De­spite bat­tling can­cer teen helps out at telethon

The Gympie Times - - FRONT PAGE - Sherele Moody Sherele.Moody@news­re­gional­me­dia.com.au

TAYLA Saun­ders is a beau­ti­ful young woman car­ry­ing a deeply sad se­cret.

Smart, funny and friendly, the 16-year-old’s pretty eyes are gen­tle and tired while her body is ex­hausted and weak.

Tayla has spent close to 10 years fight­ing to sur­vive an ex­tremely rare can­cer that’s slowly con­sum­ing her or­gans and her bones.

At the age of seven, Tayla was di­ag­nosed with atyp­i­cal vas­cu­lar le­sion soft tis­sue sar­coma – a dis­ease so rare that she is the only child in Aus­tralia with it.

“I was pick­ing my daugh­ter up from school when the doc­tor called,” Tayla’s mum Natalie said of the mo­ment in 2007 when her world im­ploded.

“She was walk­ing to­wards me as they told me she had can­cer.

“It was ex­tremely trau­matic.”

Sur­geons re­moved the tu­mours but as they were non-re­spon­sive to chemo­ther­apy, Tayla was sent home with­out fur­ther treat­ment.

“The best thing we could do was wait and watch,” Natalie said.

“We’d go to Bris­bane reg­u­larly for check-ups and she was get­ting the all-clear.

“As we neared the five-year an­niver­sary, we had moved on with life and we were really happy.”

But in Oc­to­ber of 2012, some­thing fright­en­ing hap­pened, set­ting off a long and com­plex chain of events that trans­formed the young footy nut’s life.

“She was in the shower cough­ing up blood,” Natalie said. “The next morn­ing she did the same thing so we went to the hos­pi­tal for chest x-rays.

“They came in and said to us that Tayla’s lungs were rid­dled with tu­mours.”

Natalie and Tayla headed to Bris­bane for more tests in­clud­ing a lung biopsy that con­firmed it was the same can­cer.

“I just went numb,” Natalie said.

This time around, the doc­tors de­cided to treat the tu­mours with chemo­ther­apy but they held off for a few days so the lit­tle girl could see her favourite band, One Di­rec­tion, in con­cert.

“There was ev­i­dence now that chemo would work so we de­cided she would have two doses,” Natalie said.

On Christ­mas Day, Tayla’s weak­ened body suf­fered an­other blow as a staph in­fec­tion took hold.

Her mother and sis­ters, Hay­ley and Skyla, watched help­lessly as their loved one’s tem­per­a­ture went through the roof.

“She had an un­con­trol­lable heart­beat, her tem­per­a­ture was ex­tremely high,” Natalie said.

“We nearly lost her that day.”

Tayla pulled through but it wasn’t long be­fore doc­tors re­alised the tu­mours had grown de­spite the chemo­ther­apy.

“We were told to take her home and en­joy the time we had left with her,” Natalie said of the dev­as­tat­ing blow.

“These words just rang in my ears.”

In Jan­uary of 2014, Tayla lost her sight in one eye, lead­ing to more tests that even­tu­ally re­vealed she had four tu­mours on her brain.

Her vi­sion re­turned the next day as she was placed on a new round of treat­ment in­clud­ing ra­di­a­tion and steroids.

“That treat­ment is the rea­son why she is still here,” Natalie said.

“You would never know this hap­pened – the steroids were in­cred­i­ble.”

About 13 months ago, Tayla started tak­ing a new drug and she was trav­el­ling along quite well un­til scans at Lady Ci­lento Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal re­vealed some of the tu­mours had dou­bled in size

She had surgery to re­move a growth from her cere­bel­lum and doc­tors found a grape­fruit-sized can­cer­ous lump in her pelvis.

“She cur­rently has three

brain tu­mours and we’ve dis­cov­ered one of the tu­mours in Tayla’s lungs is suf­fo­cat­ing and crush­ing her air­ways,” Natalie said.

“It’s been a real roller-coaster ride.”

Sur­geons re­moved the tu­mour from Tayla’s pelvis but scans in Septem­ber this year re­vealed a new growth in the same area.

“That ripped the guts right out of us,” Natalie said.

“Plus they found spots in her arm bone.”

Just a few weeks ago, Tayla had emer­gency brain surgery to re­duce swelling in her head.

“In Fe­bru­ary, it will be 10

years since our of­fi­cial di­ag­no­sis,” Natalie said.

“I don’t know how we’ve held it to­gether for so long.

“I don’t have a choice but to keep go­ing be­cause she is my daugh­ter.

“I’m go­ing to fight tooth and nail to keep her alive.”

While Natalie, Tayla and the Lady Ci­lento team refuse to give up, they are now com­ing to terms with know­ing the young woman will “never be cured”.

In­stead of dwelling on this, the fam­ily prefers to en­sure Tayla al­ways has rea­son to show her “in­fec­tious smile” that lights up a room.

It’s been an ex­tremely hard decade for Tayla, but there have been plenty of times when she’s been able to for­get her ill­ness for a while.

“We were lucky enough to go to the NRL grand fi­nal in Syd­ney this year and we were given State of Ori­gin tick­ets,” Natalie said.

“To be hon­est I could have just sat there all night and looked at the smile on her face.”

Tayla is one of 1931 Gympie and Sun­shine Coast res­i­dents who were treated at Lady Ci­lento last fi­nan­cial year.

The young­ster is tak­ing on a big chal­lenge, help­ing to pro­mote the an­nual Chan­nel Nine Telethon sup­port­ing the Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal Foun­da­tion on Sat­ur­day.

The ap­peal aims to raise $11 mil­lion.

As well as sup­port­ing pa­tients at LCCH, money raised dur­ing the telethon pays for vi­tal med­i­cal equip­ment, re­search and a range of med­i­cal ser­vices at Lady Ci­lento and through­out re­gional Queens­land and North­ern NSW.

“It’s things like hav­ing vol­un­teers come to play games with her or to take her out­side in the sun,” Natalie said.

“Be­cause kids come from the re­gions they of­ten don’t have fam­ily to visit so the foun­da­tion vol­un­teers can make a world of dif­fer­ence – it’s not all just hos­pi­tal, treat­ments and ster­ile stuff.

“They’re not only there for the kids – they are there for the par­ents.

“They talk to you and take your mind off the re­al­ity for half an hour.”

Natalie urged Queens­lan­ders to dig deep dur­ing the telethon.

“With­out Lady Ci­lento and the Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal Foun­da­tion, the lives of sick chil­dren would be so much harder and we’d be lost with­out them, so please just give a lit­tle amount,” she said. “A few dol­lars could make a huge dif­fer­ence to so many kids.” Do­nate at 9telethon.com.au or by phon­ing 1800 909 900.

❝ I don’t have a choice but to keep go­ing be­cause she is my daugh­ter.

— Natalie Tay­lor


FIGHT­ING SPIRIT: Gympie teenager Tayla Saun­ders takes a break from can­cer treat­ment at Lady Ci­lento Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal in Bris­bane.

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