She always wanted to be a nurse, but that didn’t come until later in life. When she began treatment for leukemia, this patient was able to call on her career as a social worker and as a nurse.
By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
She sits with her left arm extended, hoping for a quick stick. When nurse Julie Critser hits the mark, Doreen Bailey smiles. She shares that Critser is usually able to get the blood flowing on the first try. Several vials are filled for testing and Bailey goes into a room to wait for her IU Health oncologist Dr. Sherif Farag.
Bailey, 68, has spent countless hours at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. On this day she comes in for her two-week check up.
It’s a little different than her other visits that have resulted in days-long inpatient stays. On April 16, 2021, Bailey was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Her journey to IU Health is similar to her career – a stop here, and a stop there.
She grew up in Connecticut, the oldest child of three. She has a younger brother and a younger sister still living in New England. After high school, Bailey joined the U.S. Army working in preventative medicine. She met her husband in the service and they had a son, who is now 44. The family of three moved to Indianapolis after their stint in the Army and Bailey pursued a career in social work. Her job included roles with the Marion County Health Department, environmental court, and various non-profit housing programs.
After the breakup of her marriage, Bailey started nursing school. She earned her degree at the age of 54 and began working as a triage nurse at a local hospital.
“My dad’s aunt raised him when his mom died of complications during childbirth. When I was a year old, my aunt had a stroke and there were nurses working 24 hours a day to care for her. I always thought they were angels and I wanted to be one of those who cared for others,” said Bailey.
Her mother died in 1992 at the age of 61 of complications from breast cancer. Her father died five years later.
“Unfortunately, cancer was not unfamiliar to us,” said Bailey. It was during a regular schedule at work that a nursing assistant suggested Bailey should get a chest x-ray.
“I had a cough that got worse and worse. I couldn’t seem to shake it. I couldn’t say three words without coughing and I could barely walk across the room I was so weak. I had sinus surgery years ago so I just thought it was something related to that,” said Bailey. She went to an ENT, and a pulmonary specialist before getting x-rays.
The scans showed a 7-inch mass on the upper lobe of her lung. A biopsy followed and she never left the hospital. She started chemotherapy at another hospital and was referred to IU Health for a bone marrow transplant.
It was her sister who was a 100 match for the transplant. The two have been best friends since childhood – playing outside from sun up to sun down. They lived near a dairy farm and Bailey remembers swimming, fishing, and dangling their feet in a nearby manmade lake. To this day, they are both avid gardeners.
And now they share something more. Bailey received her bone marrow transplant on Sept. 8, 2021.
“The best part about being a nurse is that I get to provide comfort and compassion at one of the worst times in a patient’s life. I learned that firsthand as a patient. The nurses here were a Godsend,” said Bailey. “I couldn’t have survived without them. They work so hard during the most difficult times and they keep showing up and giving it their best.”