Mother focuses on building her child’s legacy

Taylor Stewart, 14, died Sept. 7, 2012 from leukemia

* The Taylor Stewart Don’t Stop Believing Project
* Richmond County Animal Advocates
* NC Children’s Hospital

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Lorrie Stewart is technologically challenged. So much so, in fact, that her only daughter would be LOLing at the idea of Lorrie putting anything on Facebook.

Shortly before Taylor died, it occurred to Lorrie that only Taylor knew the passwords to her email and other online activities.

Call this the accidentally perfect shot. It was a last-minute thought by Flashes of Hope photographer to have Taylor run her hands through her hands. Taylor's Mom, Lorrie, said Taylor seemed a bit apprehensive at first but, as you can see, quickly got into the act.

Call this the accidentally perfect shot. It was a last-minute thought by Flashes of Hope photographer to have Taylor run her hands through her hands. Taylor’s Mom, Lorrie, said Taylor seemed a bit apprehensive at first but, as you can see, quickly got into the act.

“I think it’s just difficult for me,” Lorrie said. “I’m not very technology oriented. I had to have someone come and help me (who) really had to teach me. Everybody in my cancer family world knows that I’m terrible at it.”

There has, however, been progress.

“I can post pictures now,” Lorrie said, to Facebook. “I’ve learned how to do that.”

Taylor’s giggling can no longer be heard. She died inside her Norman home on Sept. 7, 2012 at the age of 14. Two years earlier, the Temple Christian Academy student had been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia — adult leukemia. Lorrie, a former corrections officer, now spends much of her time on The Taylor Stewart “Don’t Stop Believing” Project. Some of that requires utilizing social media to help solicit donations of pet supplies for a local animal advocacy nonprofit or toys for other young patients at North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

“We were there the majority of two years,” Lorrie said during a recent visit to The Pee Dee Post. “A lot of people bring gifts to the kids. It just brightens their day.”

The busiest time of year is Christmas, Lorrie said.

“Everybody brings gifts,” Lorrie said. “If it’s a holiday, everybody brings gifts.”

But there are plenty of days that far too many young people are patients at North Carolina Children’s Hospital on days that don’t fall on holidays.

“The hospital is always full,” Lorrie said, of children with far too much time to dwell on what ails them. And the pain. There’s too much pain.

Taylor, she said. “smiled all the time.” But the smiles only mask, and not truly hide, the truth.

“They are in so much pain, 24/7,” Lorrie said. “It’s unbelievable how sick those kids are up there. But they smile and look forward to seeing each other.”

Some children, however, are restricted from any visitors and forced to remain in their single rooms due to the lack of an immune system.

This Flashes of Hope photo shows Lorrie and Taylor Stewart, all smiles despite two years of chemotherapy and other leukemia treatments that ultimately took Taylor's life at age 14.

This Flashes of Hope photo shows Lorrie and Taylor Stewart, all smiles despite two years of chemotherapy and other leukemia treatments that ultimately took Taylor’s life at age 14.

At first, Lorrie began trying to fulfill one of her daughter’s final wishes all by herself. All too soon, however, she realized she was going to need some help. This year, she’s hoping churches and businesses will get on board with adopting a week or month of the year in which to collect donations of pet supplies or age-appropriate toys for children inside the Chapel Hill hospital.

Taylor’s former school has taken April, and June is full as well. Last month, Ellerbe Methodist and Mount Pleasant United Methodist churches put in place two containers, one marked for animals and another for children. The containers were filled by churchgoers and given to Lorrie. The pet supplies were delivered to Richmond County Animal Advocates on Thursday; the toys will be delivered when Lorrie makes her bimonthly trip to Chapel Hill on Feb. 12. It happens to be Lorrie’s 50th birthday.

“I can’t think of a better way to honor my child,” Lorrie said.

Items are intended to be for children ages newborn to 18 and can be toys, puzzles, arts & crafts, paints, books, games, small soft blankets/throws, Beanie pillows and iTunes or Amazon.com gift cards for older kids.

For the animals, RCAA seeks dry or wet dog and cat food, trees, toys, beds, crates and blankets.

