She just wanted to run

A story written for a Magazine Writing class.

She just wanted to run

By Kayla Queen

Her straight, brown hair bounced behind her modest 5-year-old frame as she ran around the playground with her friends. Her oversized t-shirt, stretchy purple pants and Ked tennis shoes moved easily with her running body. Her little friends yelled to her, “Stay out of the lava!” as they played a game where the gravel was actually boiling hot lava and staying off the ground was crucial to survival. “Stay out of it! It’s hot!” they all squealed with their high-pitched voices and happy, innocent giggles. She ran and ran, then climbed up to the highest of the monkey bars. Thinking she was tough, she jumped off of them and went sailing through the air into the imaginary lava, and as her tiny feet hit the sea of gravel, a sharp and scary pain made its way through her little leg.

 

Twelve years later, Taylor Queen is 17-years-old. She is involved in many activities at her high school in Wayne, West Virginia, including varsity volleyball, photo editor and co-editor for the school yearbook, National Honor’s Society, and Student Government. She loves her high school football team — never misses a game, rain or snow. She makes good grades. She sings at her church. And she is my sister.

An outsider would never suspect Taylor was ever seriously sick, that she could have ever been that same little girl. No one would ever know.

Taylor struggled with her health for years, but she never let any of her troubles stop her from trying to live her life.

“A lot of my memories are blurred from that time, but others are clear as day,” she said.

When her health problems began, she was a tiny kindergartner at Lavalette Elementary School in Lavalette, West Virginia, just trying to have fun during recess. When her feet hit the ground that day, she said the pain that went through her foot and leg was intense, but she just thought she had sprain her ankle. The teachers didn’t believe her when she said she needed her mommy because her foot hurt.

“When I complained to the teacher on duty, she didn’t seem too concerned.”

When she finally got home to her mother and went to the doctor for X-rays, they found the scary monster this made that little girl cry — a tumor.

After further tests, doctors found that the tumor was benign, or non-cancerous, but it had still been eating away at Taylor’s tiny bones and was dangerously close to her left growth plate, when she was nowhere near finished growing. This began her journey full of surgeries and opened the floodgates to other sicknesses she would face during what should have been the most innocent years of her life.

There were times when the doctors thought perhaps Taylor had cancer, that her legs wouldn’t grow evenly, that she might not walk again after surgery, that she might not be the sister my little brother and I had expected.

 

Our mother, Robin, said these times were some of the most difficult in her life and for her family.

 

“Being the mother of a sick child is unlike any other feeling in the world. You are ultimately connected with your child, so it was like when she was sick, so was I.”

 

Because of this tumor and the sicknesses to come, making it through what should be a fun-filled time in elementary school was completely different for my sister. Taylor faced eight surgeries for her leg between kindergarten and 5th grade and most of the care given to her took place at Columbus Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, three hours away from our home in Huntington, West Virginia. Many trips were taken to this hospital, which meant time out of school for her, time away from work for our parents and time away from my sister for my brother and me.

 

“After every surgery I had to use crutches for at least a month and once I remember using a walker. I felt like an old lady,” Taylor said.

 

 

She smelled the wet dirt lingering in the muggy summer air. She ran again, but this time around the bases. First. Second. Third. Home. She tried to keep up with the others. She went as fast as her legs would take her. Two steps behind. Three steps behind. Four steps behind. She wanted so badly to play tee-ball with the others, but her 6-year-old legs wouldn’t allow it, they weren’t like other kids’ legs. Her father cheered for her behind the metal chain fence. He never sat down like the other parents. He stood tall for her. Even though she’s grown today and she’s not quite sure whether he remembers this, she remembers this as being one of the saddest times for her daddy. She knows it broke his heart to sit her down with the tee-ball coach and explain to his bright-eyed, strong-willed little girl what the doctors had been telling her all along. “You can’t do this.”

 

 

Taylor always set out with drive and ambition to live and have fun despite her sicknesses. Her last surgery entailed the doctors placing two screws into her leg, which still remain in her ankle.

 

Seven surgeries down and one more to go. For this one, the doctors allowed her to choose a flavor for her anesthesia. Watermelon, of course. When the little girl awoke from the final surgery, she felt that the watermelon smell was everywhere — in her hair, on her clothes. It made her sick. To this day she swears she can smell someone chewing watermelon-flavored Bubblelicious gum from a mile away.

