The mother of two students, Karen Bailey was already deeply familiar with the South High Marathon Dance in the fall of 2003 when a heartbreaking breast cancer diagnosis would shift her from volunteer to recipient.
"I got diagnosed with lobular carcinoma invasive cancer, and it was stage three,” Bailey recalled this week. “I was given, at that point, a 15 percent chance of survival."
Bailey was able to partake in a clinical trial.
"Lucky me; I got the heavy dose and it was a very tough treatment," she said.
While they were effective, the treatments left her weak and unable to work for a full year.
"My disability had run out, so we had nothing coming in,” Bailey said. “At that point, we were one of those families that lived paycheck-to-paycheck."
Realizing her need, the marathon dance committee awarded Bailey the value of her salary before she left work and paid for co-pays and treatments that insurance wouldn't.
"I didn't have to worry about it and I didn't have to feel guilty about us spending the money on it," said Bailey, who now lives in Auburn.
It was after receiving a clean bill of healththat Bailey entered her third phase of dance involvement.
"I still like to go back and talk to the kids at the beginning of the dance and let them know that what they do makes a difference," said Bailey, who’s traveling to South Glens Falls a day ahead of this year’s dance.
Every year since, she's made special quilts and auctioned them off, raising even more money for the annual fundraiser.
"The top quilt that I made, and I can't remember what year it was, brought in $3,000," Bailey said.
For next year's 40th anniversary, she's planning a special quilt made from the past dances' official t-shirts.
"I'm going to be on a scavenger hunt while I'm there and looking for shirts from people," said Bailey, who’s already collected more than a dozen shirts. Traveling back year after year from her new home in Central New York, Bailey believes the dance literally helped save her life.
"I’m the only one left,” Bailey said. “Every friend that I made going through cancer that had cancer isn't here anymore. I'm still here, so I figured there's a reason for it, and I think the marathon is a part of it."