Jake Bailey – Live with Gratitude

Jake Bailey is your average teenager who went to the dentist, and then his life changed forever. In this speech, he shares hard-won wisdom on the importance of gratitude.


I began to experience some pretty sharp pain in my wisdom teeth and in my jaw. Spoiler alert, it was not just toothache. My dentist took some x-rays of the jaw which showed a large mass on one side, but he didn’t know what it was, and my health deteriorated even further. I lost feeling in the lower half of my face, and I got into bed one night and I didn’t get out the next day.

I had never felt so sick in my whole life. In rather spectacular and dramatic fashion, I started throwing up blood on my mom’s carpet for maximum, kind of horror-movie gore-style effect. A series of tests and procedures began. A diagnosis was reached. I was told that I had stage four Burkitt’s Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma presenting the most aggressive form of cancer in the world. I was given two to three weeks to live without treatment, and not necessarily a guarantee of life either way. Believe me, I was never going to be the kid that got cancer. But, it turns out, that I was. And apparently the cancer was now doubling in size every 48 hours.

So where do you go from there? You’re 18 years old and you’re told that you could die within weeks. You are told that everything you’d been promised since you were a child; the house, the family, the job, might never be yours. You’re told that the next months, the laughs, the parties, the classes, the times with your friends, they will never happen because you will be in a hospital bed, fighting for your life. You’re told that everything you assumed would always be yours, the things which your foundation is built upon; the times with your family, the embrace of your girlfriend, the sunrise on your face, might not be yours to feel any longer. You’re told that your time is up. If not the time that was your life, then the time when you had it easy. Or when you look into the eyes of your parents and you realize that they are dying just as much as you are from this.

Now, you are in an arena, fighting the biggest battle you will ever fight, for the greatest prize that there is. Making it into that arena every day, but there is a limited umber of spaces available on the other side. Not everyone will make it through. I did not pray to live. Instead, I asked that if this was going to be the thing that killed me, that I faced it with strength. If it was going to kill me, it would do it on my terms, and I would not die a coward. Not wanting to let fear dictate my death anymore than it had dictated my life. But no, no way, there was not a chance in hell that I was going to die of this. Along the way, I learned some pretty good lessons.

Embrace each day. I was dying to get home from school. I was dying for the weekend. I was dying for the school holidays. And then before I knew it, I was dying in Christchurch Hospital. And I know now how important it is to make the most of it while you can. Live each day with passion and pride to your very fullest, because you are able to. Every morning that I wake up, I know that I am on borrowed time. Every day that I live is another one longer than I was supposed to, and that spurs me on. However, the most important thing that this has taught me is to take each day at a time. Taking everything day by day allows you to focus on the now and really appreciate life. And tied in with that is the ability to find the little bits of light in the darkness, because sometimes they will be all that you have left.

Yes, I might have a spinal injection of chemo today, but there’s something good on TV tonight. Yes, I might have my head in a soak bucket right now, but I’ll never feel this sick again in my life. Yes, it’s happening to me, but it’s not happening to anyone I love. That’s something I remind myself of each day, and it makes every day that little bit better. But that thing that people are really prone to doing is just spending time on feeling sorry for people whose situations they cannot change. And there’s no point in that. What you really need to do is be grateful for the people in your life, and for your ability to live that normal life. There’s no excuse to not appreciate life fully. You owe it to the people that are unable to. You owe it to them to do them that service, to go out and do your best. And what a fantastic way to start each day.