In the 20 years of life that I have been so blessed to live on this Earth, I have realized that the Lord has equipped me with double of that in experience—here’s what I mean:
Growing up, I had the family, I had the friends, I had good health, I had a roof over my head and never ever felt lonely or rarely do I ever even remember being sad. It was a good life as Taylor Heatherly! But also, growing up, there was a lack of something in my life. What was that something?
I’ll start out by saying as a child, I never really attended church. I think we always believed in God, but that was the extent of my “relationship” with church. My safe place was always my house—until it suddenly wasn’t anymore. Around the age of (I think) 8, I started noticing some changes in my father. He was just different? It was hard for me, at that young age, to really put my finger on what was happening. But it didn’t take long for that to change. Things with my father got beyond hard, and from there on out our relationship began to diminish. There was a lot of hurt because I felt betrayed—I felt that my mom was being betrayed. And that angered me. This issue of my father’s only got worse throughout middle school and it led to a rocky home life. Lots of yelling and fighting and it only instilled a huge anxiety and fear in me.
I carried this fear and this anxiety with me for a long time. Finally, my parents separated and that’s where I had to start growing up a little faster than your typical teenager. But the separation was something I wanted because I felt that was the answer to solving all of my anxiety and fear. As I began to enter into high school, I realized there was still all of those feelings—and some sort of void that NEEDED to be filled.
Freshman year, I started to become friends with the local pastor’s children—who I attended high school with. These two kids, who were my age, began to be my best friends—and started bringing me to church and youth group. Now THAT was something new for me—but I loved it. I felt safe. I felt happy. Not only did I begin to feel safe and happy at church but also I began to see new relationships being formed within the youth group. So, it is very fair to say that Sunday’s at church and Wednesday nights with the youth group became my safe place—and I LOVED IT.
But I noticed something about 2 months into hanging around this youth group—they had something and it was clear that I did not have it. And that something was the power of the Holy Spirit inside of them. I began to think about this whole salvation thing—could this be real? Was it for me, too?
One night at our youth group’s annual “messy games” (aka a night full of games using pudding, messy shaving cream, raw eggs, and nasty baby food) I ended up covered in all of these things by the end of the night—and as my youth pastor stood there talking about how just as messy as the stuff all over us is (literally) that Jesus, the Savior of the world, sees past that mess—AND STILL CHOOSES MEregardless of it. That is when it finally connected with me, that no matter how much “mess” or “baggage” I bring to the table—He has already met me right there. He was not denying me because of my mess. This is the moment I accepted Christ into my heart, and shortly later I was baptized—and y’all… my life really felt untouchable!
But boy was I tested.
About 3 months after I had started my new life in Christ, I woke up one morning with a softball sized lump on my neck. Now, let me just preface this with the fact that I never was sick. So, this lump was actually intriguing to me.
But not so much to anyone else around me—especially to my mom. SO, we were at a new doctor every day for a week getting blood drawn, ultra sounds done, you name it. It was done to me. And no doctor was able to be certain on what this mysterious lump was. We kind of just settled with the fact it was probably mono and we basically tried to go on with our lives.
A week after the lump originated on my neck, we spent some time in a new doctor’s office, where they began to take a chest x-ray of my chest—SPECIFICALLY only checking for bronchitis. But, bronchitis is not what was found on that scan.
The doctor walked into the room and the first words he said to me were …. “You have Lymphoma”.
Cancer? NO? No way. Not me. My life is going SO good… finally for once. HOW can this be happening to ME? WHY ME?
From this point on, which was December 15th 2014, I was admitted immediately to the hospital and this is where I began my 3 yearlong chemotherapy and treatment regimen for my final diagnosis which was Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. A whole mouthful, right?
Being 14 years old, and also being just a 3 month old NEW Christian, was HARD. I was faced with many questions but the main one being “Why Me?”. And it took me not too long to realize that the timing of my salvation was not an accident—more so, perfect for this moment.
God saved me in HIS timing because He knew I would need FAITH—something to cling to– I would need STRENGTH, and most importantly to my story I would need JOY, to get through stage 4 cancer. So my question of “why me” was answered. I knew that God had chosen me for this journey because He had given me this overwhelming sense of peace and JOY shortly into my treatment. I had peace knowing the Lord would bring me through this trial—but I also had JOY to bring a positivity to a really messy and scary situation.
So that is exactly how I got through my treatment. By utilizing the tools of JOY and positivity that the Lord had so evidently given me to tackle this illness. While I suffered through multiple side effects such as joint replacements, a stroke, blood clots, that still affect me to some capacity now during everyday life—on March 24th 2017, I took my last dose of chemo and officially became a cancer survivor!!
Now I am almost 6 years into this journey—and I wouldn’t change a single part of it for anything. The Lord never once left me during these times—and He was and is forever the reason I am alive today. I am thankful for what God brought me through. And while these times were still hard for me—it allowed me to have a forever grateful heart. A heart that is transformed by the LITERAL restorative and HEALING power of Jesus Christ.
This heart is still learning and growing every day— learning to love better, learning to forgive (being completely transparent this one is hard for me and Jesus is still working on me with this one), and most importantly learning to continue to let the JOY of the Lord be my source of hope and strength in even the toughest of situations. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me.