 

During the war with the tumor, separate battles sprang up and Taylor fell into a new pool of problems. In second grade, she started developing stomach problems where she became dehydrated easily and threw up a lot, usually 10 to 12 times a day. I remember being so worried about her and not knowing what to do, but sadly, it became routine to us. Get up. Eat breakfast. Help Taylor when she pukes. Go to school. It was no longer shocking, only worrisome.

 

“As sad as it is, I became used to being sick and it was almost no big deal,” Taylor said. “As a kid you just take what life gives you because it’s all you know.”

 

Our pediatrician performed some blood tests, which came back indicating Taylor’s white blood cells showed an abnormal production. This meant she had leukemia, or cancer of the blood or bone marrow.

 

 

Her mother ran around the house frantically, trying to get some things together before taking off to Columbus again. She screamed and screamed, telling the devil he would not do this to them, would not do this to their family, to their little girl. She couldn’t get in contact with her husband who was at work, but suddenly he burst through the door. He knew nothing of what had happened at the doctor’s office that day. He had no idea his little girl might have leukemia. He just said he was at work and something hit him, deep in his chest, something told him to pray with Taylor, to pray by her bed. The couple fell to their knees and prayed for their sick child. On the way to Columbus, the girl’s mother called everyone she knew to ask prayer for her daughter. When they arrived and were about to start the chemotherapy, the doctors decided to do one more blood test, just to be sure. The little girl’s white blood cell count was normal. Her mother believes it was a miracle that God provided for them with day, and that it was a test of faith to the couple.

 

 

With Taylor being so young and still trying to go to school despite her poor health, it was often difficult for her small self to make teachers or authority figures understand the severity of her problems. This was not just a little girl complaining of a tummy ache from eating too many cookies at lunch. One day when Taylor was feeling sick during school, a substitute teacher yelled at her in front of the room full of second graders for asking to call her mother. Taylor cried during recess because she felt so sick and a friend’s mother happened to see her and called home for her. The woman came to get Taylor out of her class and the teacher yelled at her again. This mother “saved the day,” Taylor said.

 

“She told the teacher that SHE called my mom because ‘this baby is sick and she’s going with me.’”

 

Doctors stuck a tube down Taylor’s throat to look into her stomach and found a buildup of mucus that was doing damage to her insides and causing her to be sick.

To help with these problems, and now nosebleeds that had started, Taylor had a 3-in-1 surgery where her tonsils and adenoids were removed to stop the mucus from draining into her stomach, and her nose was cauterized to stop the constant nosebleeds.

 

 

She’s 7-years-old, and recovering from another surgery. She heard about the field trip her second-grade class was going on. She also heard she would have to miss it. Her father woke her up that morning and told her to get dressed; he had a surprise for her. He took her to the field trip himself. “I hadn’t felt that happy in a long time,” she said.

 

 

About this same time and once Taylor had gained enough strength to start doing things again, she started playing basketball for the Wayne Buddy Basketball League.

 

“Even though she was sick, I wasn’t about to tell her ‘No’ if she was able to do something. Yes, she was in the middle of beating this illness, but in between surgeries, I let her do as much as she could. I wanted her to have a childhood,” Robin said.

 

“Our team was the best. We didn’t lose a game that I can remember.”

 

During practice one evening, Taylor says her feet felt like they were burning off, but she didn’t know what was wrong so she just continued practicing. She cried when she was picked up from practice at the gym. I was in our big red van with our mother to pick up my sister. The look on her face when she so weakly crawled up into the vehicle was the look of any frightened child. Salty tears ran down her flushed cheeks and I didn’t know what to do. I remember feeling helpless when she was sick. This time, I was only 11. She took off her shoes and the bottoms of her feet were bright red, almost purple, and hardened and cracked. I could tell by looking at them that it had to be painful. Our mother called over another friend’s mother who was a pediatrician, and she told mom she needed to take Taylor to a doctor as soon as possible.

 

 

She didn’t know why the doctors didn’t want to see her. Her frightened mother ran around her home, flustered, calling every doctor she could find. Her daughter was missing yet another event, signing up for another Buddy Basketball League with a friend, but the 8-year-old child couldn’t get out of bed. She heard her mother calling so many people; she heard her asking for an opinion, asking for an appointment, asking for mercy. “This can’t wait until tomorrow,” her mother shouted. “I don’t know if she will make it until then.”

