For 48 years, James and Pat Taylor have relied on each other and their family as a support system, and that was especially true when Pat was diagnosed with breast cancerjust 18 months after the end of her husband’s prostate cancertreatment. Their very large, close-knit family – which includes nine children, five of whom were adopted, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren – gave them both a reason to fight.
“I think faith is a factor. I think family is a factor,” says Mrs. Taylor. “Our faith is serious.”
The Taylors’ family stepped in during both of their battles against cancer. Their children took turns with their father, taking him to every radiation therapy appointment. Mrs. Taylor initially felt she didn’t need anyone to accompany her to appointments, but soon changed her mind. “I was tired. It takes a toll on the body,” she said.
Mr. Taylor was diagnosed with cancer only after he was urged to get a second opinion by his wife and daughters. Already a survivor of two heart attacks, he had a biopsy at a regular check-up after complaining he didn’t feel well. He was told the biopsy was fine but decided to see an oncologist at the advising of his family.
“He told me, ‘You have prostate cancer,’” recalls Mr. Taylor. “I had it for about a year and didn’t know it.”
The oncologist referred Mr. Taylor to Dwight E. Heron, M.D, director of radiation services at UPMC CancerCenter, who would later treat both of the Taylors. Mr. Taylor recalls Dr. Heron telling him, “We’re not going to let this beat us.” From that point forward, Mr. Taylor received a total of 45 consecutive radiation therapy treatments every day, Monday through Friday.
Just a short year and a half later, Mrs. Taylor received her cancer diagnosis. After her annual mammogram showed an abnormality, she had a biopsy procedure. Her gynecologist advised Mrs. Taylor to take a proactive approach, as she was recently retired, and recommended she have the mass removed to avoid it growing into something more serious.
She received her biopsy results during her yearly check-up on Christmas Eve. “I said, ‘Hey, tell me what it is. It’s the holidays. I’d like to get this behind me,’” she said. Her doctor informed her that she actually had two areas of ductal carcinoma in situ, a form of non-invasive breast cancer. This prompted her to have surgery to remove the mass and then see Dr. Heron.
According to Mrs. Taylor, a strong patient-doctor relationship, as well as a strong support system of friends and family, is essential while battling cancer. No two patients have the same cancer and it’s important to have someone who can help patients really understand and cope with their diagnosis, she says.
For Mr. Taylor, having a positive attitude also was imperative. He remembers what he told his wife when she asked how he felt about his cancer diagnosis. “There’s nothing I can do to stop it and I’m not going to let it depress me or anything like that,” he says. “I’ll make the best of it. I’m not going to dwell on my mind and make it worse. I’m going to do what the doctors say.”
“We don’t want to burden our kids,” says Mrs. Taylor. “We want the best for them. We want to see their lives become solid – solidify all those rough edges, educate them. I’m telling you, we have some beautiful great grandchildren.”
In addition to their large extended family, the Taylors spent 23 years as foster parents, caring for hard-to-place children or those with behavioral disorders “We were always the family who wanted children and loved children,” says Mrs. Taylor. “When [our kids] started leaving the roost to do their thing, we ended up doing foster care.”
Although the Taylors battled very different types of cancer, they found that going through a cancer journey together helped them to relate more to each other. It brought them closer together – and made them realize they want to be around for the family that supported them.
“When [our granddaughter] found out she was pregnant, she said, ‘Grandpa, you have to take real good care of yourself, cause this baby has to see you and has to know you,’ because of all the joy my husband and I have brought into her life,” says Mrs. Taylor. “For someone to say that, that’s reason to live right there.”