‘SO BLESSED’

Bailey Byrd, center, with her parents, Pam and Bob Byrd.
Bailey Byrd, center, with her parents, Pam and Bob Byrd.

Low-key holiday will be stark contrast to 2014

When Pam Byrd reflects on last Thanksgiving, there is a phrase she repeats.

“Those were hard times.”

Her youngest child, Bailey, was sick. So sick that the mother and daughter couldn’t leave M.D. Anderson in Houston to attend the funeral of their mother-in-law and paternal grandmother.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Bailey was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer, juvenile granulosa cell tumor. When the Thanksgiving holidays came last year, she had endured chemo, a recurrence, a total hysterectomy, more chemo, and was recovering from for her first stem cell transplant.

The Byrds’ son, Dakota, drove from his home in Lafayette, La., to be with Bailey and his mom. Their daughter, Brittany, flew with her dad to the funeral.

Bob Byrd said his flight actually took him through Houston.

“They were 30 minutes away, but I didn’t have enough time to go see them,” he recalled.

“And Bailey was too sick for us try to go to the airport,” Pam recalled. “Those were hard times.”

Bailey can hardly remember the holidays. She was weak, swollen from steroids, on a walker and in pain. But it was good to be home at Christmas, if somewhat stressing to be away from the doctors monitoring her care.

The Byrds can recount horror story after horror story about the effects of life-saving chemotherapy.

“We went in the hospital August 18th to stimulate the stem cells. It was supposed to be very simple.”

But the chemo affected her system. She got an infection in her picc line, which had to be removed, and she developed pneumonia.

“Before the stem cell started in October, they weren’t sure if they should start it,” Pam recalled.

“They went ahead and did the transplant,” Pam said.

Days later, Pam was sitting by Bailey’s bed.

“She was so sick,” she said. “Beyond what you can imagine. All of a sudden one afternoon, the nurses came in like crazy, hanging bags. When I asked what was wrong, they said, ‘The doctor’s on his way to talk to you.’ ”

The worst thing that could have happened had happened.

“Her blood counts were at zero,” Pam said. “She had an infection and nothing to fight it with. They told me, ‘We just have to pray that those antibiotics work.’ ”

The fight continued for about 10 days. If she got out of bed, her blood pressure would go sky high and her heart rate would accelerate to near 200.

She was in the hospital a total of 34 days.

Bailey said there was a point at which she thought, “I can’t keep doing this.”

When they moved from the hospital to the condo near the hospital provided by a Houston church, Bailey still received IV antibiotics. One night, she started hurting, and the pain was so bad, she started to scream.

“I kept saying, ‘I’m going to die,’ ” Bailey recalled. “My line was infected. I had the sharpest, stabbing pain, and I couldn’t breath. It was awful.”

She knew she was about to face a second stem cell transplant, and she wasn’t sure she had the strength.

The second stem cell transplant was postponed because Bailey’s lungs had been damaged, and were only functioning at 40 percent.

“We had to get them to 60 percent to have the stem cell,” Pam said. “That’s when they gave her so many steroids and let us come home for Christmas. That’s when she just blew up.”

When Bailey thinks of that time, she said, “Oh, my gosh. I was the Hulk.”

When her sister saw her at Christmas, she went to her parents’ room and sobbed, telling her mom, “I wouldn’t have recognized her on the street.”

Before the Byrds went back to Houston after Christmas, Pam told Bailey, “You don’t have to do this. Because I think you’re healed. If you don’t want to do it, don’t.”

But Bailey wanted to proceed, and told her family, “If I don’t do it, the protocol won’t be set for someone else to be healed.”

So they proceeded on Jan. 13.

“It was even worse than before,” Pam said. “During the chemo before the stem cell, Bailey had a reaction.”

Initially, the doctors and nurses thought Bailey had had too much pain medication, and they treated her in the same way that addicts are treated in detox.

“They gave her the same shots that are given to addicts to bring them down,” her mom said. “It was horrible. She was sweating and shaking.”

The doctors ordered another round.

“During this time, she was getting progressively worse,” Pam said. “She was not responding. She would follow you with her eyes, but would not answer.”

Her motor skills were nonexistent. Another doctor thought Bailey had suffered a stroke, and ordered a brain scan. Pam called the family, who started making their way to Houston.

And then she called Bailey’s original oncologist, who treated her before stem cell.

