After Conquering Leukemia, Graduate Offers Message of Hope
Johnson, Deborah, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Deborah Johnson Daily Herald Staff Writer
Michelle Bailey was 16 that summer in 1988 when her mom, a nurse, noticed she was sleeping too much and had a lot of bruises.
Concerned, Patricia Bailey took her daughter, then a junior at Naperville Central High School, to a pediatrician.
The news wasn't good. Michelle's parents were left with the difficult task of explaining to their daughter that she had acute myelogenous - a rare form of leukemia.
"I'd been to the doctor and then went out with friends," Michelle recalled. "(My parents) called me at my friend's house and said I needed to come home,"
When she got there, "My mom was at the door crying, my sister was crying. They just explained that I was very sick and I needed to go for treatment."
That day marked the start of a very long road for Michelle and her parents, Naperville residents Patricia and William.
The once-energetic teenager was in the hospital so much that her insurance plan stopped paying for her costly treatment. At one point, the 16-year-old was given only a 20 percent chance for survival.
But, thanks largely to former Gov. Jim Thompson, Michelle's church, friends and complete strangers, this story has a happy ending.
Today Michelle, 24, is cancer-free. On Saturday she will graduate from Loyola University with a master's degree in social work.
Michelle hopes that by sharing her story she will give hope to other cancer patients. She also wants the people of Naperville, who rallied behind her with cards, money and prayers, to know how much she appreciated their life-saving efforts.
A frightening new word
When Michelle first learned of her illness, she denied it was happening. She kept thinking the diagnosis would turn out to be a mistake.
"I was very young, and had never heard the word 'leukemia' before," she said.
Then she started treatment and the illness hit hard. "Cancer means you're going to die, especially to a 16-year-old," she said.
Through the fall and winter of 1988, Michelle underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy.
Her mom recalls that Michelle was so sick she sometimes didn't feel like coming to the telephone.
That Christmas, her friends pooled their money to buy her a cordless phone. It was just one of many acts of kindness the Baileys witnessed throughout the ordeal.
Then in March, Michelle relapsed.
"The cancer was in my bones and in my spleen," she said. "They said the only chance for survival was a bone marrow transplant, and no one in my family matched."
There was, however, one other possibility: Doctors could remove Michelle's own bone marrow, blast it with radiation, and then replace it.
The problem was that Michelle's health insurance coverage had capped out. Public aid wasn't an option because at the time the form of treatment Michelle needed was considered experimental.
"They said I didn't have a good enough chance of survival," Michelle said. "That was when we got a lot of media attention and the community started doing a lot of fund-raisers. …