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ONE VOICE: BAILY GORMAN OUT OF THE WOODS

Senior year. Accepted early decision to your dream college. You are invincible, or so you think. Then suddenly, one word puts your entire future on hold.

Cancer.

I was pretty much involved with everything in high school. Leadership organizations. National Honor Society. Homecoming Court. I was a class officer. Captain of the cross country and track teams. You name it.

But one of the things I was most passionate about was my school’s “Locked-In to Lock Out Cancer” fundraiser. A friend started it when I was a freshman and, after a year working with the committee, he asked if I might be interested in taking it over after he graduated. He said he saw something in me that was essential to leading an endeavor like this.

After a year of grooming, I led the fundraiser for my junior and senior years. Through friends and acquaintances that were affected by the disease, I sadly discovered I had more connections to it than I ever knew.

But I never figured one would hit so close to home.

Locked-In To Lock Out Cancer Fundraiser

It was March 7 of my senior year, three days after Locked-In was over.

I hadn’t been feeling myself for a few months and had a nagging cough for the better part of the semester. I was constantly exhausted. But when you’re involved in so much, I figured it was just par for the course.

I knew I was anemic - my iron was too low. I had tried iron pills and liquid iron, my doctor even forbid me from racing my final cross country season that fall. Still no improvement.

The next step was to try “Iron IV” infusions. My mom and I had taken the day off for my first treatment, so she figured why not go get my cough checked too while we were at it. I had tried everything to get rid of that as well, so my mom wanted to get me a chest x-ray. The doctor originally told us, “We try not to radiate kids” but my mom insisted.

After what seemed like the longest wait of my life, the doctor came out and explained they had seen “something” and wanted to do an emergency scan to get a better look.

When I came out afterwards, I found my dad sitting beside my mom in the waiting room.

I knew that couldn’t be a good sign.

After waiting for what felt like another eternity, we were ushered into a coat-closet sized room with a phone on a desk. The phone rang. My father answered.

After a short exchange, my dad hung up the phone and looked at me.

“Baily, honey, we need to go to Roswell.”

Roswell? You mean the cancer hospital? I had just been there a few days earlier to drop off a $10,000 Locked-In check.

The next day, I went through another scan and waited on the pediatric floor with my parents until the doctors came in and pulled an image up on a computer screen to show us.

My mother almost threw up. My father was on the verge of passing out.

But the runner in me blurted out my first reaction.

“So THAT’S why I haven’t been able to hit my times.”

My scan: Hodgkin's Lymphoma Stage II-Bulky

You couldn’t see my right lung. There was a tumor in the way.

The doctors explained that we had to move quickly. The tumor was pulling on an artery and a clot had formed that was days from bursting.

The next day, I was rushed through three tests in six hours, including 12 lung biopsies, two bone marrow biopsies, and had a port inserted in a vein in my arm. The doctors were amazing and very reassuring because I was awake the whole time. I felt no pain - it was mostly just a sense of pressure.

Until they did the bone marrow. That, I felt.

I screamed, but don’t remember much else until waking up five hours later in a hospital room.

The following day, we jumped right in. My treatment included five rounds of chemo, with each round lasting one month. Then a month of radiation six days a week.

Every round of chemo lasted eight-straight days, followed by 21 days of recovery and got progressively worse. When I finally gained enough strength to feel somewhat normal, the next round would start and knock me down even harder than before. Each one took more to bring myself back.

My dad shaved his head during my treatments.

I will spare you the gory details and the side effects the chemicals had on my body. But losing my hair was honestly the worst. When the time came to cut my hair, I said to just take it all off.

I was a senior in high school, about to go off to college and finally starting to gain confidence in who I was. After that first round, I looked in the hospital mirror and saw a stranger looking back at me. My long hair. The muscles from the countless miles I logged. Even the sparkle in my eyes – all gone.

When I was little, I was the type that would pull bandages off under hot water to make them hurt less. But this -- this type of pain was different. I knew nothing could make something like this hurt less, so I wanted it done. That’s actually how I made it through the majority of my treatment. I knew that if I wanted to move on with my life, certain things just had to be done.

Even with everything else going on, it was hard not to think about my future. I had applied early decision to Geneseo, but my once straight and narrow path was clouded with scans and procedures just to keep me alive.

My father called and explained my situation. That it was unclear whether I would be well enough to attend in the fall. Not long after, I was surprised with a blanket embroidered with the college seal and a handwritten note from the admissions office that said, "Your family here at Geneseo is waiting for you when you're ready."

Knowing that I still had a place at Geneseo was something that helped get me through treatment. I wanted all of this just to be a bump in the road. I would move on with my life as planned once it was all over.

