Back to school.
Three words that not every school-age person likes to hear.
And then there’s Bailey Helvie, who can’t wait to hit the books.
Faith “Bailey” Helvie is a 19-year-old, first-year, sorority rush-bound, all-around athlete headed for Chapman University in Orange County, Calif. Look out, world!
Bailey is also a St. Luke’s patient. And for a long time, it wasn’t quite clear whether she’d be heading out to college – or heading in for more treatment of the acute lymphoblastic leukemia that sidelined her last year.
Almost exactly a year ago, she started experiencing fatigue, then blurred vision in her left eye. An eye doctor diagnosed a form of retinopathy that usually shows up in hard-charging young men.
Then came the lump under an arm, the low-grade fever, and the crushing exhaustion that killed off all hopes of cross-country practice.
Things got real on Aug. 28, 2013, when bloodwork revealed the cancer. Bailey had just turned 18. And for her mother, whose husband died following an accident when her daughter was 7, the information was nearly unbelievable.
“I thought it was low iron. I didn’t know,” Linda Helvie said. “I almost fainted, I think.”
Bailey was admitted as a St. Luke’s Children’s patient at the System’s Boise downtown hospital the following day for more than a week of tests, MRIs, and spinal taps – the first of many chemotherapy treatments.
Bailey and her mother said St. Luke’s staff members were there from the beginning to support, comfort, and answer the many questions they had.Bailey’s older sister, a dentist, returned to Idaho from her residency in Dallas to be with the family and help with new routines of medical appointments, treatments, and all the to-dos of a high school senior still eyeing college.
“Our big thing was to get her graduated,” Bailey’s mom said.
After missing the first weeks of the last school year, Bailey returned to Bishop Kelly High School in October, just in time for homecoming. She made an entry, wearing a face mask to protect her compromised immune system. Technology, and helpful teachers, made it possible for her to keep up with her schoolwork during her absence.
Visits connected with the leukemia might be Bailey’s current tie to St. Luke’s, but they’re not the first or only connections she’s had with the organization. She was a NICU baby, spending the first eight days of her life at St. Luke’s. And she was able to serve briefly on the St. Luke’s Children’s Advisory Board as a teen representative before the impacts of the leukemia set in. As a patient, she took part in St. Luke’s record-breaking participation in the local St. Baldrick’s fund-raising effort earlier this year, agreeing to have her sunny blonde hair sheared off to benefit research into childhood cancers.
She is extremely fond of St. Luke’s and is very sad to leave her care team as she heads out of state for college. That said, there’s a certain relief at the prospect of new faces, new friends, and new relationships that aren’t necessarily shadowed by the health events of the past year.
What’s in store for Bailey Helvie? There’s the dorm, the roommate, the lacrosse, the university’s film program.
What she really, really, really wants is to become an “imagineer” with the Walt Disney Co. Chapman’s relationship with nearby Disneyland makes that a very realistic possibility.
Her mother is taking it all in stride.
“I know she needs to go and experience stuff,” Linda Helvie said. “I didn’t like my kids just sitting. My husband and I didn’t have her to keep her home the whole time.”
“I like to think of myself as the luckiest of the unlucky,” Bailey said. “If you look at it from my angle, I’ve been able to do quite a bit.
“I’ve had chances I never would have had.”
Experience is relative, and Bailey’s recent work with homeless students has given her an even deeper appreciation for every aspect of her life.
“I may have all this, but I don’t have it nearly half as tough as those kids.”
Ken Dey served as Public Relations Coordinator at St. Luke's from 2008-2014.