The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place. It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. Nothing hits as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!
Whether it’s a jab, a sucker punch or a blinding knockout blow, life can have a masochistic sense of personality when distributing its challenges to humanity.
It maintains an heir of indifference, and unapologetically scatters people’s lives about as if they were contents of a jigsaw puzzle.
But one must remember that life’s a journey…not a destination, and that it’s crucial to resist the will to wave that white flag, no matter how bleak it can appear at times.
The following individuals have all encountered divergent obstacles in life, but yet are linked together through the nature of their enduring spirits. Faith, hope, and perseverance help to define who they are, and have greatly assisted in guiding them on their roads to recovery.
Through the support of family, friends and even strangers, these combatants have rallied against life’s greatest attacks, and have made a stand of their own.
There is a drive within them to battle…to overcome…to succeed.
Life will not get the best of them.
To say Greg Bailey is passionate about life would be an understatement. A man brimming with unbridled zealousness, Bailey’s positivity continues to resonate despite his July 1995 diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, a degenerative neurological illness that impedes motor functionality.
“It was the day before my 44th birthday, and the news absolutely devastated me” recounts Bailey with tinges of sorrow clouding his eyes.
The reaction is not uncommon to individuals who have been diagnosed with the disease. One of the key emotional symptoms of Parkinson’s is depression and anxiety.
For nearly thirteen years, Greg’s body deteriorated at an alarming rate. Inflicted by body tremors, impaired balance and the decreasing ability to perform common bodily movements, Greg, with his wife Babette and two children, Dayna and Alexander, all agreed that the most plausible way to combat the attack against his body would be to undergo Deep Brain Stimulation (DSS) surgery.
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002 as a productive method of treating Parkinson’s, DSS involves implantation of electrodes within particular areas of your brain. These electrodes produce electrical impulses that regulate irregular impulses. The amount of stimulation in Deep Brain Stimulation is controlled by a pacemaker-like device positioned under the skin in your upper chest (it is replaced every 4-5 years). A wire that travels under your skin connects this device to the electrodes in your brain.
It is a surgery that comes with great risk. But to Greg (a former pilot for Niagara Helicopters), the opportunity to possibly reclaim the stolen aspects of his life was well worth that risk.
So, in April of 2007, Greg underwent the surgery, and within a month, positive results were presenting themselves. In fact, his story was so compelling that CogecoTV documented Greg’s pre-and-post surgery with a TV special dedicated to him entitled One Man’s Journey.
To watch the feature is to fully comprehend where Greg once was, and where he is presently.
At the moment, there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease, and Greg is still physically accosted by it. But to meet him now, one may find difficulty in specifically labelling him with the disease.
Apart from his physical improvements, his emotional and mental states have also been vastly upgraded.
“I could feel down all the time, but I choose not to live like that. I strive to remain positive, and to never give up. In the morning when I wake up, I tell myself I’m going to have a good day…and I work towards that”.
In striving towards that, Greg is using his experience with the disease to help mentor those newly diagnosed with it. When provided the opportunity, Greg makes himself available to those willing to discuss the feelings he experienced nearly twenty years ago, and still sometimes struggles with today. He makes regular appearances at Parkinson’s charity events, and is readily active in the fight against it.
To many, he is considered a model of inspiration because of his unwavering selflessness.
But to Greg, he’s just a regular guy.
“I don’t see myself as an influential person. I’m simply someone who enjoys assisting others on how to cope with Parkinson’s, and how important it is to always remain positive.”
Kelsey Hill believed that it was better to give than it was to receive.
The compassionate and outgoing eleven-year old from Stevensville had always been a fervent believer in the importance of philanthropic endeavours. Even as she was earning the honour of being selected as Valedictorian of her Grade 6 class, Kelsey continued to remain a steadfast supporter of charitable causes, selfless in her actions to assist others in need.
When she participated in a walk-a-thon at her school (Stevensville Public School) to help raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House, Kelsey had been the top earner.