I also I had to reach out to the cross country coach, Dan Moore, who I had been communicating with for almost a year about running at Geneseo. Once again, I was touched by his response.

He had recently lost his sister following a long fight with a brain tumor. Coach Moore was also an elite triathlete that has battled through physical pain inconceivable to many. But even during a race's worst moments, Coach never quit.

He explained that, as an athlete, he understood the highs and lows of life, and when he had a setback, he fought through and finished his race. He assured me that he understood the difficult road that I had ahead and that my health came first. The team would be there when I was better.

His receptiveness to my situation and the strength he spoke of from his own experiences inspired me to focus on my future and get myself healthy.

My doctors worked with me, moving chemo days up, around and back to make sure I was feeling as well as possible for the last few important pieces of senior year. I was still able to escort one of my best friends, who lost his mother to breast cancer a few months prior to my diagnosis, in my high school’s Mr. Wonderful Pageant. I was able to attend my senior prom, and even be crowned Prom Queen. I was able to walk across the stage at my high school graduation and receive my diploma surrounded by the classmates I had grown up with for the past 12 years -- all while enduring this grueling treatment.

I would be lying if I said being able to make these events made up for all the others I missed, and the struggles I endured just to pretend like I was normal.

Two steps in my heels at prom and I fell to my knees because my legs were too weak.

I missed the senior class trip to Europe that I had been looking forward to since seventh grade. I missed my senior skip day. I missed my senior track meet. I missed the senior lap at my last ever sectional championship. All because I was in chemo.

There were so many things that I had missed because of this terrible disease, but I wasn’t going to allow it to take any more than it had to.

Me ringing the "victory" bell after my last treatment.

My last day of chemo was June 7. I finished radiation on July 21. Two weeks later, I was at Geneseo, meeting the team for preseason. Clearly, I was nervous - what college freshman wasn’t - but it was just another situation where I had to rip off the bandage.

The team was so receptive. I found a family at “SUNY G,” and everyone just wanted to see me succeed.

It was frustrating not being able to compete with my teammates, especially since they were achieving so much success. All the while, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if? But Coach Moore assured me that I just needed to be patient and my time would come.

That first year was tough. Some of the chemo had longer-lasting effects that I am still recovering from. I struggled with confidence not only because I was just starting college, but because I was an 18-year-old girl wearing wigs just to feel normal. Because I wasn’t able to compete with my team, let alone run. Because I had “baggage.”

I also struggled a great deal with memory. One of the effects of my chemo was short-term memory loss. My poor boyfriend would ask me on dates a week in advance and I would completely forget. As a biology major, this especially made school a challenge. Terms I would understand in class and ace on homework would become completely foreign to me during exams.

Struggling in school was nothing new for me. I always had to work for my good grades, I had to work to be fast on the track too. Things never just came easy to me. But putting in all of this effort for it to still not pay off was another hindrance to my already low confidence.

I started jogging around November, and was running workouts by March. Slowly, I could feel my confidence coming back as my hair got longer, my grades came up, and my times came down. I started to feel like I was actually almost out of the woods.

I read somewhere that ships don’t sink because of the water around them, but from the water that gets inside. I think that is incredibly important to think about in sports as well as in life. Runners especially can be hard on themselves - it was tough during my treatment and continues even now - but as long as you do your best to focus on what you can control, and not dwell on all the obstacles that life tries to flood you with, it is possible to stay afloat.

And when you are faced with adversity, its important to take a step back and ask not only where have I come from, but also where can I go?

This past summer I officially began training with Coach Moore and was able to join the team when everyone came back for preseason. During our time trial, I was nowhere near the fastest, basically finishing last. But the Geneseo coaching staff saw something in me and I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for the opportunity.

I owe my love of running to my high school coach, Brian Lasher. He helped me realize that hard work will always pay off if you can just be patient, which is also an ideal held in high regard at Geneseo. Trusting the process can be scary, but having a team that you can fully put your faith in makes it a lot less daunting.

I feel myself getting faster and into better shape with every workout and drop time with nearly every race I run. But I also find myself feeling more like myself and more at home with every stride I take.

It’s tough to be patient when you feel like you’re not at your best. I am so happy to be improving, but I still can’t get rid of the little voice in my that wonders, “Why aren’t you faster? Was it the cancer? Can I just not do it anymore?”

It is in those moments that I think back to where I came from, and I use that voice to push me further.

I remember my first collegiate race. I was complaining to my father how disappointed I was with my time.

“I feel like I’m dying out there, Dad.”

“No, honey. You’re living.”

Created By
Baily Gorman
Appreciate

Credits:

Photos by Keith Walters. Others provided by Baily Gorman.

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