Diagnosis 4 Life

Taylor Bouma had a secret. All his life, he claimed to be a Christian. And he certainly could have been. His parents took him to church; they read the Bible and prayed with him. Taylor was a regular at Young Life club and summer camp. He knew how to act and what to say. No one would have ever guessed that in reality, Jesus was a complete stranger.

Typical High School Kid

Church had been a consistent part of Taylor’s life growing up in the small town of Mount Airy, North Carolina. But once he hit the middle school years, he refused to go anymore.

“The older I got, the more disinterested I was,” he said. “I saw it as a waste of time and something that wasn't for me. I did the bare minimum.”

When the high school years came along, life for Taylor got harder to navigate.

“My first two years of high school, I struggled to find myself and my self-worth,” he said. “I turned to partying and drinking and all sorts of things, except God. I attended Young Life, but just for the social aspect — to see friends and hang out. I wasn't usually paying that much attention.”

Eric Leathers has been the area director in Mount Airy for 15 years. He described Taylor as a “very typical high school kid.”

“We live in a small American town, so everyone is ‘supposed’ to know the Lord,” Leathers said. “It’s real easy where we live for people to assume you’re a Christian because of who your family is or because you’re a regular church attender. Kids are born into their faith, and it takes a while for them to realize they need to follow and love Jesus with their whole lives.”

In the fall of 2013, Taylor signed up for fall camp at Windy Gap, because “it was the thing to do.”

“I was ready to have a fun weekend away from home,” Taylor recalled. “But something strange happened. I found myself actually listening and paying attention to what the speaker was saying. And I wanted what they had to offer.

“Unfortunately, I was a very prideful kid in high school. Most of my friends were strong believers and had a relationship with Jesus, so I put on the front that I did as well. It was easier to pretend I knew than to ask someone to explain it to me. So not much changed for me.”

About the same time, Taylor started experiencing leg pain. He was treating it with medication and was for the most part still able to be an active teenager. When he signed up for a week at SharpTop Cove in July 2014, his mind was on having fun with his friends. The leg pain would have to wait.

“Over the course of the week, I really found myself focusing on the speaker and desperately wanting what the Lord was offering,” Taylor said. “But I had friends at camp who knew me to be a Christian. If I asked for help and said I wanted to begin a relationship, they would know that I had been lying.

“I had too much pride to let people know it was a front. I felt the Lord speaking to me and again, I turned away.”

The Turning Point

Two weeks after coming home from camp, Taylor went for a run. About halfway through, he called his mom.

“I couldn’t move without excruciating pain,” he said. “My dad and mom carried me into the emergency room because I couldn’t walk.”

Several scans, examinations and one surgery later, Taylor was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer with a bleak prognosis.

On the day of his surgery, he remembers Leathers sitting in the hospital foyer when his family walked in the door to admissions.

“He was there before I was there, and he prayed with me,” Taylor said. “I don’t think he knows that had the biggest impact on me.”

“I felt like that was going to be a really big deal, so I drove to the hospital to pray for them,” Leathers recalled. “I told them, whatever the outcome, Jesus knows, and we’ll get through it. That’s what I love about being in a small town; I know the kids, and I have the time. I wanted to be there.”

Taylor’s chemotherapy began a week later.

He said, “I felt fine. I thought, ‘It must not be the real thing,’ but it hadn’t hit me yet. My mom researched it, so she knew everything that was coming. By the third week, my hair was falling out everywhere. That was the first time my mom and I cried about it. It was the first time it felt real.”

That night, Taylor looked in the mirror — his bald head, stitches from incisions, and body weakened from disease and treatment stared back at him.

“Everything started coming back to me: Windy Gap and what the speaker said ... SharpTop and how I truly wanted to stand up at Say-So, but pride held me back.

“During those times I realized Jesus was speaking to me, and I was turning away from Him. But right then I knew, I can’t do this on my own. I prayed, ‘I know I can’t do it alone. I know you’ve always been there.’ And Jesus said, ‘I can help you. I’m here, and you need Me to get through this.’

“That night was overwhelming. A sense of peace came over me, and I knew whatever happened, I was going to be OK.”

Dialed In

From that moment on, everything changed. Taylor started attending Campaigners, reading his Bible daily and praying. And he talked about his faith like never before.

“I told my close friends about (my decision to follow Christ),” Taylor said. “They felt relief that they knew where I was putting my faith. To hear me say it out loud was comforting. They were as scared as I was.”

Leathers said Taylor’s yearlong battle with cancer was a testimony to everyone around him.

“You don’t get to see people really live out their faith that often,” he said. “Taylor knew he might die, but he was still showing up, reading his Bible, talking about his faith. That had a huge impact. Once he was really battling, he was dialed in. It was rapid maturity.”

Taylor finished treatment at the end of his junior year. One year after his diagnosis, he was cancer free. That was three years ago.

Since then, he’s served on work crew and summer staff, and is a freshman guys’ Young Life leader at the University of Alabama, where he’ll be a junior in the fall.

“My diagnosis was a turning point for my life,” Taylor said. “Ironically, my diagnosis is what gave me new life. Instead of my life ending, I feel like it’s just begun.”

Taylor has a testimony to share, but he wants to be sure his message is clear:

“I tell my freshman guys now, this isn’t how everybody comes to the Lord. It’s not always huge things. Everybody’s experience is different, and it doesn’t make it any less beautiful or encouraging. It just shows God knows what we need.

“It took a tragic event for me to realize what I had been missing. He didn’t orchestrate my diagnosis, but He brought me through it. He goes to the greatest lengths to bring us home.”