WINLOCK — Karen Owen can hear her boisterous 13-year-old daughter loudly horsing around with her best friend in a room down the hall. For most moms, having to tell a rowdy teen to pipe down would feel like a hassle. But for Owen, it feels more like a blessing, because ordinary moments like these are long-hoped-for signs that her daughter is finally getting better.
Since Halloween of 2005, her daughter, Taylor Rehmeyer, has been fighting a rare, stubborn type of brain cancer that has returned three times. In an effort to finally beat the aggressive tumor lodged behind her left ear, Taylor earlier this year became one of the first children to be treated with an emerging, high-tech form of radiation at Philadelphia’s Roberts Proton Therapy Center.
This Halloween, Taylor and her mother got wonderful news from their team of doctors in Seattle: Taylor is not in remission yet, but she’s well on her way.
“They showed us that it is shrinking significantly. Everybody was extremely pleased,” Owen said.
Still, Taylor’s journey back to normal teenage life isn’t complete. And it’s been anything but easy.
During an interview at her home in mid-December, Taylor recalled the rough recovery period that followed her return to Winlock in September.
For several weeks, she was so tired that she couldn’t make it through a day of school.
“It got really bad for a while,” Taylor said, recalling a period of about a month when she slept as much as 20 hours a day.
“You know that feeling when your first wake up in the morning and you don’t want to do anything — you just want to lay in bed? Everything was just drained out of me,” Taylor explained.
Even though doctors had advised Owen it might happen, seeing her daughter sleep so much was frightening.
“They warned me about the 20 hours of sleep, but it was hard not to feel some panic, and then some sorrow, because you know what their bodies must be going through to recover,” Owen said.
But a few weeks ago, Taylor began to get her pep back.
“I’m still tired sometimes, but I have a lot more energy. It just went away after a time. I feel way better,” Taylor said.
A yearning to play basketball for Winlock Middle School helped her get back on her feet.
“I didn’t care whether I was hurting or not. I was going to play basketball. That’s my main sport!” Taylor said.
She wasn’t able to make every practice. She was once so tired that her coach told her he’d count it if she just showed up and watched the other girls practice. But she played as hard as she could, often until the point where she was completely exhausted. On the court, Taylor felt like herself for the first time in ages.
“The rush of your first game — the feeling of adrenaline is amazing. Getting on the court and making shots for your team is amazing,” Taylor said.
“She pushed hard through it. We would come home from practice and she would be out cold,” Owen remembered.
The experience of watching her daughter take physical risks again for the first time filled Owen with both delight and terror.
For months, she had anxiously protected her daughter from every possible germ and injury. Now Taylor was scrapping on the court, mixing it up with energetic, and sometimes aggressive girls.
“When she would take a blow to her head it was panicky. ...It was just scary to watch her all the time,” Owen said.
But during discussions with her daughter’s doctors, “every one of them said, ‘Not only can she play, but she should play,’” Owen said, “I knew. emotionally, she needed it.”.
Other things haven’t been as easy. Owen is “still getting back on track” financially and professionally, after taking a long hiatus from running her business, though she was able to take her first weekend away in several years, for some much-needed R&R, she said.
And Taylor isn’t in the clear yet. In the spring, she will return to the doctor for another brain scan. At that point, doctors will determine what, if any, treatment Taylor needs to eradicate the tumor. If and when the tumor has been gone for a year, it will be safe to say that Taylor is in remission.
While they wait for further good news, Taylor’s family, teachers, and friends are focusing on the little victories of her recovery, Owen said.
“It was an overwhelming sense of pride to see her push herself and say, ‘I’m not going to give up basketball for anything.’” Owen said. “That made me so proud of her because I knew how hard it was to do what was so much easier for other kids.”