The Degenhard family of Louisville in Stark County knows first-hand how much it means to receive kindness during difficult times. For 4 years while their daughter, Taylor, battled an aggressive form of neuroblastoma, they received countless meals, kind gestures and support from family, friends, staff and strangers. Despite all the love, medicine and determination Taylor had on her side, her cancer couldn’t be cured. But, her cancer also couldn’t stop all the love and kindness so her family decided to pay it forward as Taylor’s Angels.
Diagnosed at age 2, Taylor’s neuroblastoma was considered Stage IV, meaning the cancer had spread. She underwent 6 rounds of chemotherapy and had surgery to remove the tumor. Her treatment caused fevers and other complications that kept her at the hospital for months at a time. She underwent a stem-cell transplant followed by a dozen sessions of radiation, all of which kept her hospitalized.
“The cancer unit staff, nurses and doctors became our family during her 4-year battle,” said Tricia Degenhard, Taylor’s mom. “They saw us on good days and bad, they would bring us coffee when we didn’t want to leave her side…they were always there for us. My husband and I knew there would come a day when we would be able to pay it forward.”
The day came in 2009, one year after Taylor’s passing, and has been going strong ever since. Taylor’s Angels is a group of Degenhard family and friends who give time, money, resources and prayers to the families touched by Akron Children’s Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders.
“They (staff) know we’re here to help and they can count on us like family,” said Tricia. “We have painted rooms, brought meals, treats, presents, braided hair, played video games, you name it. I can’t imagine not doing it. I love it.”
During Childhood Cancer Awareness month in September, Taylor’s Angels make weekly appearances during the department’s themed activities for patients.
“We do cupcakes, pizza, cotton candy and whatever else they want,” said Tricia. “I have a group of people I know I can count on for food and supplies to support these kids. I remember how much Taylor used to love visits from the cookie lady, Leslie Cocklin, so I visit every kid when I have treats. It’s hard to turn down goodies even on a bad day.”
Taylor’s Angels can be seen at the hospital throughout the year, too, bringing treats, gifts and support.
“For Taylor’s birthday, I ask those who would have bought her a gift to make a donation instead so we can buy gifts for those in the unit,” said Tricia. “For Prom to Remember I bring in family and girls from my salon to do hair and makeup for those attending. It’s fun and really special for all of us.”
Daily, you can see the Degenhard’s commitment to supporting patients just by walking through the unit. With paint and labor donated, Taylor’s Angels was able to transform 15 patient rooms with kid-friendly colors and art. Taylor’s brothers, Rocco, Trent and Tyson, and friends painted animals that were made into mobiles that hang from the ceilings. Akron artist, Paulette Grubb, painted magical murals on the walls throughout. And, if you look closely in room 6, you’ll see one little fairy who looks just like Taylor.
For those who work in the Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, they consider Tricia and Taylor’s Angels family, too.
“Taylor was a very special little girl who refused to let cancer stop her from enjoying life,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hord, Taylor’s physician and director of the Showers Family Center at Akron Children’s. “Despite all the unpleasant things that came along with her intensive treatment, Taylor focused on playtime, crafts and being a princess. It was also obvious that throughout her journey she was surrounded and comforted by the love and support of her family and community. It’s wonderful to see Taylor’s spirit live on as her family and friends continue to spread joy to others. We’re so thankful for their kindness and generosity.”