- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - Eight years ago, Bayleigh Phillips thought she might never see milestones like her 16th birthday or high school graduation after she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

Now, not only is she graduating at Gadsden City High School with honors, but she also has numerous scholarships and plans to go to Jacksonville State University.

“To be graduating is a true honor and blessing,” she said. “There were days when I was at the hospital taking chemo and thinking about how far behind I was in school and that there was no way I would ever be able to catch up. But here I am today. I am doing what I once thought was impossible, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Graduation happens to fall during Brain Tumor Awareness Month, and that makes it even more special, Bayleigh said.

“It is a symbol of what I have battled and won and that I have come so far, both educationally and physically,” she said.

Bayleigh said there has been so much support for her and her family in the eight years since she was diagnosed with cancer.

“I am very blessed to live in Etowah County,” she said. “It’s a great place to be. People are just so good, sweet and thoughtful. Whether it be helping with my siblings, helping with myself or just visiting, it has helped my family in ways you can never imagine. Prayer is a very powerful thing, and without it, I don’t believe I would be here today.”

There have been numerous events, like a blood drive held May 13, in honor of Bayleigh.

The blood drive, held at Rainbow City First United Methodist Church, is one of the long-running blood drives, taking place at the church since 2008.

Blood drives have been very important to Bayleigh and her family through the years because blood donation is a big part of chemo treatments.

Bayleigh was 9 years old when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. She had been seeing double for about a month and didn’t tell anyone.

“I thought maybe I just needed glasses,” she said.

As soon as she told her mom and dad, Dixie and Johnny Phillips, they took her to an eye specialist, who quickly referred her to another doctor. It took only a short time to diagnose the brain tumor, and doctors here sent Bayleigh to Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham.

The tumor was entwined in her brain, and doctors were unable to surgically remove it.

So the long road of chemotherapy and radiation began.

Bayleigh has had several surgeries and other treatments, but the tumor still is there.

Bayleigh now has been off treatment for about a year. She had scans in April and was told they were stable.

Through it all, Bayleigh has learned to live life to its fullest. Her high school years were as normal as possible and she participated in all kinds of events. She was in the homecoming court, participated in the school’s theater program and found time to take Advanced Placement prep classes, all while undergoing various chemo treatments.

Bayleigh recently received a scholarship to JSU covering books and tuition.

She will work in the athletic office a couple of days a week and work at different sporting events.

She plans to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology and then go to graduate school to study speech language pathology.

“I have had the opportunity this past year to shadow the speech language pathologist at John Jones (Elementary School),” she said. “I also had the chance to shadow my Aunt Sherry at Paine Intermediate. I am very passionate about this field. I still have not had the chance to work in a rehab environment with adults, which is something I would like to do this summer.”

She also has received a Rotary Club scholarship and one from Camp Smile-A-Mile.

Bayleigh’s mother, Dixie, said she is overwhelmed.

“I know God has a special plan for her life, and I cannot wait to see what it is,” she said. “These kids are beginning a new and important chapter in their lives.”

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Information from: The Gadsden Times, https://www.gadsdentimes.com

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