What do you say to someone who has just been diagnosed with stage IV melanoma and given very little chance of survival? A number of thoughts ran through my mind as I waited for Bailey O'Brien to answer my phone call.
I had spoken to all the student athletes at Boston University a week earlier and received an email from their Athletic Director that a diver on the swim team, Bailey O'Brien, was in the audience and had just received the worst news of her life.
He said she was inspired by my talk and he asked if I would give her a call. "Of course," I responded and dialed the number he gave me without preparing what I was going to say.
After talking to her for a few minutes I learned that doctors first diagnosed her with melanoma 3 years earlier, during her freshman year. She told me that at that time she had stage III melanoma and the skin around her right temple had to be removed, along with 45 lymph nodes around her neck.
But through it all she continued to dive with her swim team and set personal records year after year. However, as she prepared for her senior season doctors found tumors behind her jaw and earlobe and subsequently discovered seven more tumors on her chin, lungs and spine.
She said her doctor wasn't very hopeful she would beat it and neither was she.
Despite not knowing what to say earlier, at that moment there was only one thing I could say. I encouraged her to have faith, pray and ask God for a miracle. I don't know why but I had a strong belief that she would beat this and told her so.
Shortly after our conversation Bailey and her mom went to Tijuana, Mexico to a hospital that was doing a three-week experimental treatment, not available in the United States, that had a high success rate and included natural and alternative vaccines and a special diet.
Bailey returned home from Mexico and continued her treatment for another three weeks before getting her PET scan. Then she went to her doctor for the results, the day before her 21st birthday.
She said that she was cautiously optimistic, and knew that it could be anywhere from a pretty good birthday, if she had encouraging news, to a really, really awful one, if it was bad news. Bailey describes the moment like this:
So I'm waiting in the consultation room, for what feels like forever, and finally, in walks my doctor. My heart flutters, and I know the moment has come. My doctor asks me a ton of questions, about all the treatments I had in Mexico, and he's taking notes on every little detail I share, about the vaccine, infusions, injections, diet, detox, and supplements I'm on. I'm surprised he wants to know so much, and I get really impatient, because he's not showing any hint of the results, and I'm literally dying to know what's going on, but he just stands there, in silence, with his hand on his chin, looking down, leaning against the countertop…
Finally, he says "It appears from your scan that you have no sign of active disease, and you have no need of my services." "Wait what? I have no active disease, so I have inactive cancer, and you can't do anything for me? Huh?" I'm confused at first, but then he says, "No no, it's gone, your cancer is all gone." I am just as shocked as my doctor, I can't believe it! I feel this incredible weight lifted from my chest and shoulders, and just start bawling my eyes out. I have cried so many tears but for the first time, I'm actually crying happy tears, because now I am free, and I know that I've finally, truly, won.
Shortly after Bailey called me with the great news and we kept in touch while she went back to school and graduated.
After graduation, I asked her what she had learned and she said, "To really believe that anything is possible, to fully appreciate life and my relationships with others, to be able to stay positive through any situation, and to overcome any challenge with faith instead of fear."
She told me that she asked for a miracle and boy did she get one. But she wondered what she should do with the miracle and gift she had been given.
I told her I thought she was meant to share her gift with others in the form of hope and inspiration. I told her she should start sharing her story with high school and college students around the country.
A few months ago I sat in front of my computer with my 13-year-old son as we listened to Bailey deliver her speech to us via Skype. She was about to go back to Boston University and speak to all the student athletes. It was a speech she had given twenty times before but it was the first time I heard it and honestly I cried.
She called her talk Unbeatable and it was so powerful and practical that I believe every high school and college student needs to hear it. Actually every adult needs to hear it too.
If you are interested check out Bailey's website, www.BaileyObrien.com, and invite her to speak to your high school, college or community. She's a difference maker.
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