But in September 2010, Kelsey and her family’s lives were forever altered when it was discovered that Kelsey was suffering from a Supratentorial Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumour, a rare and aggressive form of brain tumour.
Following her diagnosis, Kelsey underwent three brain surgeries. One of which resulted in the left side of her body becoming paralyzed, ultimately leaving her wheelchair dependent.
She underwent thirty-one daily radiation treatments to her brain and spine, which was then succeeded by six months of aggressive chemotherapy.
But Kelsey’s hope never faltered, and a smile brimming with the fearlessness of an innocent child continued to permeate her face each and every day.
“She was always happy, and would be the one comforting us when we should have been the ones comforting her”, says Kelsey’s mom, Lana Hill. “She was strong as a rock. She would never give up, no matter how difficult it became for her”.
Though the amount of medical procedures Kelsey would undergo each day could be overwhelming both emotionally and physically, she never lost her drive to assist others. And in 2011, still battling for her life, she created Team Kelsey, a foundation dedicated to raising awareness of childhood cancer, and to assist children already affected by it.
Kelsey’s biggest wish was simply to live in a world where children could live without fear of a shortened life…a world without cancer. And this is what Team Kelsey continues to fight for, even after Kelsey’s passing in December of 2011 at the age of 13.
“She was our role model, and we wanted to continue her legacy”, notes Lana. “People were so inspired by her because all she wanted to do was to help others, and that, in turn, inspired us. There are so many families battling through situations like these, and we feel it is important to continue to raise money for these charities”.
In just two years, Team Kelsey has raised nearly $90,000 for charities that include Ronald McDonald House Hamilton (RMHH), McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, and families affected by childhood cancer.
As a result of their continuing charitable efforts for RMHH, the children’s underwater themed playroom and a wheelchair accessible bedroom were named in Kelsey’s honour.
Team Kelsey has had strong support from the community, and as a result have had many parents/volunteers donate their time to the fundraisers held by the foundation like a blood donor clinic (to honour childhood cancer survivors and those who’ve lost the fight) and the Kelsey Hill Memorial Pasta Dinner Fundraiser.
“Losing Kelsey was a tremendous tragedy for our family”, says Lana. “But we are doing our best to turn this negative into some sort of positive because that’s what she would have wanted. Her spirit and legacy are very much alive, and they continue to direct us everyday”.
At the age of twenty-two, Jordan Scott has experienced the dark realities of this world.
“My father was addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol. One year, when I was twelve, my dad blew all of the Christmas money on drugs. It wasn’t long after that that we lost our car and house because of his addictions.”
Jordan’s father entered rehab, and exited a changed man.
He had quit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, and was introduced to members of the community who would help guide him on his road to redemption.
It was during this transitional time period that Jordan’s mother and father became extremely controlling of her life. Never one to partake in the “extracurricular activities” of adolescent curiosity, Jordan’s life was, nevertheless, under the scrutiny of her parents’ watchful eyes and vehement tongues.
It was only a matter of time before the tension proceeded to boil beyond the edges.
One day at school, Jordan was behind on a school project, and chose to skip her next class to complete it.
It was the first and only time her father would physically abuse her.
Out of despair, Jordan confided in a guidance counsellor at her school in Kincardine, Ontario, and was immediately placed in a woman’s shelter. She remained there for two weeks until her aunt took her to live with her in London, Ontario.
After a few months of peaceful domesticity, Jordan moved to St. Catharines, Ontario, to reside with her parents (who had recently moved back after having originally lived here). But the tension of past strife continued to mount, and she was soon kicked out after her inability to pay her parents rent money.
Left with nowhere to go, Jordan moved to the YWCA, and was finally rewarded with the inspirational support she had been seeking her entire life.
Amidst the turmoil of the times, Jordan graduated high school.
She applied and was accepted to Centennial College for Art and Design, and it appeared her life was finally set upon a definitive course of action. But regrettably, Jordan dropped out soon after a number of personal issues (one of which was the passing of her grandfather) caused her to lose her focus.
