Influencers

How Beating Cancer Helped A Student Overcome Fear and Take Meaningful Risks

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As an undergraduate at Boston University, Bailey O’Brien didn’t have much to complain about. She was a student-athlete on the swim and dive team, excelling in the classroom and was surrounded by an amazing community.

Then, the “c” word entered her life. She was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer. Everything changed.

Being the fighter that she is, Bailey beat cancer and is now four years in remission. Having cancer marked big changes in Bailey’s life. She says that it, “freed me to living the life I was meant to live.”

Today as a college graduate, Bailey is a motivational speaker and shares her powerful story with audiences across the country and works to spread awareness about alternative cancer treatments.

We sat down with Bailey to learn more about her journey, why she sees life as a gift and not an obligation and how students going through a tough time can find support.

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You were a student-athlete at Boston University. What did you enjoy most about that experience?

I loved my experience as a student-athlete at Boston University! Being part of the swim and dive team meant having an immediate community of like-minded people who became some of my closest friends. Then there were other groups on campus that united athletes from different teams who had common interests, like Athletes InterVarsity, a faith-based fellowship that I joined. My teammates and coaches also were like my family because we did everything – practice, study, travel and live – together, and that made BU feel like my home away from home.  

You’re a stage 4 cancer survivor and now you are four years in remission. How did having cancer shape how you approach life each day?

Overcoming stage four cancer marked the beginning of big changes in my life. It freed me to living the life I was meant to live.TwitterLogo_#55acee  I had been bound by my own limitations of fear and realized that a lot of life happens outside your comfort zone. I began taking meaningful risks and started learning, growing and living with more excitement and joy.

I also began to see life as a gift and not an obligation and realized that nothing matters more than relationships. I became convinced that there was purpose for my life and that I needed to take advantage of every single day using my time and talents for good.

Since going into remission, I’ve tried to live my life with more gratitude, joy, purpose and passion to positively impact the people around me – for myself, for others, and to honor those who have lost their lives.

Why is it important to you to spread awareness about effective alternative cancer treatments and the power of nutrition?

Sometimes I get depressed or angry about how many people get sick and die of cancer. Every time someone I know or have heard about dies, my heart breaks and I get upset that good people die and their families suffer. It also bothers me that in many cases, the person’s doctor had told him or her that there was nothing left that could be done, when that may not have been true.

Many people, including myself, have been cured of cancer by different alternative treatments that used to be allowed or even the preferred method of treatment in the U.S. before chemo and radiation gained popularity. Unfortunately many of these treatments have been banned and/or labeled as “quackery.”

Whatever illness a person may have, instead of immediately thinking, “What kind of drugs do I need?” a better question to ask first may be “How can I change my diet to make my cells healthy and maximize my immune system to help fight this sickness off?” Then consider other possible lifestyle changes and treatment options if necessary. This is my personal advice, however, and I am not a health professional! Anyone who is sick should absolutely consult a trained physician but go into the appointment knowing that the human body has incredible self-healing abilities when its cells are fueled and detoxed properly.

Jeremy Poincenot about.me
Jeremy Poincenot went blind during college, then did this.

For those college students going through a hard time, whether they’re experiencing a health challenge, dealing with depression or going through a tough spell, what advice do you have for them?

College was full of challenges for me, and for whatever reason I didn’t handle the transition from high school to college as well as my peers. I constantly felt stressed, overwhelmed and homesick and put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well in school and in diving. But when I got home for winter break I found out I had skin cancer and had to take a medical leave of absence for the spring semester. Fortunately, through that experience I gained a new outlook on life and returned to school the next fall feeling much better. In some cases we blow things out of proportion and make the small things much bigger than they really are, but in other cases a person may really need to find outside help.

For someone in the latter situation, here are my thoughts: You’re not as alone as you think you are. Find someone to talk to whom you can trust will listen and empathize with you, whether it’s a friend, coach, professor or mental health counselor. And if they’re not doing a good job of empathizing and telling you what you want to hear, then do both of them and you a favor by telling them what you do want to hear.

When I had cancer during my senior year of college and was living at home, I really wanted to complain to someone about how miserable I felt and have a pity party for myself, while my family and friends thought it was best for me stay positive. Yes, it was good to stay positive (people who stay positive do better than those who don’t), but I really wanted to have the chance to get my complaining in before I went on to be positive, if that makes sense!

You spend a lot of time traveling giving inspirational talks. What have you learned from your time on the road and telling your story to others?

Until a couple years ago if someone would had asked me if I thought I’d have a career in public speaking in the future, I would’ve laughed.  It scared me so much. It’s really the last thing I ever thought I’d do. But as fate would have it, I was asked to give a keynote speech at my old high school, and it had more of an impact than I anticipated.  Before I gave my first speech I didn’t think anyone would find my story inspiring, but once I realized that I could use my story to uplift others, and someone offered to mentor me as a speaker, I couldn’t not do it.

My passion found me, and in pursuing this passion I’ve learned a lot. I’m naturally a shy person, so I’ve had to go far outside my comfort zone in traveling and bringing my message to large audiences. I think for anyone who wants to use their gifts and live out their purpose, in doing so it’ll be challenging and scary at times. But with the risk comes the reward.

I’ve learned that in living out your purpose, you constantly grow into a more well-rounded person. You find people with similar passions; you meet people who inspire you; you meet people who need what you have to offer; and you find fulfillment. Life lived outside your comfort zone is a great adventure!

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Antonio Neves is the author of '50 Things Every College Student Should Know.' He is a graduate of Western Michigan University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.