Jake Bailey

In 2015 Jake Bailey was diagnosed with stage 4 Burkitt’s Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Now in remission, his journey is teaching us all how to live.

Introduction and Biography

Jake Bailey is the ex-Christchurch Boys' High School senior monitor, whose end of year speech made worldwide headlines after going viral in November 2015. A week before he was due to deliver this speech, Jake fell ill and was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, the fastest growing cancer known to man. Jake was given 2 weeks to live if this was left untreated. He persevered through to make his speech to his school, and the video of this went on to touch the hearts of tens of millions and draw support from across the globe. 

Since being announced in remission in January 2016, Jake has gone on to share his experiences, his story, and the things he has learnt that have given him clarity throughout his journey, in the hopes of helping others facing difficulties. He has been public speaking full-time for over 3 years now, and has presented several hundred speeches across four dozen cities, to tens of thousands of people- for audiences of 3 people and audiences of 3,000 people, aged from 8 to 80 years old. 

It is a hugely inspiring and uplifting presentation. Despite Jake's story, the main subject is not cancer, but rather any hardship people may face in life, and it has helped many people reconcile their own experiences with all variety of adversity. He tells the full story, the lessons he has learnt, how it has changed his outlook on life, the benefit that these changes have bought him, and how others can implement them in their own lives on a daily basis.

He is the author of the #1 Bestselling book, ‘What Cancer Taught Me’, a weekly columnist for the NZ Herald, and the subject of the documentary ‘The Common Touch’. He is also an official ambassador for two charities- Maia Health Foundation in New Zealand, and Tour de Cure in Australia, and is incredibly passionate about these organisations and the differences they make.

‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ 

An external profile of Jake Bailey - 2016

When you sit in an audience to receive a speech, you do so with a distinct sense of resignation. Will I be entertained? Will I learn something? Will I manage not to shuffle it? Will I find it just a little too long? There is also a sense of anticipation. One mustn’t get too excited though, in case one is disappointed.

Nobody in the audience could have imagined how they would feel when the Head Boy of Christchurch Boys’ High School interrupted proceedings, to be wheeled onto the stage of the school prize-giving on November 5 2015.

He was emaciated, hollow eyed, exhausted and quite plainly, very, very ill.

He was also, however, contemplative and appreciative and you knew that when he looked to his peers he was looking to them for strength. He needed it for just the next 18 minutes. 

He was fighting the battle of his life, yet when he was wheeled into his ‘arena’ he looked at that microphone as David would have Goliath. Jake Bailey was about to battle with the audience, but what was plain for all to see was that he was battling for his life.

What happened next was nothing short of inspirational. The world would soon learn what the audience did that night. They were experiencing just minutes out of their busy lives. But these minutes would rock them because they could see for themselves that they were minutes that were more precious than gold for this young man.

Parents were moved because they felt for Jake’s parents (but thank goodness their own son was healthy), but these same parents were conflicted. They were also moved, because this boy on the precipice of adulthood displayed wisdom, strength, loyalty, courage and bravery that any parent would gladly have their own child display. 

The students watched and were moved. They questioned their own dealings with this leader. Had they treated him well?  Could they have made his life better? Could they do better as a young man?

Staff members on the stage were visibly upset. Could it be that they were to lose one of their own?

This speech resonated not just because Jake Bailey was so ill, but that he spoke so powerfully. 

By his own admission, Jake never thought he would land the role of Head Boy. He is not one to dance to the drum of another’s beat and even when he got down to the final three, never thought for a minute that he would head the school that he is so proud of. However, another trait that any audience who is lucky enough to experience Jake Bailey will learn – is that he is most unconcerned about what others think. It is this quality that sets him apart from other young men his age, and this quality that means he has undeniable leadership ability. It is his single mindedness about his task at hand that has meant he has approached his battle with cancer from quite a different perspective to those who have gone before him. 

