It’s been said in an instant someone’s life can forever change, so it is wise to live each moment to the fullest, and to be thankful for all one has.
For most, the possibility of an unexpected, tragic turn is hard to imagine. But for Hays Middle School eighth-grader Taylor Weidenhaft, it’s just another day in her reality.
It hasn’t been a typical school year for the 14-year-old, and it all started in June with a few symptoms she couldn’t ignore.
“She was itching all over her body. She would just periodically complain about it, but then it became more and more persistent,” Taylor’s mother Julie Weidenhaft said.
“We didn’t know what it could be at the time, and just thought it was allergies.”
Doctors suspected something minor, as well, and put her on antibiotics, but the symptoms remained, sometimes so severe Taylor couldn’t sleep.
During a volleyball game, her parents noticed a strange, sluggish side of their daughter that was simply out-of-character.
“I felt like I was getting the flu,” Taylor said. “My whole body was just achy. I felt tired and my neck hurt.”
Her lymph nodes appeared to be extremely swollen, so Julie took her back to the doctor where she received an ultrasound of her neck. Two lymph nodes were abnormally enlarged — approximately 2.5 centimeters.
Still, no one could seem to grasp the seriousness of the matter, or find a solution.
By September, Taylor had been on several different antibiotics with no improvement, according to her mother.
After doing some independent research, Julie, a nurse at Hays Medical Center, began to wonder about the possibility of lymphoma — a form of cancer of the lymphatic system.
“They finally sent us to Ear, Nose and Throat at Children’s Mercy,” Julie said.
Lab work and numerous tests still revealed no answers.
Finally, on Nov. 16, Taylor underwent an MRI and surgery so the tissue could be further examined.
“The physician came in and pulled me out of the room prior to taking her back for surgery, which I knew wasn’t a good sign,” Julie said. “She took me into this little room and said she didn’t like the way the MRI looked — it looked suspicious.”
The next day, the phone rang, bringing the news that would change a young girl’s life forever — Taylor, indeed, had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done — telling my kid she has cancer,” Julie said as tears filled her eyes.
Taylor’s carefree life consumed with her love for school, sports, horses and numerous activities was now on the line. Knowing this, the 14-year-old faced the news head-on, with an undeniable and unique strength ignited by her faith, friends, family and community.
Over the last two months, approximately 10 trips have been made to and from Kansas City, where she has been receiving her treatments.
Her positive attitude, sense of humor, and ability to make heavy situations light have helped her along the way.
“If you can take my sass and throw it right back at me, I love it,” Taylor said as she laughed. “I keep the doctors on their toes.”
A big part of the reason she has been so brave is because even at such a young age, she’s faced some of life’s toughest obstacles. She lost a dear friend as the result of a car accident a little over a year ago, and Taylor said experiencing that heartbreak changed her outlook on life.
“She was one of my best friends,” she said as she wiped tears away. “I would go through all this again if it meant I could get her back.”
This appreciation for life has helped guide Taylor, which in turn, has given her family strength.
“Throughout this whole process, her biggest thing was that she didn’t want to be pitied,” Julie said. “There are days when she’s stronger than me.”
Though the eighth-grader tries to remain as positive and strong as possible, some moments, as expected, have challenged her. But even in those moments, she quickly finds her way to the light again, either on her own or with the help of others.
When phases of weakness inevitably make their way in, Taylor’s school, friends and family won’t let her forget how strong she is.
An example of this was when she began to lose her hair due to treatments. This was a trial for the 14-year-old, but in the midst of the panic and devastation, a friend texted her an inspirational Bible verse just in time to lift her out of the fear.
Taylor’s basketball team created a care package for her and designed shirts to wear in support, which eventually were worn by students throughout the entire school. The shirts say, “Fight like a Girl,” on the front, and “Taylor Strong” on the back along with Taylor’s basketball number.
“When we first learned she was diagnosed, the girls on the basketball team immediately wanted to do something,” said Jessica Dale, Hays Middle School physical education teacher and girls’ basketball coach. “We knew we really needed to come together.”
Hays native Dan Weller, a band member of the award-winning country music group Florida Georgia Line, visited Taylor in the hospital.
“He stayed and talked with us for about an hour and brought her all kinds of goodies,” Julie said. “It was really neat.”
The Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team has really reached out to Taylor as well, especially guard Paige Lunsford, who regularly checks in with Taylor to see how she is doing.
These are just a few examples of the acts of kindness that have been shown to the Weidenhafts over the last few months.
Looking ahead, “Taylor’s Spaghetti Feed” — a community fundraiser — is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday at Hays VFW, 2106 Vine.
“I’m so thankful for all the support and prayers we’ve received through all this,” Julie said. “We’ve been overwhelmed by it all.”
Recently, Taylor was labeled “in the clear,” but still has final treatments, and a long road of precaution ahead.
“I’m still me,” Taylor said. “I’m the same old me again and that’s what I wanted from the beginning.”
Looking forward with faith, she is ready for the fight, and said she’s never going to stop battling.
“I know that God is with me and He will help get me through it,” she said. “I can never give up.”
To follow Taylor’s journey, or for additional information, visit the “Pray for Tay” Facebook page.