“I told him, ‘We need some help. Something’s bad wrong.’ ”

Within five minutes, he had determined that Bailey was suffering from poisoning as a side effect of chemo. She needed Methylene blue immediately. The Byrds had to wait for it to be flown in, Pam said. Meanwhile, the Byrds learned that only four patients had had this reaction before.

“They told us that once they started giving her the methylene blue, if there wasn’t any kind of reaction in 20 minutes, it wasn’t working,” Pam said.

Fifteen minutes in, Bailey grunted. The Byrds were told, “Well, it’s something.”

Three more doses were administered before Bailey truly responded.

“The next afternoon, she still had not spoken,” Pam said. “She wasn’t responding. I told Bob I was going down to get coffee. When I walked back in, Bob was up by her bed and he was crying.

“He said, ‘She talked. She said, “Dad, I love you.” ’

“I was upset because I was the one who had been there with her,” Pam said. “Bob told her, ‘Bailey, tell your mom you love her.’ ”

Bailey remembers that moment.

“It took me a few minutes to get it out,” Bailey said. “I remember the first time I spoke. I didn’t realize it was that big of a deal because I wasn’t aware of what had been happening.”

After that, Bailey said, it took a while before there wasn’t a time lapse between her thoughts and words.

“I knew what I wanted to say,” she said. “My mouth would not work to get it out.”

Pam started asking people to pray.

“In three weeks, she was not back to normal. But if somebody didn’t know, they wouldn’t. We knew it,” Pam said. “It was that stuff getting out of her system and it took a while.

“It was a hard time,” Pam said.

Before Bailey regained her motor and speech skills, a nurse came to Bailey’s room and told Pam that there was a couple at the nurses’ station who wanted to speak to her.

“I went up there. It was a man and woman from Alabama who were following Bailey’s Journey,” she said. “One has some family in Andalusia. She said, ‘My husband is cancer free. He had an appointment here today, and I wanted you to see him. The same thing that happened to Bailey, happened to my husband. He’s normal now. They do overcome this.’ ”

For Pam, it was a personal message from God.

“It was reassurance she was gong to be OK,” she said.

It was March before the Byrds could come home.

“We came home with Bailey with two spots on her lungs, now knowing what they were,” Pam said.

In the late summer, they went back to Houston for a scan, hoping the spots would be gone. Instead, they learned there also was a spot on her liver.

“It was just too hard to think the cancer may be back after everything we’ve been through,” Pam said. “We just came home and prayed.”

Pam said that 80 percent of the time she’s spent with her husband in the last two years has been reading the Bible or praying.

“We were talking about it yesterday,” she said. “Sometimes, that’s all we could do.”

Pam was so focused on her youngest daughter’s health, she could look at her daughter and tell the nurses Bailey was about to spike a fever.

Bailey said it was weird how well her mom could read her.

But the total focus on Bailey and her health was hard for Bailey’s siblings.

“Christmas was a reality check for all of us,” Pam said. “You still have to focus on the other two kids. We made a conscious effort to do better after that.”

 

 

 

This year, their Thanksgiving will be a low-key, immediate family event, and they are grateful. Just this month, a scan in Houston showed no cancer. No spots on her lungs or liver. Her blood work was good, and her doctors declared she is in remission. Pam said it was the first time she had slept all night in more than two years.

The journey has been hard. When her cancer reoccurred, she had to have a complete hysterectomy, giving up on her lifelong dream of having children.

“Our journey has been horrible in some ways,” Pam said. “But when you stop and you look at it, really, how great is our God that Bailey is still here. She could have died.”

“I should have, actually,” Bailey added.

Throughout the ordeal, Pam said, Bailey always believed God would heal her. In the whole journey, her faith never waivered.

The doctors don’t know why Bailey’s spots are gone, or how she was able to overcome all that she did.

“But we know,” Pam smiled. “We know.”

 

Bailey was told it would take a year to get over the stem cell transplant. She tried school this fall, but it was too much for her. She lives with her sister in Destin, has a booth at the Three Notch Emporium to raise money to help cancer patients, and plans to work when she regains more strength.

The Byrds are still overwhelmed by the kindnesses done for them in Andalusia, where they were newcomers when Bailey was first diagnosed with cancer.

“The outpouring of love has been amazing,” Pam said. “And it humbles you.”

 

 

 

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