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Taylor Barham-Olsson’s voice was cheerful during our phone conversation this week, although she has gone through her share of tough times.
“My journey is fuzzy,” she says with a laugh, “So I took some notes.”
Taylor’s story is one of trials, but it is also a story of triumphs. The breast cancer that has plagued her family has given her a new look at the world and on who she is.
Taylor’s family had their journey with breast cancer start with her grandmother, Elizabeth “Liz” Hyatt. Liz was diagnosed with stage IV ductal carcinoma at the age of 40, and underwent chemotherapy and radiation every day for four years. She was on hospice for six weeks before she passed away 21 years ago on September 11, 1996 at the age of 44.
Taylor’s mother, Debbie Hyatt, was diagnosed with stage I of the same cancer when she was 37. To treat the cancer, Debbie underwent a double mastectomy and a full hysterectomy. She also went through chemo and radiation for a year, and fortunately went into remission. Debbie just passed her five-year health mark, and, according to Taylor, she “just wasn’t going to let it take her life.”
Taylor’s aunt, Lisa Chargualaf, was diagnosed with the same cancer within months of Debbie’s diagnosis. She also underwent a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy along with chemotherapy and radiation, but her cancer came back at least five times. Lisa unfortunately lost her battle with breast cancer on August 24 of this year, leaving behind a 15-year-old son, who Taylor said is “hanging in there.”
“Lisa was the heart and soul of our family,” Taylor said, “Everyone was with each other when she died, and that is exactly what she would have wanted. Forty people were in the house at one time.”
“My mom’s side of the family is from Guam, and that culture is all about being together. I got married early for her so she could see the pictures and the video. My aunt Lisa was very important to me, and I was very close to her.”
She went on to explain Lisa’s profound influence on her life.
“My parents had me very young; Lisa was 15 when I was born. I was the only kid in the family for a long time, and Lisa lived with me and took care of me. I then also lived with Lisa for 2 ½ years. She took on a very maternal role for me.”
“She told me something pretty significant: ‘Stop apologizing for who you are;’ from then on, I started living my life not caring about what people think of me. Out of all the lessons Lisa taught me, that one stuck out the most. She always taught me to take the leap, to go outside my comfort zone. I credit a lot of who I am to her.”
Taylor and her family started their involvement with Susan G. Komen starting with Debbie’s diagnosis.
“Susan G. Komen helped my mother get her surgeries done for free,” Taylor said. “It took a lot of stress off us.”
Taylor is passionate about the Komen cause, and has started fundraising for the organization on her own. She and her team Hyatt Warriors will be at this year’s Race for the Cure, and has already surpassed their fundraising goal.
“I made a fundraising goal of $1,000, and I reached that goal within three days,” Taylor said. “Additionally, my husband’s family, who are just so supportive, had a garage sale and donated all proceeds to the cause.”
Taylor hopes to stay involved with Susan G. Komen long-term because of the assistance the organization gave her family in their time of need.
In others’ time of need, she has this advice to offer: “The main thing I have learned and will advocate forever is this: to the person who is suffering with the cancer, you cannot give up, no matter what stage you are in. I have seen breast cancer in stage I, in stage III, in stage IV. You need to keep on keeping on, get advice from survivors.”
She continued, “For families: don’t give up and be there for your loved ones. They don’t need you to give them advice, they don’t want you to be sad, or feel sorry for them, they want you to be there for them. Be there.”
Olivia Bonevento is a featured guest blogger for Komen CSNJ. She lives at the Jersey Shore and is currently a student at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. Read more about Olivia on her personal blog — oliviabonevento.wordpress.com.