It wasn’t long before she began finding solace in alcohol.
As a result, her behaviour grew increasingly unhinged, and eventually she was embracing life with reckless abandon. She was drinking heavily every day, was in and out of transitional housing projects, and was even apprehended for shoplifting.
Her life’s vision was becoming blurrier by the moment.
She met with an addictions counsellor, and was soon on the road to recovery. She was accepted to Mohawk College for Photography, but encountered further personal struggles which ultimately reignited her fling with alcohol dependency.
She dropped out after one semester.
It took her approximately one year to realize she once again needed support, so Jordan reached out to the Community Addictions Services of Niagara (CASON) for guidance.
It took time but her life regained traction, and for a third time, Jordan reenlisted in school.
This time determined to succeed.
In October 2013, Jordan did just that by graduating from Trillium College with a certificate for Community Service Worker.
“There were times I gave up on myself…never giving myself enough credit. But I never lost that dream of earning an education. The support I received from others reminded me that that I wasn’t alone. The key now is to simply take one day at a time, and see where it all leads”.
Quinn and Keenan Baker
It would be a simple solution for Quinn and Keenan Baker to bear hostility towards this world.
To allow their personal tragedies direct them down a path emanating with animosity and bitterness.
But then again, seventeen year-old Quinn and fifteen year-old Keenan have never allowed their circumstances to become their crutch.
“It’s all about the choices you make in life. You make your own road by walking it”, says Quinn.
Quinn was seven and Keenan was four when their mother passed away from breast cancer in 2003 at the age of thirty-four. Just over four years later, their father died from lung cancer at the age of forty.
Orphaned prior to their teenage years, the boys moved from Wilson, New York to St. Catharines to live with their grandparents in the summer of 2007.
Assuming the role of guardians, their grandparents did what they could to make the transition as seamless as possible. But without the benefit of knowing many in the Niagara Region, Quinn and Keenan were basically forced into re-starting their lives from scratch.
Understanding their need for companionship at such a crucial time, their friends from Wilson did what they could to support them, from performing fundraisers for the family to the donation of money.
“If it wasn’t for the kindness of our friends and family, it would have definitely been a lot more difficult to persevere during this time period” says Keenan. “We were humbled and honoured by their selfless generosity”.
Consequently, these philanthropic endeavours appear to have had a profound influence on their own lives.
As of now, Quinn and Keenan have donated their time to numerous charitable institutions such as the Rankin Cancer Run, the Walk a Mile in HER Shoes campaign for Gillian’s Place, numerous car wash fundraisers, and the collection of non-perishable food items for Community Care.
In a world consumed with self-gratification, it’s always sobering to be reminded about the importance of giving back.
“We were raised to be polite and to help others in need”, says Keenan. “Simple acts of caring are important to us, so we’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘what can we do to help’?”
Their benevolence was recognized earlier this year when Mike’s Miracles announced the brothers as co-winners of the Mike Vandendool Hero Award. An honour awarded to humanitarians readily active within their community.
Though they were humbled by the acclaim, they don’t necessarily desire the attention.
“We don’t advertise it”, says Quinn. “We’re just happy volunteering our time. We prefer telling our story through our actions rather than our words”.
Apart from their charitable contributions, both brothers have become enamoured with the arts, a field their parents passionately embraced.
Quinn is heavily involved with music (and tries to incorporate it into his acts of charity whenever possible) while Keenan is driven by visual arts, possibly inspired by his mother’s art book growing up.
In fact, as a career, Quinn is working towards becoming a music teacher while Keenan has aspirations of becoming a concept artist for video games (his second option is to become an Oncologist-a specialist in cancer treatment).
But for now, their plan is to continue helping those in need.
“The most important thing we’ve realized is to have love for yourself and others” says Quinn. “We truly believe that any little act of generosity can help make this world a better place”.
***This Feature Article appeared in the Winter (2013) edition of Niagara Magazine.