For Taylor Black, that Friday night was like any other in her senior year in high school. A quick dip in the shower then off to see her girlfriends and boyfriend Jeff. Just another Friday night in a small Florida town until she blacked out in the shower and her mom rushed her to the emergency room and another life: one of brain scans and surgeries, chemotherapy, 60 Minutes, hospitals and hospice. Something that always happened to someone else happened to her and to her family as well.
Taylor kept a diary through her ordeal as she tried to live as normal a life as possible with brain cancer. Daydreams and Diaries details the roller-coaster ride which is cancer and how Taylor coped as a patient and grew as a person, changing from an insecure high school girl to a courageous young woman.
Her spirit attracted the cameras of CBS and the attention of Ed Bradley who called her "amazing." Twenty seven million people saw her on 60 Minutes, but CBS couldn't tell Taylor's whole story for she was far more than a cancer patient; she was a beloved daughter, sister and friend who showed, as a noted author once wrote: "grace under pressure".
Taylor's father, Tim Black, brings a father's memories of Taylor at different points in her life, helping to complete the portrait of a remarkable young woman who was the inspiration for so many.
This is a story I hoped that I would never write and certainly when Taylor began her journey through brain cancer treatment we were both full of hope. After the shock of the initial experience and we realized that what always happened to others had happened to us, we still thought we would be different, that Taylor would be the one to beat the odds. It was that feeling that kept Taylor going and it was that hope that buoyed me up as well. Perhaps it was only denial, but that last year of her life is as vivid to me today, ten years later, as it was when it happened. Our hope was that something she and I wrote might help other young cancer patients cope with their disease and treatment. I still have that hope.
The memoir alternates between my fatherly recollections of my daughter throughout her life coupled with Taylor’s actual diary (in italics) which she kept throughout her treatment. For the readers understanding, my daydreams of Taylor are also italicized, but actual conversations I had with her are in regular text.
Taylor kept a diary of her experiences from the day of her diagnosis until a few weeks before her death as CBS cameras followed her throughout that year as part of a 60 Minutes program which would air, ironically, after her death, due to the events of September 11. The following excerpt if from her first diary entry when her journey began.
September 23, 2000
I have just lived through the most indescribable night of my life. It all began when I was taking a shower on Thursday afternoon. My vision started to go in and out, I couldn’t breathe. The next thing I know, I’m lying on the shower floor. I stood up and brushed it off as some fluke accident. For the rest of the day I was perfectly fine. And then, yesterday morning, my left leg became heavy and began to drag. Still, I thought nothing of it. So, naturally I thought Mom was going a bit overboard when she insisted on taking me to the Emergency Room. There I was, extremely frustrated, wasting a perfectly good Friday night in a hospital waiting room. Finally, they got me in and took a bunch of tests and did a CT scan.
When the doctor returned he looked visibly shaken. He approached us as if we were porcelain dolls, whispering something about a mass on my brain. All of a sudden I was whisked away in a wheelchair. As I looked down at the chart that I held in my hands I couldn’t believe what was written there. Diagnosis: brain tumor. This can’t be me, things like this happen to other people. People I don’t know.
And so I settled into my hospital bed, too shocked to think. Then, Mom left to get my stuff (and freak out I’m sure) and I called Jeff to have him reassure me that this was a mistake. After I hung up on him, I called Katie to tell her that I was not going out with her tonight. Mom returned looking like she had been violently crying and bringing Chad with her. He assured me that everything was going to be alright and asked me if he should call my Dad. No way, that is just what I need on top of this mess: a dead father. Because if he were awoken at midnight and told that I have a brain tumor he surely would have a heart attack right then and there. No, I’ll tell him tomorrow.
The memory is as vivid as the present…
Taylor is a few months old. She is bobbing atop our mercurial waterbed, cleaned and wiped with a fresh diaper that I have changed and I am alone with her in our bedroom.
I marvel at those big eyes. How did she ever get such big eyes? I lean over to sit beside her and cause the bed to jiggle. Taylor bobs a bit.
“Okay, Taylor, this is our bonding time, are you ready?” I ask.
Taylor doesn’t respond. She doesn’t understand a word I’m saying of course. So I decide to resort to song.
“I am going to sing you your grandfather Black’s favorite song, Red River Valley, and then I will sing your Grandfather Joe’s favorite, Down in the Valley. It seems your grandfathers were valley people, young lady.”
As I begin to sing, I put a pinky finger in her little hand and she grabs on. I am bonding with my child. It is a wonderful feeling. The touch of the tiny, the innocent, the vulnerable, my blood. I begin to sing, “From this valley they say you are going, I will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile…” and Taylor begins to smile. My daughter appreciates good singing I think, either that or she is passing gas. I finish Red River Valley and begin Down in the Valley and Pam walks in.
“You know,” she says. “Your daughter will someday fall in love with a cowboy because of this. She is going to love country music.”
I smile at my wife. “Oh sure, right,” I say.
But then I envision her as a young woman sitting in the audience at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville. That would be better than rock music, I think.
I sing Red River Valley another time, but this time cradling Taylor in my arms, kissing her lightly on the cheek. She gurgles and giggles. I’m hooked. My eyes moisten. I am so deeply in love with this baby girl. So small, so innocent, so alive.
And now just a memory.
October 18, 2000
The doctor gave the news today with such a somber face, They told me that they all would pray and leave me in God’s grace, “We’ll get through the weeks ahead, and you’ll be fine I’m sure,” they said. So much to take in such short time to have this happen in my prime. I really don’t know what to feel, but everyone says it all will heal. If that is true and really is the case then why the sad look upon your face?
Often Taylor preferred to write a poem about what she was going through rather than a straight narrative of her treatment.