BEDFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WTVG) - Adversity afflicts nearly everyone everywhere at some point in their life. For Connor Bartlett it came at an early age. When he was a sophomore at Bedford High School, he was sitting in desk in one of his morning classes when he felt his body beginning to “shut down.”
His classmates took notice, notified the teacher, and someone called 9-1-1. As Connor remembers it, “The paramedics were called. They rushed me to the hospital and within a couple hours they had a diagnosis.” It’s the diagnosis no one wants to hear – stage four cancer.
Connor’s father, Brett Bartlett, a pastor at Wyldewood Baptist Church, was shocked. “Oh my gosh my son has cancer and somehow I knew it was advanced.”
“Usually stage four is like a death sentence,” Connor added.
His mother, Kim, said, “It hits you like a ton of bricks. It stops your world.”
It certainly stopped Connor’s upcoming wrestling season. He was used to wearing singlets for matches and instead he was going to be wearing hospital gowns for the foreseeable future.
The cancer wasn’t just in one location. He had cancerous cells in 21 locations throughout his body including his lungs, brain, and kidney.
The pictures of Connor in the hospital are heartbreaking. His eyes are closed. He is exhausted, fatigued, and worn down by repeated chemotherapy treatments.
To make matters worse, due to the severity of his cancer, Connor’s family elected to try a bone marrow transplant. Dr. Tony Palmer, Connor’s oncologist at Toledo Hospital, said, “We had to have very aggressive treatment for him and one of the side effects of a bone marrow transplant can cause problems with the organs and he unfortunately had some of those complications.”
“It was expressed to us that his bowels, which were the consistency of wet tissue, if they were to burst or even leak, it would be death by septic shock probably within 20 minutes,” Brett expounded.
As Connor’s world as he knew it was caving in he still had strength. Cage Dye, one of Connor’s teammates on the high school wrestling team, questioned, “How can you not be scared to die?”
The answer to that question was simple for Connor. “Either I’d be cured and I’d go home or I’d wake up and be in heaven so there really was no downside,” Connor said.
“He never cried. He never got mad or frustrated. He just took every day and every treatment with strength,” Kim said.
Brett saw a determined look in Connor’s face as he lay in hospital beds awaiting the next treatment or the next set of pills he’d have to swallow. It was as if Connor believed he would put cancer behind him, “We’re not done here. I’m not done here,” Brett said.
Admittedly there were low points during extensive treatments which kept him out of school for months at a time. During that time though, the Bedford wrestling program made a surprise visit to Connor’s hospital room. Twenty one teammates and coaches surrounded Connor with their presence. “Just having my brothers there to just see me for a few minutes, that was fantastic. I’ll never forget it,” Connor remembered.
The treatments persisted for a span of eight months but by steadfastly holding on to the belief that he would make it, Connor was declared cancer-free in February of 2019.
Shortly thereafter there was no doubt where he wanted to be – back on the mats. “Can you do that?” his coach Kevin Vogel asked. Connor’s response, “Yeah, I want to wrestle.”
“[Wrestling] was a major thing that kept me fighting. The endurance and toughness I learned in the room kept me fighting,” he said.
Connor began to get back into wrestling shape and if you see him today you wouldn’t know what he had gone through to get to this point.
Word quickly spread within the close-knit wrestling community. Connor was back with the team. After hearing about Connor’s story, an official with the team state championships reached out to Coach Vogel to deliver an idea. “They wanted to see if Connor could carry the state flag during the opening ceremonies of the championships,” Vogel explained.
Soon thereafter, there he was, carrying the flag as he led his team out of the tunnel and onto the grand stage of the state championships. Video cameras were rolling. Flashes from cameras were popping and Connor was smiling and yet still determined. He was finally, fully back as a member of the team.
If you ask Connor, he’ll tell you, God saved his life. His family saved his life. His coaches and teammates saved his life. Wrestling saved his life.
“Winning a wrestling match is a lot like fighting cancer. You can roll over and lose the match. Yeah it’s easier but your fight is over. You’re done. Or you could keep fighting the whole time. Keep churning your legs. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up on top,” Connor said.
No truer words have ever been spoken