Teenager has fought rare cancer for half her life

Tayla Saunders in 2012. Photo Tanya Easterby / The Gympie Times
Tayla Saunders in 2012. Photo Tanya Easterby / The Gympie Times Tanya Easterby

SHE'S been through more as a 14-year-old than most, but it hasn't stopped Tayla Saunders living every day to the fullest.

The Gympie teenager was diagnosed with alveolar soft part sarcoma just over half her life ago; a cancer which is rarely seen in children.

"As far as we know she's the youngest in the world to have it," Tayla's mother Natalie Saunders said.

After discovering a mass behind her shoulder blade at seven-years-old, Tayla was operated on.

Initially believed to be a cyst, Natalie remembers the day she found out her daughter's world had changed.

The phone call came while Natalie was picking Tayla up from school.

Natalie was told Tayla had an extremely rare childhood sarcoma and was required in Brisbane straight away.

"I think I just went numb. You hear those words and you just go into shock," Natalie said.

"At that time she was a healthy seven-year-old doing what healthy seven-year-olds do."

Tayla was operated on again, which produced a clear result. But Natalie was told the tumour was not chemo-sensitive.

"Because it was such a rare cancer nobody knew what was going to happen next," she said.

The operation was followed by six weekly check-ups in Brisbane, which became three monthly and eventually two yearly.

It was five-and-a-half years in the clear - until October 2013. After playing her favourite sport touch football one day, Tayla went home and coughed up blood. The tumour had progressed to her lungs, with tests revealing the 12-year-old had five lung tumours.

Surgery was not viable because the tumours were on both lungs and would have left Tayla with only a quarter of a lung if all tumours were removed.

Chemotherapy followed, but was unsuccessful.

"At that point we were told to go home and enjoy her," Natalie said.

Over the next year the tumours grew "minimally but not aggressively" and Tayla was set to start a trial drug this month.

But last month another "curve ball" changed everything.

Severe headaches and vision loss prompted more tests.

They revealed Tayla had four brain tumours.

"They have basically said to us that there is no cure for this but they will try to manage the tumours so they have the best outcome," Natalie said. "We now take every day as it comes."

After 10 cycles of radiation to the brain, oral chemotherapy and steroids to help with swelling, Tayla has just returned from a three week stay in Brisbane.

She will have a scan in the next two months to reveal the outcome of the treatment.

"I think as a mum you just want to protect your children and keep them as safe as possible," Natalie said.

"If there's even a half a per cent chance that something will work we're giving it a go."

In the meantime Tayla is on up to 15 tablets a day, but it hasn't stopped her from being her vivacious, funny, kind-hearted and spirited self.

She has even formed a friendship with Gordon Tallis after meeting him at a fundraiser launch and didn't stop smiling last week after he visited her in hospital.

"She lives every day to the fullest she can," Natalie said.

"She's a typical 14-year-old girl who doesn't sweat the small stuff anymore because she had to grow up so fast. She's proud of who she is - that's the type of person she is.

"I don't expect her to be anyone else."

To donate

 THE Uniting Church Child Care Centre has set up an account for donations to Tayla Saunder's cancer treatment.

 The funds will help towards medication and Brisbane travel and parking.

 Account name: SCIC - Supporting Chemotherapy in Cooloola

 BSB: 633-108

 Account Number: 126209121

 Reference: Tayla Saunders

 Inquiries: Marlene Owen 0402 286 571.

 Receipts: Email with name/company and donation amount.


 THE Empire Hotel will hold a number of raffles in the upcoming months to raise money for Tayla Saunder's cancer treatment.

 Look out for information on Friday Night Football, meat trays, an Easter raffle and a mother's day raffle.

 Inquiries Michelle 5481 2882.

Gympie Times

Topics:  cancer health

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