When Cooper passed away, I opened my email shortly after to find a heart-wrenching email from the younger sister of a patient who had lost his valiant battle with sarcoma. Her name was Tayla Zandona, and her words resonated with me deeply, and could have only come from someone who had lived the unspeakable devastation of sarcoma.
Tayla had lost her much- loved older brother Kyle to sarcoma at the age of 25, at a time when he had his whole life ahead of him. Every day she relives that pain, yet this extraordinary young woman still found the capacity to reach out to our family and to register her support.
Fast forward to a month ago, when Tayla and her equally lovely partner Damon came to visit us in Sydney, and it felt like we had known each other for longer. Certainly for my husband and I, there was an instant bond. The friendship was formed through the commonality of sarcoma, and yet I felt there was so much more – strong family values, a country upbringing, and the determination to succeed no matter what, which I saw so much of in Cooper.
I was delighted and somewhat surprised when I realised some weeks later, this remarkable young lady, was intent on fundraising for CRBF. This was never expected, and a very big part of me felt considerably uncomfortable with the notion, as I did not want our friendship to be based on what Tayla should or could do for the Foundation.
Nevertheless, she forged on and literally weeks after we met, on Saturday December 1, she and her amazing cohort of friends, contacts, and supporters in the Griffith region, raised $4300 for clinical research into sarcoma. This was done by a joint initiative between F45 Training in Griffith, and their trainer Andy Gamble, and the Yenda Diggers who hosted a summer session barbecue lunch with Hidden Temple providing the entertainment. Tayla also arranged a raffle, with all prizes generously donated by businesses in Griffith and Yenda.
Words really do elude me, when I am faced with an example of such pure generosity of spirit. Tayla could be forgiven for simply not wanting to look back, after what she has been through, and yet she is so driven to make a difference in the lives of sarcoma patients, by raising funds for clinical research.
I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Tayla’s family, however judging by the wonderful young woman she is, one can only imagine, they must be extraordinary.
Tayla, words really cannot express our gratitude to you for our kindness, and thoughtfulness, especially given the hand of cards you have been dealt. It goes without saying – you set the bar very high for all of us.
Your precious brother Kyle would be justifiably proud of your courage and determination, and the difference you are making in the lives of young sarcoma patients everywhere.
Tayla’s deeply touching tribute to her brother Kyle, written in her own words, appears below.
Kyle’s story starts in August 2009, returning home a little sore from a weekend trip to the snow. For only a couple of tumbles while skiing the pain was not subsiding almost a week later. All of that was put on hold when we got the devastating news that Kyles best friend had passed away. He took it upon himself to look after everyone else thinking it was only a pulled muscle. Until Kyle could no longer hide the pain as he started limping and his thigh started to swell. It was then we decided it was not a normal muscle tear despite what one of the local doctors were saying and treating it as.
Four months later on the 16th December 2009, Kyle found himself sitting in Sydney doctor’s consulting room being told at the age of 18 years that he had a tumour the size of a deflated football growing on his right femur, Osteosarcoma.
His treatment began Christmas Eve 2009 three rounds of chemo, major leg surgery that followed in February 2010, doctors had planned to remove right femur, radiate it, then to return it back. Two days prior to surgery there was a change in plans as doctors had revealed that chemo had not worked as well as we all hoped. They then decided to replace 70 percent of his leg with a titanium prophesises (just below the hip to below the knee). After surgery another three rounds were planned until the second sent him into renal failure and he was left fighting for his life.
18 months later October 2012 a PET scan revealed our worst nightmare, it had returned in his left lung which doctors immediately removed, which lead to an extremely painful recovery, Agony with every breath he took. Five months later March 2013, another lung surgery as it has return again in his right lung this time. Three months later June 2013 with chemo to commence again in July an inpatient for three weeks straight.
August 2014 another lung surgery but this time the cancer had attached itself to two ribs which doctors had to remove and rebuild his diaphragm. April 2015 another surgery. June again for his 5th lung surgery another two ribs were taken and more diaphragm rebuilt. August 2016 it had returned again protruding and growing at a rapid pace. Doctors then tried chemo injections. October 2016 more chemo then returned home.
December 25th 2016 at the age of 25 Kyles seven year battle came to an end.
Even though osteosarcoma took up a large part of Kyle’s life, he never let it define him. As soon as you stepped off the hospital grounds you were forbidden to speak of it, “what happens in hospital stays in hospital”. He wouldn’t simply just walk out of hospital it would be a sprint even though doctors had said he “would never be able to run again”.
The man we remember was an old soul with a heart of gold, the definition of brave, courageous and selfless, a country boy. The only thing he wanted was to follow his father’s footsteps and take over the family farm. He showed this at the age of 18 months old, he would climb out of his cot, pull a chair to the door to unlock it, head out onto the farm at 3am in his little bananas in pyjamas gumboots, a nappy and a singlet ready to help with the harvest.
At the age of nine he was driving the tractors begging mum and dad to stay home from school so he could help as there wasn’t anything important happening at school. Two weeks after major leg surgery you would most likely find yourself resting and doing your exercises. Not Kyle, he somehow he had snuck out of the house for us to find him climbing up backwards into the tractor because he just wanted to go for a drive.
If you couldn’t find Kyle out on the farm you would find him with his mates creating “engineering master pieces” as he would say. Until dad got the phone call saying “your son built on council land again and he had to take it down”.
As he matured he started showing his love for the community. He was one of the youngest men to ever join rotary Australia, it was his way of thanking god at a second chance of life. He also got nominated for young Australian of the year and turned it down as there were others who deserved it more than himself.
He was able to live his dream of hiring a big RV and travel across the US not once but twice.
The infectious smile he wore all day when he ran out screaming he was going to godfather to a beautiful baby girl. That smile continued when he got the chance to humiliate his mate in front of everyone as it was his job to, being best man and all.
That smile will be forever be engraved in our hearts.
Like so many others, another life that
was cut short.
27.10.1991 – 25.12.2016