It started with the headaches.
Bailey Fernandez was a typical 5th grade softball player living in Winter Garden, Florida and playing centerfield for her Lady Hawks 10U team when the headaches became more frequent during club ball competition in the summer of 2011.
“I thought it was from the sun because she was playing in Florida where it gets hot on the fields,” recalls the athlete’s mother, Malissa. “Then doctors at a local hospital thought it was allergies.”
Bailey remembers the headaches that winter were becoming more painful and intense.
“I was sick for weeks and my parents would treat the symptoms with Advil and tell me to drink more water,” she recalls.
Sunday, December 25th--Christmas morning--Bailey woke up and everyone instantly knew something was horribly wrong.
“We woke Bailey to see what Santa had left for her,” her mother continues. “She really wanted an electric guitar, but she had no interest in the guitar under the tree, she couldn’t even walk. We had to help her walk and she was vomiting everywhere. Bailey couldn’t even hold her head up without severe pain.”
At 8 am the next morning, Bailey was taken to a doctor who looked into the young athlete’s eyes and told her parents to immediately take her to Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando about 30 minutes and that he would reserve a room for her.
Once at the hospital, an MRI revealed that a cancerous tumor was on Bailey’s brain and that surgery would need to be performed within 24 hours, perhaps taking up to six hours.
“It was heartbreaking,” Malissa Fernandez remembers. “I was scared for my baby girl, it was Stage 2 brain cancer but they got it all off her brain stem and the surgery took four hours, not six.”
Bailey recovered in the hospital and was able to go home on New Year’s Day.
Soon she was playing softball again, but admits: “I was so sad, I thought I would never play softball again. It took me many years to get strong again and feel normal.”
After three months of going to the hospital weekly and monthly visits for six months after that, she was cleared to return to the softball field as long as she wore a facemask while playing.
Working with catching and hitting coach Sergio Rodriguez at V2Pro Sports Fitness in Astatula, Florida, Bailey would in time regain her strength and through yearly MRI checks was assured the tumor hadn’t returned. She was officially declared cancer free in 2017.
“The doctors said that if it were to grow back, it would within seven years and because the tumor didn’t grow back, they are confident it won’t.”
Today, the 5-foot-7 senior at South Lake High in Groveland, Florida, Bailey has become a talented catcher and corner infielder who also plays for the Windermere Wildfire 18U travel team coached by Wes Pollack.
This past fall, she hit .485 with 12 home runs and 31 RBIs for the Wildfire.
A power-hitting catcher with 31 career home runs and a pop time in the 1.7 second range, Bailey’s hard work and strong work ethic didn’t go unnoticed and eventually she would receive 11 college offers.
The 17-year-old visited Lynn University, a private school in Boca Raton, Florida that plays Division II softball, in November of 2018 and soon committed and signed a Letter of Intent.
“I love the team and Coach (Jill) Moore,” she told Extra Inning Softball. “I also love that the campus is only 3 ½ hours away from home. I feel Lynn is the right fit for me and my family.”
The senior hopes to get a degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in forensics and crime scene investigation and says she’s learned from the scary experience “how to overcome adversity and to never give up on my dreams.”
She’s also giving back to those in the community who have been impacted by cancer.
“I have spoken to several local childhood cancer patients giving them love and words of encouragement.”
--- Brentt Eads, Extra Inning Softball