In early September Josh and Alia Bailey were told that the inoperable tumor in their 7-year-old daughter Elizabeth’s brain stem had not grown.
As horrific as that may sound, the news made the Baileys’ day. Because in the three years since they learned of Elizabeth’s cancer, they’ve become accustomed to “the new normal.”
For the Baileys, the “old normal” meant a thriving custom home-building business for Josh Bailey a nice home in Pagosa Springs, complete with a corral for the horses. It all unraveled quickly when Elizabeth, just 4 years old in 2009, fell ill and was taken to Children’s Hospital in Aurora in a Flight for Life helicopter.
After a surgery and a hospital stay they were back in Pagosa Springs, but it was a struggle. Elizabeth fell in January 2011 and was paralyzed from the neck down.
There was another surgery and a lengthy hospital stay. Elizabeth’s siblings, Shane, Garrett and Caitlin, had to stay behind in Pagosa Springs with relatives. The parents had to be with Elizabeth but with Josh not working, the household’s savings evaporated and they were forced to file bankruptcy.
“When she got sick,” Josh recalled, “I lost four jobs and we put everything on hold. We had no family up here or anything.”
No one knows how long Elizabeth will live. She has already lived longer than other kids afflicted in the same way, but the prognosis is dire.
Devout Christians, the Baileys project a straight-forward goodness. As their kids played on the floor of their modest Woodland Park home, the parents talked matter-of-factly about their family’s ordeal with a more positive outlook than you would think is possible.
“We’re not stupid,” Alia said. “We know we haven’t been guaranteed anything. Every day has been a gift. We’ve just slowed everything down.”
The family’s love and quiet courage are palpable. When the “old normal” ended overnight, keeping the family together was their only priority and they had no solution for that.
But the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Colorado did. Keeping families together is the charity’s specialty, providing food, shelter and proximity to their kids, who invariably have critical medical needs.
Now in its 25th year, the Ronald McDonald House on Logan Street is an institution, yet it dangles by the same financial threads as other non-profits. It has been the critical safety net for more than 8,000 families whose parents often make the kinds of sacrifices the Baileys have — losing homes, jobs, health insurance.
After spending time with the Bailey family, it seems like a footnote to mention that it has been chosen to be the face of Ronald McDonald House charities worldwide. That’s because their story is no sales job; it’s the simple truth about a heroic family doing more than just bearing up well under tough circumstances.
In 2011, Elizabeth was hospitalized for three months. All of the Baileys, including Elizabeth’s siblings, Shane, Garrett and Caitlin, shared a single bedroom at the Ronald McDonald House. Once they start talking about their gratitude to the charity, the discussion is going to last a while.
They’re amazing people,” Josh said. “It felt like home and obviously I had no work. It’s a safe place to be.”
At Ronald McDonald House, Alia said, “Food is taken care of and I can see Memorial (hospital) right out my window.”
The Baileys say their stay at Ronald McDonald House gave them something more: the chance for a crucial attitude adjustment about their once-affluent life.
“The college money is gone,” Alia said with a smile. “We don’t know how to pay for braces. Staying at the Ronald McDonald House kind of taught us that if you have food and a roof over your head and your family, you should be thankful.”
The Baileys are not pollyannish, but they are of good cheer.
“We decided cancer isn’t going to kill us,” Alia said. “We’re living day by day. It’s not like we didn’t appreciate a sunrise before, but now we take the time to do it.”
Elizabeth has undergone three surgeries and has been hospitalized with pneumonia three times. Counting when she was a healthy toddler, she has learned to walk four times.
“She’s a fighter, I admire her tenacity,” Alia said.
The “new normal”: Josh is working again. There is an oxygen tank behind a living room chair. The boys played Little League baseball this summer and Caitlin is at big sister Elizabeth’s side all the time. Although she tires easily and moves with a walker, Elizabeth attends second grade Gateway Elementary School in Woodland Park two days a week.
Josh and Alia say it’s cathartic to talk about everything that’s happened and they hold nothing back from Elizabeth’s siblings, or anyone else.
“We want to share her story,” Josh said.
Alia added, “We want to share a little hope with people who need it.”
And the Baileys want you to consider donating to Ronald McDonald House, which is gearing up a fund-raising drive. Only about 12 percent of the annual budget comes from McDonald’s — the rest is raised locally, and the charity doesn’t have the advantage of being one of the United Way charities in the region. Consider sending a check to Ronald McDonald Charities of Southern Colorado, 311N. Logan St., Colorado Springs, 80909. More information about the charity’s programs will be included in a radio-thon held on 106.3 FM KLITE on Oct. 4.
The Baileys wish they could write a check but for now, they can only help by telling their story.
“We used to have more to give to charities,” Alia said. “It’s so important to be able to give back.”
Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at 719-636-0363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.