Chloe Bayliss is one tough cookie.
The petite 29-year-old is an accomplished actor, dancer and author with a dazzling smile that she sometimes uses to mask her pain. For as strong and resilient and positive as she is, Bayliss has a constant companion. Chronic illness.
At the age of 16, she became seriously ill and spent months in hospital suffering from seizures and fluid retention. Then her kidneys started to fail. She almost died. After much head-scratching by doctors, she was eventually diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease.
She had just been accepted into a dance company in the US.
Everything went a bit crazy again, a bit scary again.Chloe Bayliss
Bayliss was 14 when she moved from Port Macquarie to Lambton with her grandmother to study full-time at the National College of Dance in Newcastle. Her parents and siblings joined her a year later, settling in the Lake Macquarie suburb of Eleebana. She was in and out of hospital for years but eventually graduated with a Diploma of Dance and Performance, replacing her dancing dreams with choreography, teaching dance, and acting.
Bayliss is an open book. She refuses to be defined by her illness, but she does use her experiences to help others. Her 2019 autobiography En Pointe is a deeply personal, coming-of-age story about a teenager whose dreams are shattered by factors out of her control. Whose mental health slipped into the dark abyss as she contemplated an uncertain future.
She is encouraged by the feedback she's received to date.
"Recently a young girl, maybe about 15, told me she had been passing the book around her group of friends for them to read. Lots of young people have told me the book is in their school library, which makes me happy," she tells Weekender.
Bayliss was nominated for the Heath Ledger Scholarship for her role in Michael Petroni's Backtrack but it's her role as Hayley in Australian television series Doctor Doctor that has made her a household name. The series follows a heart surgeon, played by Rodger Corser, who returns to the small country town of his birth to atone for some hard-living sins.
Season five of Doctor Doctor premieres on April 28 (Channel 9). Bayliss was in hospital when pre-production started last year but finished shooting the season.
"It's been a good start to 2021 considering last year was pretty full-on," she says.
"Full on" is an understatement. When COVID-19 hit our shores she had to immediately isolate for three weeks.
"Because I'm immune compromised, I wouldn't be able to fight it off. My family went into isolation for two weeks so that I could go and stay with them in Newcastle. I was there for three months, stuck inside, not going anywhere. It was hard, I won't lie, but I got there."
I thought it was going to be a 10-day thing. Get the injections, freeze my eggs and then I'd be good to go. But unfortunately I like to do things a bit differently.Chloe Bayliss
Bayliss then found herself in hospital - the last place she wanted to be during a pandemic. Unable to carry a baby to term herself due to her health problems, she had already decided to have her eggs harvested and frozen. Work she had planned in the first half of 2020 was cancelled due to COVID, giving her a rare window of opportunity.
"I decided to have the procedure done in that break period [not filming Doctor Doctor]. Ideally, you want to freeze your eggs when you're young and healthy, and I was really healthy at that time and my body was behaving itself," she says.
"I thought it was going to be a 10-day thing. Get the injections, freeze my eggs and then I'd be good to go. But unfortunately I like to do things a bit differently. My body keeps pushing me but I keep fighting back. What happened to me isn't supposed to happen so I didn't even consider being in hospital."
What happened was ovarian hyperstimulation. This is a rare overreaction by the body in response to hormone injections used to stimulate the development of eggs in the ovaries. The ovaries themselves flare up and become extremely painful.
For Bayliss, though, the situation became life-threatening.
"Everything went a bit crazy again, a bit scary again, because my kidney function was under threat and I was holding something like six kilograms of fluid all over my body," she says. "My stomach was so far out it looked like I was pregnant, and my blood pressure was all over the place.
"Then my kidneys failed. Again. I went into emergency and the doctors wanted me in ICU in case I needed to go on dialysis.
"As soon as they started speaking like that, it felt very much like the first time when I was 16. I know that trajectory of having to be at the hospital all the time to stay alive."
When asked what the chances are of someone experiencing ovarian hyperstimulation, Bayliss laughs.
"I think it's about 1 to 3 per cent of the population. Something ridiculous. But in saying that I did have certain markers that made me more susceptible, like polycystic ovarian syndrome."
Thankfully, her experience had a positive outcome.
"They managed to get lots of eggs which is great. My kidney function is not the best but it's enough for me to stay off dialysis, which is also great. I'm relieved that it's all done and I can move on. You just have to get on with it, really, or you are going to be sad and sorry for yourself and that's not how I want to live my life."
Bayliss is keen to start a conversation with women about their fertility. It's something she feels isn't discussed openly enough.
"With the egg freezing process, there was a lot that I wasn't aware of when it comes to women's fertility. I'm a big advocate for women having a choice, especially when it comes to their own health," she says.
"I also wanted to speak out for my friends."
Many are in their 30s and have no idea, like I didn't, that you can go to the GP and have particular tests done to find out more about your fertility. If I hadn't have done that, and followed it up, I could have continued my career and then at 38 gone 'OK, it's time to try for a baby' and realise that I was infertile.
"A lot of people don't know enough about egg freezing and think 'When I get to 40 I'll just freeze my eggs' and that's actually not the case.
"You need to get them when you're young and have enough reserves, and they need to be the best quality that you can get.
"People need to know about all their options so that they can make informed decisions."
As for Doctor Doctor, Bayliss is excited to see her character, Hayley, grow.
"This season has been one of my favourites," she says.
"A lot has changed for Hayley and there are new characters she has a lot to do with. She is pushed outside of her comfort zone.
"There are a lot of changes for all the characters in the show, actually, which I think the audience is going to love. It's been a wild ride but a very exciting one."