On Mother’s Day, 33-year-old Nichole Bailey knelt down with her three children, ready to race them across the front of their yard and back.
“Ready… set… go!” She yelled, as five-year-old Ryker, nine-year-old Devon and 15-year old Hannah took off with Bailey close behind.
With laughter and smiles as they ran through the grass, it would be difficult to guess that on that morning Bailey had been battling yet another sporadic episode caused by a malignant and aggressive brain tumour.
“It’s hard not to think about. It’s even harder because I have really little kids. And that’s my biggest concern… just give me long enough to be there for them,” she said.
On April 13, Bailey was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare form of brain cancer that develops from star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes that invades surrounding healthy tissues. More common among men than women in their 30s to 50s, this tumour accounts for just two per cent of all brain tumours diagnosed.
Bailey said she knew something was wrong six months ago when she began experiencing unexplainable headaches that happened periodically. They then grew with intensity and frequency over the last three months, occurring between five and 50 times a day for 12 to 18 minutes, resulting in loss of vision and muffled hearing. Despite this, she said she dealt with the pain and never missed a shift at work.
“I never thought anything of it. I’m a single mom with three kids, I worked two jobs with a 15-year-old daughter, just… life. I was so busy I just thought, ‘Yeah, I’m fine,’” Bailey said.
“No one would know that I was having an episode, no one would know how I was feeling unless I physically told them. I just continued… life must go on. I never skipped a beat, ever.”
A month ago she made an appointment with her doctor after the headaches became unmanageable, and at first, she said her doctor suspected she was experiencing migraines. She was told to keep taking over-the-counter pain medication to deal with the building pressure while they scheduled a CT scan.
“He said it didn’t make any sense,” she said. “I can walk, I can talk, I don’t have seizures, my reflexes and my strength are good, I’m not having any memory or speech issues… I’m just having these random episodes.”
A few days after the CT, she received a call from her doctor who told her that the results had come back inconclusive and that she needed to come back in to do more blood work. She was booked for an emergency magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan on April 5.
“The very next day I went in for an MRI at 11:30 a.m. and he called me at 8 p.m. and said, ‘Pack a bag, because I’m sending you to Vancouver,” she said. “So, I sort of panicked a little bit. They just kept calling it a mass.”
Bailey was told she would have to get ready within the next half-hour to fly immediately to Vancouver General Hospital.
The next morning after she arrived, Bailey started seeing different medical teams who told her they were going to conduct a craniotomy April 9 and see if they could remove the mass completely, which came with its fair share of risk because of the tumour’s location on the left frontal portion of her brain.
During the procedure, doctors discovered the mass’ true nature and realized it was malignant and inoperable. Bailey woke up with 47 staples in her head and was told samples of the mass were sent to pathology for diagnosis. Three days after her craniotomy Bailey was released and booked a trip back home, knowing the procedure hadn’t been a successful one.
In the Vancouver airport, she received a call from the neurosurgeon who told her she had brain cancer.
“ It was such a quick conversation I couldn’t even think of questions. He just told me ‘this is what you have, and you need radiation and chemo. Where do you want to go? Vancouver or Prince George?’” Bailey said. “I lost my soul in Vancouver a little bit. I spent a week there, but it felt like a lifetime.”
Doctors told Bailey that if she decided not to go through with treatment, she would pass away in less than a year. If she took treatment, she could live for another three to five years.
“You’ve got to weigh out what’s important to you,” she said of the decision.
“Three to five years can be a lifetime for some, and that’s what I tell myself. Even though I’m going to lose my hair and I’m going to feel crappy, I could still live three to five years. And that’s just statistically — it doesn’t mean that’s how it’s going to be. Think positive. Be positive. Be proactive. It’s okay.”
Bailey said she will be able to do some of her chemotherapy treatments here in Terrace, but will go to Prince George for radiation therapy to stay close to her family. She will be flying to Prince George on May 18 to start 33 treatments of radiation , altogether lasting six and a half weeks.
Once she told her family and close friends, news about her diagnosis spread. Bailey said she began receiving calls and messages from people in Terrace who wanted to offer their support. Various fundraising events began popping up on Facebook, including a fundraiser hosted by Beyond Burgers on May 9 that raised $3,169.60 for Bailey and her family.
|Michelle Williams, owner of Beyond Burgers, and Nichole Bailey at the restaurant’s fundraiser outside of Convoy Supply on May 9, where the business managed to raise $3,169.60 for Bailey’s cancer treatment.|
“I can’t even really go on Facebook because it’s so overwhelming, I can’t acknowledge every person. Thank you is never enough,” she said. “Terrace has made me believe that humans are really great people, and it’s incredible.”
However, Bailey said it has been hard for her to go from living a fairly private life to speaking openly about her diagnosis. But when she began seeing various fundraising events pop up all over the community, she began posting videos on Facebook to let everyone know how she was doing, even though she is often left with a lot of unanswered questions that are difficult to explain to her three children.
“It just made me realize that life can change in a day and to not worry about the things you can’t control,” said Bailey, who said she’s also overcome many other hardships in her life. “I’m hoping this is it, I’m hoping this is my one last struggle, my last short straw. The situation has really made me value this life and really appreciate the people around me, because people I didn’t even think I had, I do. I do have them, and it’s beautiful.”
Bailey said she is also meeting with counsellors in Prince George to help her learn ways to talk about her diagnosis. After the radiation treatments, Bailey will come back to Terrace where she will wait for six to eight weeks before she takes her next MRI and doctors reassess the size of her tumour.
“I’ve done a lot of research and every survival story that I have read has been saying that you need to remain positive and be positive in your mind and in your soul, and that’s what can make you win. If you curl up into a ball and feel sorry for yourself… then yeah, you’re right, you will pass away,” Bailey said.
“So even when I have those moments, I do shake them off. I tell myself, ‘Okay, you’ve cried. You’ve released that. Now go, get up. Get out of the house. Feel good.’ And I think the quicker you accept that the more faith you have that this life is good. And that has changed me, completely.”