 

 

“That scared me so bad,” Taylor said. “I’m sure she didn’t mean for me to hear.”

 

Taylor finally got in to see the pediatrician. He sent Taylor to a dermatologist who checked my sister from head to toe. She had broken out in a rash, her hands started to look like her feet, red and cracking, and her tongue was swollen. I can also remember her having to take some sort of bath to help with the rash, or the fever. Taylor was diagnosed with Kawasaki’s Disease, which often begins with a high fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or even as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It can last at least five days or for as long as two weeks and it will not go down with normal doses of Tylenol or ibuprofen. It can also affect the lymph nodes and heart. The doctors said her tongue swelling is called a “strawberry tongue,” and her fingers and toes began to peel.

 

Taylor possessed all the typical symptoms for Kawasaki’s Disease, except for her age. It usually affects children between 1 and 5-years-old.

 

 

The girl’s mother cried for the doctors to help her child. The nurses and doctors couldn’t get an IV into her puny veins, because they had already collapsed inside of her. She wanted to run, run far away, run on the playground, run around the bases, run run run run. Tears streamed down her face as her mother screamed for the doctors to help her. She just wanted to run.

 

 

Taylor said when she was hospitalized for Kawasaki’s Disease, it was one of the worst memories she has from all the times she spent as a sick child.

 

 

Her sister was 11. Her brother was 5. She had missed them and was tired of being alone in that stupid hospital. They were out having fun, and she missed their company and their playroom at home. Her mother was always there. She never wavered in her love, her care, her attention. Her siblings came to visit one day when she was feeling better from her latest sickness. Her little brother, with his blonde hair and big blue eyes, crawled up into the hospital bed with her. Despite the sadness in his eyes, he wanted to make his sister feel better. They began playing with the controls that adjust the position of the bed. Up and down they went. Up and down. The three watched “The Goonies” together, and still remember these times when they watch this film today. She remembers this day as one of the better ones. She got to see her siblings, watch her favorite movie, and have real food for the first time in weeks — McDonald’s.

 

 

None of Taylor’s illnesses were connected physically or medically. One didn’t lead to the other, but Taylor believes they were connected spiritually somehow. Taylor’s strength and spirituality grew vastly because of the experiences she had as a child, and she knows her sickness was not in vain.

 

“I believe in taking the past and shaping your future because everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t gone through a lot of what I did, my dad wouldn’t have been reminded of God’s power and love, how He works. There are many more good things behind the horribleness of it all.”

 

For her children’s sake, and possibly her own sanity, Robin tried to keep everything as calm as possible, when inside she was in a million pieces.

 

“Greg and I didn’t want our kids to be worried. You were all young, and children don’t need those burdens,” Robin said. “We just wanted a normal life and for God to take care of us.”

 

 

The rash that covered her little body itched beyond belief, and so did her head from only having sponge baths at the hospital. Her mother ran her a bubble bath and said they were having a “spa day.” She shaved her little girl’s legs for the first time. Her mother thought, even if she is a little young for this, the rash was bothering her so badly that shaving her legs would help stop the itching. She scrubbed her daughters head with shampoo and gingerly rinsed it out, being careful not to get it in her green eyes. The girl felt like a big girl, like a young lady, having smooth legs for the first time. The hospital always made her feel so nasty, so being pampered by her mother was wonderful for more reasons than being clean. She felt new and important and loved. 

 

 

“Looking back on everything I went through, I feel sad, but strong at the same time. When I go through hard times now, I remember what I battled with as a kid. I am so thankful God brought me through all of it.”

 

 

Warming up for an important game, she passed the volleyball with her teammates. Her friends and family had come to support her, and sat clapping in the bleachers of the high school gym. She danced a little to the hip-hop music they play during warm-up time and she smiled and laughed at her friends. Her special volleyball sneakers squeaked on the gym floor, and her red and black jersey and zebra-print ribbon were very different from her purple stretchy pants and Ked tennis shoes in kindergarten. But her smile was the same. Her laugh was the same. Her heart was the same. The team ran to the middle of the court to pray before the game began. She moved into her position as the setter and prepared for the serve. The whistle blew and her feet moved gracefully under her. She jumped and lunged and hustled and ran about the court to get the ball over the net.

 

She ran.

 

She ran.

 

She ran.


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