Taylor, a 21-year-old University of North Alabama student, is studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse. Although she’s only in her first year of nursing courses, Taylor knows exactly what nurses can mean to their patients. Taylor was once a cancer patient herself, relying on the nurses as a support system.
“The nurses helped me. They were my family away from home,” says Taylor, who plans to help children battling childhood cancer in the same way she was helped.
Her Cancer Journey
In 2006, Taylor was an active 11-year-old, swimming daily during the summer on her local swim team. She complained about soreness in her right arm, but she and her parents assumed it was from swimming.
When school started in September, the pain became so bad that Taylor was taken to the local bone and joint clinic. After an x-ray, the doctor sent them to Children’s of Birmingham but didn’t say why. Shortly after Labor Day in 2006, Taylor’s mom Tammy received a phone call: Taylor had osteosarcoma. It is the most common type of childhood bone cancer, but is more common in boys than in girls.
Taylor started treatment right away which included chemotherapy, reconstructive surgery on the upper part of her right arm, a donor graft, metal plates and pins. When chemotherapy was complete in June 2007, Taylor was cancer-free.
Desperate for a Cure
Taylor was cancer-free for 18 months until doctors found tumors in her lungs, which is typical of an osteosarcoma relapse. She would cycle through treatment – chemotherapy and a thoracotomy to remove the tumors in her lungs, over and over again--briefly being cancer-free and then relapsing twice more in 2010 and 2011.
During Taylor’s last relapse in 2011, she was receiving treatment from MD Anderson in Houston, over 700 miles away from her home in Alabama. Desperate for a cure, she was referred a trial at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, which was supported in part through an Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation Infrastructure grant.
Dr. Nabil Ahmed (ALSF Young Investigator 2007 & Innovation grant 2013 recipient) was Taylor’s doctor during the Her2 Trial. He remembers Taylor’s amazing smile the first time they met – it was a stubborn, survivor’s smile. He told her she looked like a person who was going to live.
The Her2 Trial – nicknamed the HEROS Trial for Her2 Osteosarcoma – was an immunotherapy trial. Blood was drawn from Taylor and then doctors separated the immune cells, reprogrammed them to attack the cancer and reintroduced them into her body. The treatment was successful and shortly after the trial, Taylor had her right lung removed. She has been cancer-free since 2012.
“I honestly believe if we had not been at Texas Children’s and didn’t have this research from Dr. Ahmed, I don’t think she’d be here. I really don’t. I mean it kept coming back, until he did this.” said Tammy, Taylor's mom.
Support Makes a Difference
“Without funding from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to participate in this. We wouldn’t have the opportunity to make this happen for Taylor and other patients like her,” said Dr. Ahmed. “Perhaps she wouldn’t have been able to survive and our work wouldn’t have been able to survive.”
The Her2 Trial was supported by an ALSF Infrastructure grant. These grants are funded one cup at a time, by our generous supporters. There are over a dozen different types and countless subtypes of childhood cancer. By supporting the research into better and safer treatments and creating the infrastructure for trials to take place, we can make a difference in a child’s life that is battling cancer.
ALSF’s research grants program selects the most promising, innovative programs to fund. Every hour of research costs $50 and brings us closer to cures for all children. Every donation, every dollar counts in our battle to find breakthroughs for all children.
Inspired to join the fight? Donate here to fund innovative research, so more kids like Taylor can realize their dreams.