Employees at Ramona Post Office provided a special kind of delivery for Christmas this year to a Ramona family.
The Hay family — mom Debbie, dad Mark and daughter Taylor — came out of the house on Christmas Eve morning to the sound of a police siren. As a parade of mail trucks came up the drive with a police escort, 10-year-old Taylor waited in wonder.
“I said you would never guess in a million years what the surprise was going to be!” said the mom to the beaming girl.
Postal carrier Betty Ibarra brings mail to the Hay family. When U.S. Postal Service Supervisor Nick Bogeman let employees know the Ramona Post Office would be “adopting” a family for Christmas, Ibarra suggested the Hays. With bills topping $50,000 since Taylor’s treatment began on April 1 of last year, members of the Hay family were selected to be the recipients of the postal employees’ Christmas blessings. Postal workers began bringing gifts, donating cash and even arranged to have money from the employees’ morale and recreation fund given to the family.
Taylor is a sixth-grader at Ramona Community School. In December 2007, the search began to learn why she was having abdominal pain. In January 2008, Taylor underwent testing at Rady Children’s Hospital for what was thought to be appendicitis. After several tests following an appendectomy, a doctor at the UCSD pathology department found cancer markers and suggested another biopsy. That last biopsy provided a final diagnosis on March 24 — an “extremely rare” form of pediatric lymphoma. The specific name of it is Pre-Cursor B Non-Hodgkin Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.
Greg Roben, supervisor of customer service at the Ramona branch of the USPS, said Bogeman began the “adopt a family” program at the Ramona Post Office. Bogeman suggested that the program, started in San Jacinto, be brought to Ramona to show support for a local family in need.
“Nick also has a program in place,” said USPS public affairs representative Mike Cannone, “ensuring the letters to Santa Claus receive special handling in order to avoid delays or loss.”
A special computer program tracks the delivery and needs of the special letters. One by one, Bogeman handles each envelop with care.
“It is getting more difficult for privacy issues,” explained Bogeman. “The special handling program had to be stopped just a week ago.”
This year, said Roben, the employees were enthusiastic and pulled together en masse to provide a special Christmas for the Hay family. The Hays have been “overwhelmed with gratitude” and grateful for the generous support from the postal employees.
Employee Cheryl Ninteman said, “In the twenty years I’ve been there, it is the first time we’ve done that. Nick has such a heart for community service. He asked us to keep an eye and ear out for a family that might be experiencing some kind of difficulty. We heard about the Hay family through their carrier, Betty Ibarra, and we just ran with it.”
Ibarra, a postal employee for six years, has been the carrier on the Hay’s route for three years.
“I saw the name in the paper,” explained Ibarra, “and I recognized the name from my route. I told Nick about her and said we should do something special for her.”
The family received gifts as well as a considerable contribution collected from the employees.
“We wanted to be sure, if there was something special Taylor wanted and didn’t get, that she would also be able to get that special something,” said Roben. The needs of a family going through something like this become so great, the employees decided to ease the burden a little and provide a bit extra for the family to choose.
“You’re going to make me cry!” said the mom, visibly afffected by the show of generosity. “Thank you. Thank you everyone so much.”
Through her treatment, Taylor has continued to be a source of inspiration and hope for many.
“She was upset for a couple of days, but then she just came out and said ‘I know I am going to be all right,’" said her father Mark. "She has had an amazing attitude through all of this.”
Family photos on the wall show Taylor with pre-chemotherapy locks of long mahogany curls cascading to mid-back — reminiscent of those found on the fanciest dolls.
“Taylor asked the doctors if her hair was going to fall out,” said her mother. “When they said ‘yes,’ Taylor immediately said she wanted to donate it to other children for a prosthetic wig.”
Taylor has been hospitalized seven times, but is currently home and “trying to regain her strength” for another series of aggressive treatments. Although more treatments are scheduled, a recent PET scan shows the treatments appear to be working. Taylor will continue life as “normal as possible” through the two years of expected treatments.
Taylor is an actor, dancer, singer, equestrian, and public speaker — all at 10 years old. A sixth-grader at Ramona Community School, Hay missed 37 days of school last year.
“Taylor still had the third highest score in her class for math!” said her mother.
Taylor has been acting since age 3, performing in venues from screen to stage. Turning attention to the possibilities of helping other families, she is a source of inspiration for many families. Through public speaking engagements, she helps others understand a cancer diagnosis from the eyes of a child.
“Belief in God is the most important thing of all," she said. "I would also say to them that you need to take charge of your own medication and treatment, keeping journals of what you need, how much and when … It is important.”
Taylor is the Girl of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Attending speaking engagements at Olive Gardens throughout San Diego County, she says, “I may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me.” Marathon teams through the “Team in Training” have chosen Hay to be an honored teammate. The marathoners collect sponsors before events. When finished, the team donates the collected funds to the honored teammate’s program — the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
The dedication of the Hay family to helping others through such a life-altering diagnosis is evident at Taylor’s Web site. Originally set up in an attempt to raise funds to help pay for needed medical treatments, the site has blossomed into a nonprofit organization to help others.
"It quickly became apparent that this resource was needed for other families facing this life-altering challenge," the Web site states. "Thus the Believe In Taylor Foundation was born … dedicated to providing financial, emotional, and educational support to families stricken with pediatric cancers of all types.”
For more information about Taylor Hay, to leave a message for anyone in the Hay family or to find out how to help fight pediatric cancers, go to www.believeintaylor.org and go to the the Make A Difference page to discover ways in which to help. Needs go beyond “just” the financial aspect. The skills of volunteers might be just what the organization needs. Interested people are also able to e-mail the family at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about lymphoma, see the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Web site at www.lls.org.