TCU sophomore remembered for her joy

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Taylor Helland chose joy.

Taylor, a sophomore at TCU, died last weekend. She had been receiving treatment for Signet Ring Cell Adenocarcinoma, a rare form of colon cancer.

“She was always finding joy,” said Bob Helland, Taylor’s father. “Even when she was in really massive pain and had really big problems.”

Her family held a celebration for Taylor on Friday at First Mansfield Methodist Church in Mansfield.

Prepared for the worst

Many things brought Taylor joy. Butterflies. Pizza Snob. Ed Sheeran.

Taylor was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, when she was 14. She underwent chemotherapy and a dramatic surgery in Houston. Seven months later, the cancer returned.

“She went into the emergency room for abdominal pain,” Bob Helland said. “They said there were two huge masses.

“We got ready for her to die then.”

But 12 rounds of chemotherapy and another invasive surgery bought Taylor some time. Doctors determined the cancer was contained in her ovaries. They removed them.

Bob Helland recalled doctors telling the family “we think we got it all.”

Before she started TCU, doctors found a mass in the back of Taylor’s abdomen. She underwent chemotherapy her entire first year of school. She would get treatment on Sundays and get up for classes on Mondays, Bob Helland said.

When TCU 360 chronicled Taylor’s story in 2014, she said she understood how grim her outlook was.

“I was at a point in my life where I was talking to my pastor about what heaven was going to be like, and I kind of just accepted that,” Taylor said in 2014.

Chemo didn’t work this time.

Her condition worsened, and Taylor took a leave of absence from TCU last fall. She spent a month in the hospital.

“When she was in the hospital, she said ‘I just want to go home,” Bob Helland said. “When we got home, we asked her, ‘What do you want now?’ ”

“She said, ‘I just want y’all to be happy.”

Taylor died on the morning of Feb. 20. She was buried on Monday.

Inspiring others

Taylor’s motto was “Choose joy.”

Throughout her treatment, Taylor wanted to make an impact on others, Bob Helland said. She spoke at various charity events and fundraisers for pediatric cancer. Her first speaker appearance came at a press conference for the American Cancer Society.

“We had been inside the story so much,” Bob Helland said. “That was the first time we got to step back and be part of the story from the outside.”

Taylor and her family got involved with multiple causes, including Be+ Foundation, the Michael P. Brown Colon Cancer Foundation, and the Fabulous Faith Foundation. The organizations helped the family cover various expenses.

“She just decided real early in her treatments and in her journey that she wanted to try and do something positive rather than just hide and cry and be upset,” Bob Helland said. “She said [she wanted] to try and prevent…another 14-year-old girl from having to go through this.”

Her family kept a blog detailing Taylor’s journey. The site has racked up almost 500,000 visits since her diagnosis.

“We knew that she had inspired a lot of people and touched a lot of people, but we didn’t really realize it until last Friday when we put on Caring Bridge that the hospital was thinking it was only a matter of days,” Bob Helland said.

Taylor, who was a strategic communication major, was a member of the Chi Omega sorority. The Helland family has received an outpouring of support from members of the sorority across the country, Bob Helland said. Members of the sorority’s chapter of TCU held a memorial service for Taylor on Sunday.

“The Chi Omegas have just been a blessing to us,” Bob Helland said.

But it’s not just Chi Omega. Hundreds of social media users have expressed their condolences and support for the family. A GoFundMe page for the family has raised more than $38,000 in three days

“I never really asked for money for us because I didn’t want to make this into a money thing,” Bob Helland said. “I always asked people to donate to other places.”

Friday’s celebration was simple.

“We’re going to talk about joy,” Bob Helland said.