He approaches it as a young adult male, who has had his life interrupted in the most horrible way.  Jake is confronting, honest and at times graphic. It is very easy to forget Jake’s age, however, the raw nature of how he describes his cancer, how it presented and was treated and what he went through is indicative of the fact that he is a young man and that resonates. Boys like the gory detail, the blood and guts, and Jake pulls no punches. Not for effect, but because he is the age he is.

The detail of what he has gone through and the speed at which it transpired may be very difficult to hear, however, it is his story and it is necessary to hear so that the audience has perspective. It is that perspective that has given him his insightful approach to life from this point.

Cancer touches all of us. A Mother, a brother, friend, a partner, a child, a co-worker, a Father or a neighbour, all whom have had to deal with this insidious disease. Jake Bailey draws deeply to delicately weave the medical twists and turns of the reality of his cancer with the words he needed from others to survive and spur him on. He needed them. He relied on them. For Jake Bailey – those precious words were his security blanket at a time when he needed them the most. Those words gave him the strength to fight his Goliath.

This has been a journey for Jake, a young man whose life was turned upside down. All of his plans scuppered while his friends progressed. A young man, who gave a speech at a school prize-giving, but who was then left with months of cancer treatment. Hurting, Healing, learning, grieving, searching. A torn family who were supporting a dying son, a new partner who showed more love than some partners who have been with someone for years show, and a lot of people who didn’t know what to do.

He speaks of remission and a life that had gone on without him. The fact that he was left with nerve damage that was so bad that he couldn’t walk following his treatment. He had to (again) dig deeply just to try to work out where it was that he would fit in this world. The beauty of Jake Bailey is that he is able to take the time to search deeply and find solutions. This is rare.

Jake Bailey was unceremoniously uprooted from the life and future he had planned at 18. He had to deal with all of the discomfort that comes with other people’s reactions to a dreaded disease. A disease that if he had been diagnosed with 25 years earlier, he would have been left to die from.

With the very nature of social media – the world is an audience and it is very easy as an audience to judge. That is their job after all.  One thing that we all may think is that there is no young man on earth who can teach us anything. In Jake Bailey’s case, that audience would be wrong.

The ‘Jake Juxtaposition’ is an interesting one. He is young, yet with an old head on his shoulders. He has lived 19 years, but has learned some of the most important lessons in life that some people three times his age, still haven’t. He is sharing his story so you might learn, but is fiercely private. So private in fact, that in a world where every nano-second of every teenage life is documented on social media - he has never had a Facebook account. Jake only learned about his story gaining momentum around New Zealand and the world in his hospital bed, when his girlfriend was made aware on her page. But the greatest anomaly is that the world was watching him die, yet he is teaching us how to live.

“Every day starts with me not being dead. What a fantastic way to start each day” Jake Bailey

You can’t listen to Jake Bailey and not learn lessons. His message strikes at the very core of all that we take for granted. He advises us to think before we complain about our next family meal, because it may be our last. To take nothing for granted and to appreciate the small things that become very big when you are in an isolated hospital room facing certain death. He talks of other people’s lack of self-awareness when dealing with cancer patients so that we may learn to be more empathetic and he teaches us that while it is good to have long-term goals, the short term ones can give us just as much pleasure and are in fact, vital if we are going to appreciate the life we are living.

He is speaking from experience.  The worst experience that any human can physically go through and survive. There would be plenty of giants who would let him stand on their shoulders to get to the dais. You know that he is a special human being when you ask him if he wishes that his cancer never happened.

“I wouldn’t change it for the world. Getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me, because it taught me so much more about life than I would ever have learned otherwise”.

We all strive to be someone like Jake Bailey. To have his mana. His courage. His fighting spirit. His insightfulness and wisdom. But most importantly – his humility. He encapsulates the good in what can be a very bad world and we owe it to him, no matter how old he is – to listen and to try to live our lives just a little bit better. 

Jake would be the first to tell you that nothing in life is certain, but one thing quite categorically is:  Jake Bailey has a gift for making us want to be better human beings simply by telling his story.