Funeral arrangements should be the furthest thing from a teenager's mind, but unfortunately it is on 17-year-old Zachary Taylor's check list.
The New Martinsville resident has only been given one-to-two weeks to live and he wants to make it as joyous and carefree as possible. In his mind that includes making the needed arrangements.
So Zachary and his parents, Steve and Paula Taylor, met with Weldon Williams of Jarvis-Williams Funeral Homes Monday to plan the eventual event. Zachary has even written his own obituary.
The family of Zachary Taylor, seated, is committed to helping him live his final time on this earth as fully as possible. Plans for this week include birthday parties, prom, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. (Photo by Amy Witschey)
The only problem with the planning is that he knew a funeral would be a financial burden on his family. Williams led him to a way to fund a basic funeral, even slashing regular prices considerably, but some incidental costs are unavoidable. To pay for those, Williams opened the Zachary Taylor Trust Account at WesBanco where anyone can make a donation to help ease this young man's mind of financial worries during his final days.
"I thought, if everyone would just go to WesBanco and donate even one dollar, then it would all be paid for," said Williams. With Zachary's permission, the idea moved forward and donations can be made at any WesBanco branch.
Zachary's battle with cancer began at only five months of age. He had a Wilms tumor, a type of kidney cancer. After a year of treatments, he was declared cancer free.
That diagnosis was true until the age of 14. "That's when it bombarded me," said Zachary.
He had an osteosarcoma, bone tumor, in his right arm and shoulder. The treatment that should have taken a little over a year ended up taking 52 weeks thanks to a few setbacks, but at least the cancer was beat. . . or so it seemed.
Three months after treatment ended Zachary was found to have another osteosarcoma on his ribs and both lungs. He had surgery to remove the tumors on April 8 and 23, 2010, but it was not followed by chemotherapy treatment because he had already had all of the chemotherapy available during his previous bout with the ravaging disease.
Zachary returned to a normal life. "I was eating well and exercising, being active," he said. He even attended the 2010 Town and Country Days fair where he had great fun watching his brother compete in the mud bog.
But it was on the next to last day of the fair that he noticed some bruises on his back. "We didn't think anything of it, just maybe it was from riding a ride or something," said Paula.
Then the bruises developed into petachiae, a red rash created from broken capillaries, a common symptom of leukemia. As it turned out, Zachary had acute myeloid leukemia, AML. The disease starts with blood forming cells and settles in bone marrow.
His was a case of M5-a more than moderate version of the disease that is rated on a 0-8 scale. He took experimental drugs and treatment, but the disease remained.
His family rallied around him, even getting and wearing "Team Zac" shirts in the leukemia orange motif to symbolize his fight against the vicious disease.
Zachary couldn't wait for a bone marrow donor to be found and since his dad was a 50 percent match, the family decided to use his lifeblood.
On Oct. 22 and 23, 2010, the transplant took place. Surprisingly Zachary's body took the marrow as if it was a 100 percent match. Usually bone marrow recipients are in the hospital for 30 days after the procedure. But, says Paula, "Zachary had done so well that he was only there for 18 days."
Since April he had been enjoying fairly good health. On Nov. 4 he went for his one-year after the transplant check up. Paula asked the doctor to check into why her son, for about one week prior to the appointment, had been not eating and drastically losing weight.
They found he had a fever and his hemoglobin was low. He received eight bags of blood in a transfusion.
Zachary was losing blood and they didn't know where it was going. A scan revealed he had a tumor on his left lung. "They also realized at that time that his leukemia was back," reported Paula.
In two days the tumor had grown from the size of a nickel to the size of a two-year-old's fist. It is now the size of a softball and is pressing against his heart.
Doctors at St. Jude's Children's Research, Columbus, and Pittsburgh hospitals didn't want to do surgery on the tumor as they were afraid he would die on the table and it would only, at best, give him two more months to live.
That is when Zachary decided he simply wanted to live during his final time on this earth. Tuesday night the family was planning a trip to see the Festival of Lights at Oglebay, an activity requested by Zachary.
Tonight from 6-8 p.m. they are having a combination Sweet 16 birthday party for his sister Missy Taylor (birthday Dec. 19) and 18th birthday party for Zachary (birthday Dec. 23) at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in New Martinsville, the family's worship home. It will also include a "prom" as Bethany Ingold has asked Zachary to go to the prom with her, but he'll never be able to attend that teenage institution in the traditional fashion.
Then Saturday at 5 p.m. there will be a big Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner at the church. Attendees are asked to bring an ornament for a "Zachary" tree the family will erect every year to keep him part of their holidays in a tangible way.
It's a sad story, but Zachary insists that no tears be shed. . . well, at least as few as possible. His philosophy is FROG-Forever Rely On God-and to never give up.