Freshman Emily Bailey was set to start her first semester of college this past summer, but when she was diagnosed with cancer, she had to push her studies back and focus on surviving.
On March 4, Emily was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer that affects the lymph nodes throughout the body. For Emily, it had spread from her neck to her spleen and liver.
“I was a little upset, but I just knew I had to make the best of it rather than let it destroy me,” she said.
Emily was finishing high school and preparing for graduation in Boynton Beach when she was diagnosed. And despite starting treatment and dropping the classes she didn’t necessarily need, she was able to graduate with the rest of her class.
Kasey Tendrich, Emily’s best friend, was by her side and at the doctor’s appointment when Emily was first told she had cancer.
“My first thought was just that I wanted her to be OK, and I knew I had to be strong for her,” she said.
Emily’s friends and family helped her stay positive about her situation — especially when she started to lose her hair three weeks after starting chemo.
Her boyfriend, Andrew Reilly, was by Emily’s side to help her shave her head and make sure she knew he was always there when she needed him.
“I knew that she’d be beautiful no matter what, so I just wanted her to realize that even though her image is changing, I still love her for her. She rocks it, as you can tell,” Reilly said. “It was really tough on me, but I knew that I needed to be strong for her. I just wanted to be her rock and be there for her, so I tried to suck it up.”
Although she has been incredibly mature about her situation, Emily’s father Brett Bailey said having cancer and taking on college is a lot for an 18-year-old to handle.
“Two times I saw her cry: One was at the diagnosis, and the second time was when they confirmed that she would lose her hair,” Brett said.
Although Emily’s support system stood behind her from day one, Tendrich said Emily went through a period of time where she just wanted to be alone.
“She basically felt defeated and thought that this cancer was the end of her,” Tendrich said. “One day, she just decided to change her attitude, and I think that is what truly helped her beat cancer.”
After several appointments, PET scans and four sets of chemo at Cleveland Clinic, Emily was cancer-free in late May. However, she was still required to finish the rest of her chemo every two weeks for six to eight months.
“I do think when people are struggling, it’s important to try to stay positive as much as you can because mind, body and soul are all connected — so one helps the other a lot,” Emily said. “To be able to stay positive is a real important thing.”
With doctor appointments, treatment and chemo on her mind, Emily still wanted to have a college experience like most students starting college — fitting in and making friends. Although she was still on chemo, Emily wanted to recruit during rush week and meet new people, despite how she felt in the inside.
On Sept. 1, Emily and her loved ones were able to celebrate her last day of having chemo run through her system. Reilly said the relief just floated off both of their shoulders.
“Just the elation on her face made me super happy; one of the happiest moments in my life,” he said.
And while starting college may be an obstacle of its own, Tendrich said nothing will be hard for Emily in comparison to what she had to go through this year.
“Throughout this process of the doctor appointments and surgeries and chemo, Emily has become an entirely different person,” Tendrich said. “She is confident and proud of who she is. She radiates positivity.
“I know they say the toughest battles are given to the strongest warriors, but Emily’s battle with cancer made her the strongest, most inspiring warrior.”
Rachel Stuart is a News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSage or email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.