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When 16-year-old Taylor returned to the water in March, her mother had no expectations. They would take Taylor to the deep end and allow her to remember how good it felt to be submerged. If Taylor wanted to try some movements, well that was fine, but there was no reason to rush things.
Ever since the brain tumor, Taylor’s parents had learned to appreciate every step in her recovery.
But on that day in March, Taylor surprised everyone. She kicked her arms and legs. The movements were willful. Soon, she was swimming again. It had been so long, but her body had remembered. She did the breaststroke and then the backstroke. When Taylor flipped on her back like that, Dora could see that her daughter was smiling. It moved Dora to tears.
All Taylor had ever wanted to do was swim. She had been her parents’ golden child. The honors student had long, curly blonde hair and a healthy glow from constant swimming. She swam on three teams, including a competitive one. “When I’m in the water, I feel like I’m flying,” she would say.
But in March 2008, then-14-year-old Taylor suffered from headaches. One day at a swim meet, she lost her equilibrium and nearly fell off her start block. Tests soon revealed Taylor had a brain tumor. It would need to come out.
The doctor warned Taylor’s parents that a small but significant percentage of kids who underwent this type of brain surgery experienced paralysis. The condition, known as posterior fossa syndrome, can take weeks or months to resolve.
The surgery took place March 20, 2008. Afterward, Taylor couldn’t move or speak voluntarily. Her eyes had an unfocused look. She would need to relearn even the most basic skills.
“In so many ways, she was like a newborn,” said Dora.
The family soon learned Taylor suffered from medulloblastoma, the most common type of brain tumor in children. Her family researched options for Taylor’s continuing care. That search led them to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and they obtained a referral.
“After we looked at the cure rate, it was so much higher at St. Jude than anywhere else,” explained Dora.
At St. Jude, Taylor began a treatment plan that included 31 radiation treatments, as well as four rounds of chemotherapy and stem cell infusions. She also received physical, speech and occupational therapies.
Dora says their treatment team kept the family going through the hard times.
“There were other children who had been through posterior fossa syndrome and come out the other side,” said Dora. “When they came in town for checkups, our doctor introduced me to them. He reassured me, ‘She will get better. I know it’s devastating, but she will get better.’”
Taylor finished treatment in late 2008. Her recovery continues.
Along the way, there have been many encouraging milestones. In June 2008, Taylor stuck her feet into a pool and kicked. In September 2008, Taylor said the word “love” when her father came in the room. In April 2009, she began speaking in sentences. In May 2009, she took her first sustained steps.
On Mother’s Day 2009, Taylor was walking and talking.
“She was able to say, ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ and ‘I love you,’” said Dora. “What better gift could you have as a mom?”
The year 2009 was filled with so many small miracles that it’s hard to fathom how 2010 can top it. But by swimming and enjoying life, Taylor has found a way.
“You don’t realize what a gift it is to have a healthy child,” said Dora.
But now, Taylor’s mother says, she does realize.
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