady Bears have some huge hurdles to overcome with all-Big 12 outfielder Kyla Walker out for the season following hip surgery and all-Big 12 pitcher Gia Rodoni trying to recover from fall knee surgery.
But all those issues seem small in comparison to what Lumley has been through. His presence has lifted their spirits.
“I think it’s been hard for all of us, even the new players,” Marchand said. “We always want the best for him. It’s a real testament to his strength with him even being back out here on this field. It’s just incredible and a testament to God. We’re more than happy to see him every single day. You can’t help when you see him smile, you want to smile too.”