Lorrie said some people are unsure what exactly to buy. There’s still a way to help. A project fund has been established at Community One Bank. Make checks payable to Lorrie Stewart (Taylor) and send them to:
Lorrie Stewart (Taylor)
in c/o Community One Bank
115 Sunset Ave.
Ellerbe, NC 28338

‘She knew where she was going’

One morning shortly after her 10th birthday, Taylor woke up and said her wrist hurt. It was a little swollen. Lorrie took her to the doctor’s office.

“By the next day, it was fine,” Lorrie said. “It wasn’t bothering her.”

The two figured Taylor had simply slept on it wrong. Three weeks later, Taylor woke up and said her neck hurt. Not thinking about the wrist, the two figured, again, that she must have slept on it wrong. What they didn’t know was that her body was under attack — an attack for which measures were delayed after a visit to a doctor in Pinehurst.

Lorrie said Taylor’s knee began to hurt. It was a little swollen. One night while Lorrie was at work at Brown Creek Correctional Institute in Polkton on the midnight shift, she received a phone call. It was Taylor.

“‘It hurts really bad, Mom,'” Taylor said. “‘I need you to come home.'”

A trip to a Pinehurst doctor did nothing to alleviate Taylor’s pain or Lorrie’s growing concern. Not satisfied, the Stewarts took Taylor to Dr. Bohdan Kopynec in Ellerbe.

Taylor was in so much pain, Lorrie said, “her father had to carry her in.”

Kopynec didn’t waste any time. He ordered the family to get to UNC-Chapel Hill’s emergency department. Kopynec thought it might be rheumatoid arthritis, Lorrie said.

That was Aug. 24. Taylor had been 10 for all of 11 days. From UNC-Chapel Hill, they were sent to North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

“We didn’t leave for like six months,” Lorrie said. “Ninety-three percent of her cells were leukemic. You have to be below 4 (percent) to be in remission.”

Life got better for Taylor and her family. At the very least, she was able to experience more than a little life. In fact, it seemed she was trying to cram as much in as possible, including a Make-a-Wish Foundation-funded trip to the Country Music Awards show. Her favorite artists included Taylor Swift and  Jason Michael Carroll. Carroll, from Youngsville, N.C., visited Taylor and other children at North Carolina Children’s Hospital. When Taylor died, Lorrie said, Caroll was on the other side of the country when he heard the news and immediately flew back.

Lorrie said WQDR 94.7 FM, a country music radio station in Raleigh, helped to “make sure (Taylor) hit every concert she could possibly hit that summer.”

Along with help from the outside, Lorrie herself worked to make Taylor’s life at North Carolina Children’s Hospital a little brighter. Even today, the hospital’s Facebook page notes that Taylor’s room was among the best decorated.

“I’m a little OCD,” Lorrie said. “Halloween was super-awesome. Everybody knew her (and) knew her room.”

There was a theme for every month. There was, however, nothing that could cure Taylor of leukemia. Lorrie said Taylor asked how long she had to live, and they answered in honest but more general terms, never offering the real answer of only up to a few more months.

“I knew what kind she had and I knew how serious it was,” Lorrie said. “On Halloween, when she told me her knee was hurting, I knew.”

Lorrie said Taylor was dealt well with the inevitable — in a more adult-like manner than any 14-year-old girl ever should be required to portray.

“She was fine,” Lorrie said. “She knew where she was going.”

‘Don’t stop believing’

Life after Taylor was — well, no life at all. Or so Lorrie first thought.

“The first year after she passed … you were lucky if I made it out of the house. She was my only child. This was my everything.”

Soon, though, she remembered Taylor’s last requests — to help the other sick children and to help animals. Taylor loved pets, and she had met Allison Sweatt, of Richmond County Animal Advocates, during her illness.

Down but not out, Lorrie began The Taylor Stewart Don’t Stop Believing Project. It’s a phrase, Lorrie said, “that can go for anything. It doesn’t necessarily only have to be for fighting cancer.”

Bad grades. A bad relationship.

“Just don’t stop believing that it won’t get better,” Lorrie said. “For me, it’s just don’t stop believing in God. His plan may not be your plan, but it’s the best plan there is. I know where Taylor’s at. He needed her for some special things in Heaven.”

If interested in helping Lorrie carry out Taylor’s last wishes, contact her at 910-331-9990.

Filed in: Ellerbe/Norman, Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Religion

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