Photo by Matt Stensland
Eight-year-old Taylen Zabel, right, with her older sister, 12-year-old Tyanna, at their home. Taylen was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, on April 9, 2007. After several months of healing, she is finally done with chemotherapy.
Hayden More than a year after she spent her seventh birthday in the hospital, Taylen Zabel is finally done with chemotherapy.
Smiling shyly from under a pink hat Tuesday, Taylen talked about the family's planned visit to Disney World through the Make-A-Wish Foundation in November.
What's she most excited about?
"Meeting a princess," said Taylen, now 8. Part of her wish was to have a meal with a Disney princess - or several of them.
Taylen was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, on April 9, 2007. After surgery and months of chemotherapy and radiation, she's ready to heal. And so is the rest of the Zabel family. Her mother, Gina Zabel, is principal of Hayden Middle School, and her father, Ty Zabel, teaches and coaches wrestling at Hayden High School.
"I know that through this, my mom and I both think it's changed us," said Tyanna Zabel, Taylen's 12-year-old sister. "Our whole family has become closer together. Taylen and I used to fight all the time. Now, we're close."
Tyanna and Taylen shared an ottoman in the living room as they talked about the experience. Tyanna was there all the way, through most of Taylen's trips to The Children's Hospital in Denver. So was Taylen's stuffed bunny, White Baby. She has had the rabbit since she was 6 months old.
"She's been through everything Taylen's been through," Gina Zabel said of the toy. "She went into surgery; she got shots."
Although Taylen will have to have regular MRIs until she is in eighth grade - she enters third this fall - the trips to Children's are tapering off. The process hasn't been easy.
"It's all hard," Gina Zabel said of the past 14 months. "I think just watching your kids go through a painful experience. But she's really strong, so that's great. Things that make us nervous don't bother her."
Ty Zabel shared a similar sentiment.
"She's the strength for all of us," he said.
The family kept Taylen's life as normal as possible, Gina Zabel said. She went to school when she wasn't going through chemo. Her schoolmates have been supportive even when Taylen lost her hair. Hayden Valley Elementary Principal Rhonda Sweetser has been Taylen's "mom away from mom," Gina Zabel said.
The family also still has money from a benefit at Hayden Daze last summer. The community has donated more than $50,000 to the family for medical and travel expenses. Donations to the Taylen Zabel Benefit Fund at Mountain Valley Bank in Hayden are still accepted.
"We thank everybody all the time for their support, their love, their care and their prayers," Gina Zabel said. "That's probably why we're where we are. We have a lot of people praying for us all over the world."
Taylen has big plans in addition to the Disney World trip - and plenty of horseback riding. She and Ty Zabel's father, Curtis, are going to walk the cancer survivors' lap at the Relay for Life fundraiser event in August. Several of Ty Zabel's students also plan to walk. They're calling themselves Taylen's Angels.
What's most important, Gina Zabel said, is that her daughter still is the same Taylen.
"You're still you," she said, smiling at her daughter. "We want people to know this hasn't changed you."
Taylen smiled again from her seat, blue eyes shining.
"Yeah," she agreed.
- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org