Teen fights medical battle family knows all too well



Taylor Bedichek was straightening her hair at her cousin's house when she first noticed the bumps on her neck.

She called her mom, took two ibuprofen, and went on with her day like other 16-year-old girls on summer vacation.

When her pitching arm went to sleep at softball practice with Hephzibah High School's Lady Rebels later that week, she thought, "Maybe I was just strained from ball practice."

Her mother, Suzanne, a nurse at Doctors Hospital, thought otherwise.

A trip to the doctor that afternoon, then a biopsy showed those lumps were stage II Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer originating in white blood cells.

Her long, brown hair would soon be gone from chemotherapy. Afternoons at the plate pitching 60-mph fastballs would have to wait.

"I cried my eyes out," Taylor said, after she heard her diagnosis. "I was most afraid of losing my hair and dying."

Now starting her third week of chemotherapy, her life as a teenager has come to a halt.

Instead of picking out new school clothes, specialists just fitted Taylor with a wig.

The friends' houses where she spent afternoons are off limits. The green Dodge pickup she drove around town is sitting in the driveway gathering dust.

"I was going to clean it for her," said her father, Dennis. "Maybe not today."

For Dennis, his daughter's diagnosis is another blow to the family's struggles. But then again, they are a family of survivors.

Two weeks before finding out Suzanne was pregnant with Taylor in 1993, doctors found a malignant tumor slowly growing in Dennis' brain.

They said he wouldn't live five more years. Sixteen years later, he sits at his kitchen table with his daughter and wonders.

"The world is not fair sometimes," Dennis said. "I've asked God 'why?' more than once. Between being sick all these years, it's been a tough trip. Now we have a sick daughter. It's been a rough life."

But friends and family are making it easier. Since Taylor's diagnosis Aug. 9, their kitchen table has been covered with piles of cards from classmates and friends. Cousins, neighbors and especially Taylor's 9-year-old sister, Morgan, have stood by her side.

"The school has been turned upside down," Suzanne said. "Kids in all grades, even ones who don't know Taylor, know she has cancer."

Her days are filled with reminders that she's not a normal teenager. She swallows 10 pills a day. She's lost her appetite, but chemicals from the chemotherapy have made almost everything lose its flavor anyway.

Taylor's daily shot of Neupogen, a substance used to maintain bone marrow in chemotherapy patients, also reminds the family of the financial burden that comes with the disease.

They already filed bankruptcy from Dennis' illness 16 years ago. With health insurance caps and $337 a day for Taylor's shots alone, Suzanne said the family is waiting to see what will have to come from their pockets.

The worry is familiar though, as most of the money the family has earned has gone to Dennis' medical bills and medicine to keep him healthy today.

"Not a dollar goes into this house," Dennis said. "The roof needs to be fixed. I have never had the money to take my daughters to Disney World. Every child deserves to go to Disney at least once."

Taylor said doctors have promised her that at least the next eight months will be filled with chemotherapy sessions and medical appointments.

Still Taylor looks toward the future. She said she's excited for next season, when she can return as Hephzibah's starting pitcher. After high school she hopes to go to college to become a game warden.

An athlete all her life, Taylor said softball has always been a passion.

"It's always been my thing," she said.

Softball also could have saved her life, Suzanne said. When doctors found the tumors on her neck, they were pushing against her esophagus. The muscles she has built from years of softball created a barrier that protected her throat from the tumors.

Dr. Robyn Hatley, a pediatric surgeon at Medical College of Georgia, said Taylor has reason to stay positive.

"She's going to make it through this, and she has a fantastic attitude," Hatley said.

The prognosis has given the family hope. The Bedicheks have already celebrated one family member's survival after they had been certain they would be planning a funeral.

They are certain they will be celebrating for Taylor, too.

"Every Sept. 15 we have a birthday party for me because it's a new day of living," Dennis said about the anniversary of his surgery that removed his cancer. "So when she's done, we'll have a celebration on her real birthday and the day she was reborn."

Want to help?

Anyone interested in donating to the Bedichek family can do so through PayPal using the taylorandbrookebff@ yahoo.com e-mail address.