Fighting for her future

Taylor Bustos had dreams of raising a child with her husband, Mark, in California. But those plans were put on hold when the now 22-year-old mother found out she had cancer. In 2018, shortly after giving birth to her son, Solomon, Taylor found out she had Hodgkin's Lymphoma. 

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Taylor and Mark shared a kiss in their kitchen, taking any quiet moment they can to show their love to one another while raising a one-year-old. Taylor had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma only a month after giving birth to their first son, Solomon. She had just spent the better part of a year battling cancer and was now cancer free. So she was trying to enjoy any sense of normalcy she could.
Taylor sat and laughed amongst her huge family on Thanksgiving as she did every year since she was a little girl. "Holidays give everyone a chance to feel a little bit normal," Taylor said.
Taylor opened the blinds to let some light into the apartment while Solomon laid next to her. They don't have a television in their apartment because both Taylor and Mark want to prioritize intentional family quality time "My family is a gift from the Lord and that means I have been blessed to enjoy them," Taylor said.
Taylor laid in a PET CT scanner as she prepared to get her first follow up scan since being declared cancer free six months earlier. "Going into that scan, it felt like facing the inevitable because I knew something wasn't right," she said. Taylor had felt the lump on her neck return and tried to prepare herself for the worst.
Taylor held tightly onto Mark and Solomon as her doctor broke the news that Taylor's cancer had returned. "I had six months of normal," she said. At the time Taylor had no desire or intention to undergo chemo therapy again, recalling the physical and emotional trauma it caused her last time. "It was physically and mentally unlike any other suffering I've ever gone through in my life and I didn't want to willingly say yes to going back there," Taylor said.
As winter in Duluth began to take hold, Taylor would bundle up Solomon and take him outside for some fresh air. Throughout the next week following her new diagnosis, Taylor struggled internally on whether to undergo chemotherapy again. She eventually had a revelation while reading a friend's post on Facebook about the loss of his father. She would fight again. "This cancer could kill me but don't I want my sweet son to know that I tried," Taylor said.
Taylor and Mark watched with joy as Solomon got his first ever haircut. After being re-diagnosed with cancer, Taylor took special comfort in life's simple pleasures like this moment with her family. "Solomon was joy in the midst of darkness, he is the reason that every single day there was at least one moment where we didn't think about cancer," she said.
After a day meeting with fertility specialists, Taylor returned home and immediately embraced Solomon. Mark is often left in the caretaker role while Taylor has to undergo treatment. He tries to make space for Taylor to connect with their son as much as possible. "I feel grateful that both Taylor and Solomon, through this all, can still enjoy one another," Mark said.
Taylor sleeps through most of her chemotherapy treatments as the potent drugs work to rid her body of cancer. Taylor's parents volunteer to watch Solomon as much as they can so Mark can accompany Taylor during treatment. Chemotherapy is unlike any other experience that a person can go through. "It's kind of surreal; you just have poison being pumped into your bloodstream," she said.
After a chemotherapy session, Taylor fell into a hug with her mother, Pam. She had been watching Solomon while Taylor was at the hospital. But after getting home, Taylor is always wiped and will often sleep for hours on end. "I go into chemo feeling normal and I leave and sleep for three days," she said.
After arriving in Rochester on March 2nd the family got to work getting settled in. This is where their family would live for the next three months while Taylor underwent her most toxic round of chemo therapy and a stem cell transplant at Mayo Clinic. Taylor's parents picked up their lives and traveled down with Taylor and Mark to help take care of both Solomon and Taylor. "It was a relief to know we didn't have to do it alone," Taylor said.
Mark and Taylor both got ready for bed in their temporary home in Rochester. They moved in a week before the United States started shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "We knew I'd have a weakened immune system and we'd have to quarantine; but suddenly the whole world had to quarantine too," Taylor said. This actually allowed her family to stay better connected with friends, family and church from Duluth.
Mark shaved Taylor's head in the basement of their Rochester home while her father, Jerry, played with Solomon. A few weeks after moving in, Taylor�s hair had began falling out one clump at a time. To her surprise, she wouldn�t be doing this alone either. The whole family shaved their heads in solidarity with Taylor which made her feel even stronger and supported.
Taylor felt her newly shaved head after Mark buzzed off all her hair. As she rubbed her head in this moment, one thought rang through her head: "this better freaking be the last time".
Taylor sat with Solomon and encouraged him to use the toilet as part of his potty training. Throughout both her battles with cancer, Taylor has watched Solomon grow up and has tried to have as much of a hand in raising him as possible. "You're not a bad mom because you have cancer," Taylor said.
After not seeing any loved ones for a week, Taylor was ecstatic to get back to her family. Taylor's dad and Solomon had been hard at work all morning drawing a welcome home sign for her and not even the rain could wash it away. "To be able to be hugged was a very welcome relief from despair," she said.
After undergoing intensive chemotherapy for the second time in her life, Taylor continues to wrestle with the trauma and emotional toll that other people don't get to see. "It can look like it's going well from the outside but when you literally want to die, the emotional side of things needs to be handled," she said. Taylor has started seeing a therapist and taking anti-depressants that have helped her mood immensely as she continues to process this experience.
After a long three months away from home, Taylor's doctors cleared her to return to Duluth. Her immune system had regenerated ahead of schedule and the doctors were stunned at how fast Taylor rebounded. "When we got home we both thought we'd get back to normal but we aren't there yet," Taylor said.
The whole family joined hands and prayed before dinner. God and faith are extremely important to them and has helped Taylor get through this difficult chapter in her life. The COVID-19 pandemic forced church to be held via live stream so Taylor was able to follow along even from 200 miles away. Her faith helped Taylor push through even the darkest moments of treatment. "Knowing I'm in the hands of such a faithful father made it peaceful," she said.
After being away from home for months, being able to crash in her own bed was the one thing Taylor was looking forward to the most. While laying down, Solomon decided to crawl onto the bed and join her, even if it was just for a few minutes. "Home for me has become Mark and Solomon and so whether we're in Rochester, whether we're in Duluth or whether we're in Timbuktu; I'm home when I'm with them," she said.