Bye said he had felt under the weather the week of Aug. 19, and was experiencing jaundice, or yellowing of his eyes, as well as itchy skin — pointing to what Bye believed was a potential gal stone or bile duct obstruction.
“I went to my doctor for further testing and procedures to see what the issue was, or what they needed to do to loosen the bile duct,” Bye, 54, said. “And from there, other things were found.”
What doctors discovered inside Bye’s bile duct — the long tube-like structure that transports bile from the liver to the intestine — wasn’t a gall stone, but rather a malignant tumor.
Bye, who said has no history of cancer in his family, was obviously stunned by the discovery.
“Shocked, saddened, all of those,” Bye said. “My wife (Kathy) and I shared a moment, for sure.
Only a few days after the diagnosis, Bye underwent a 4 1⁄2 hour surgery to remove the tumor at Spectrum Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.
“With how quickly that happened, I feel so fortunate,” Bye said. “I talked with my surgeon and he said maybe even just 10 years ago, I’d would’ve had to travel for surgery of that kind at Johns Hopkins (Hospital in Baltimore), or down south. It just shows the quality of life we’re fortunate to have here in West Michigan.”
Bye said he was extremely fortunate that the tumor was located in the bile duct and caused the symptoms; otherwise, it could have easily spread to other lymph nodes.
“Who knows how long before it would have been discovered, but because of those symptoms, we got it early,” Bye said.
Bye has been informed by doctors that they feel confident the tumor was contained to the bile duct, and with chemotherapy and radiation through the next six months, he should have a clean bill of health.
Bye said the potential worries of missing work weren’t an issue due to the swift action of colleagues at Grand Haven High School, who acted immediately in finding a short-term replacement in Bye’s absence. They didn’t have to look far — the man that Bye replaced in the position, Jack Provencal, came out of retirement to provide a helping hand.
“Shock, obviously was the appropriate word and then it went to very concerned,” Provencal said. “Just strong feelings of wanting, hoping for the best for Robin and his family.
“So when they asked me if I could come back, there was no hesitation. You do that for a friend and colleague in need. Obviously, I was retired, so I’ll stay until they tell me to go back to being retired. I’ll help as long as they need me.”
Athletic department secretary Rita Way also added more responsibilities to her already busy schedule.
“She’s a rock for us, no question,” Provencal said. “We’re very fortunate to have her there.”
It seemed more than ironic that Bye’s first athletic event he returned for was the emotional Bucs’ Pride football game on Sept. 14, a cancer awareness event where Grand Haven players donned purple jerseys, with the names of friends or family members on the back who have survived or lost their battle to cancer.
“It hit very close to home,” Bye said. “There was an anonymous donor who purchased a jersey with my name on the back and a kid presented it to me after the game. It was a very special moment.”
After the Bucs’ season-opening victory against Traverse City Central on Aug. 24, Grand Haven head coach Mike Farley visited Bye and presented him with the game ball signed by the team. It was just one of hundreds of thoughtful gestures that Bye has received since he’s been diagnosed.
“It’s just been an outpouring of community support,” Bye said. “I think I’ve received close to 400 cards and other well-wishes. It’s been mind-blowing.”
Bye said he’s been slowly returning to work, but isn’t yet close to putting in a 40 or more hour work week.
“It’s been very therapeutic for me,” he said. “It’s kind of helped me get my mind off the fact that I’ve got this big scar now, or I’ve got these treatments up ahead.
One piece of advice that I’ve received by my doctors is to try to get back to a normal schedule. I’ve got good energy, but I definitely feel it later in the day. If I listen to my body, I’ll be OK.”
Bye has two children: Erik, a social studies teacher at the high school; and Alicia, a recent graduate from Western Michigan University.
Being diagnosed with cancer has put everything in perspective, Bye said, notably to put family first.
It also taught him a tough life lesson on how to deal with adversity.
“I received a note from a colleague and friend who also battled cancer,” Bye said. “He told me the two most important things during a time like this are acceptance and attitude. And I’ve said that to a lot of people.
“I realize I’ve got to take this one step at a time. I’ve accepted what has happened, but I’m not going to let it dictate my life. I’m determined to get through this.”