Kelly Taylor and I have a lot of things in common. We both married our high school sweethearts. We married young and started our families. We've both dealt with the ups and downs of our husbands and their bull riding careers and we both love Jesus. But we differ tremendously when it comes to the "fire" we've had to walk through that tests our faith. I'm learning not to compare testimonies because everyone's if very unique because our God created us that way, but I admire and hold in great esteem the woman you're about to read about. She has been through so much, but has remained steadfast in her love for God, never blaming Him, perhaps asking him "why," but she knows for sure that He's a good Father. Get your seat belts on because this is what "Brave" looks like!
When I was first asked to share my “Brave” story, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I am usually a private person when it comes to health issues involving my family. My husband is an even more private person than I am. I also wondered if anyone would even want to hear my story. A close friend kept reassuring me that there would be someone that NEEDED to hear it, and that I would be a blessing to someone out there. Maybe you are that someone.
Cole and I met and began dating when we were teenagers at 15 & 16, and got married when we were still teenagers at 18 & 19. People thought we were too young, and that it wouldn’t work out. Well, we just celebrated our 11th anniversary by going out to eat sushi in western Oklahoma and a trip to Atwood’s without kids. Sometimes it’s the little things that keep a marriage going! We’ve been through a lot in our eleven years of marriage. My dad once told me that he feels Cole and I have been through more in our marriage than most people will in fifty years of marriage.
Cole has been around rodeo his entire life, and he is a third generation cowboy. He’s won more saddles and buckles since childhood than I can even count. He made an incredible ride in 2007 in Oklahoma City that sealed the deal for him to qualify for the 2007 PBR Finals. We decided that next year that we would start our family. Calli Paige was born in February 2009. Cole’s rodeo career slowed down a little after she was born. We were both working full time jobs and trying to figure out how to make ends meet. In May of 2010, while Cole was thinking about making a major job change, we decided to spend Memorial Weekend at the lake camping with my parents and some family friends. We had been out on the boat knee boarding all day and Cole had a pretty good wipeout so we decided to call it a day. The next morning he woke up with a golf ball size lump protruding from his neck. We first thought maybe he had pulled a muscle, but he wasn’t hurting at all. It was one of those moments that we knew something wasn’t right. I called the doctor on Tuesday morning and told him I was concerned about my husband. Tuesday afternoon the doctor called us and wanted us to come meet him at his office. Something had to be wrong. He told us that he thought Cole had thyroid cancer, and he had already made us an appointment on Friday in Oklahoma City with an ENT that specialized in cancer.
We were scared to say the least! How could my 24 year old husband; father to our 16 month old daughter; high school sweetheart; healthy as a horse person that rarely fell ill, have the “c word” thrown at him? The next couple of years felt like a blur. Cole had major surgery to remove the tumor. The doctors also had to remove all of the lymph nodes on the left side and center of his neck, a nerve, and a major muscle connecting from his neck to his shoulder. We ended up at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa after the surgery. We were blessed with amazing doctors and nurses, some of whom have become lifelong friends. He took a round of radioactive iodine treatment to kill the remaining cancer. After three months, we went back for a scan to find out that the cancer in his neck was not entirely gone, and that a couple very small spots were detected on his lungs. He went back for an even bigger dose of radioactive iodine. The treatment involves 3-5 days of complete hospital isolation followed by an extra precaution of isolation from other people and especially small children for two weeks. This proved to be incredibly hard on all of us, especially Calli. The second round of treatment was successful! We were later told that Cole’s cancer was classified as stage 4. After all the treatments and surgeries, we began to try to cope with our once normal life. Cole was told that he would more than likely never be able to ride bulls again because of the muscle the doctors were forced to remove. He was left with insufficient head-neck stability and slightly limited range of motion in his left arm, which happened to be his free arm. Cancer was the scary news, this was the heartbreaking news. Bull riding was his passion, hobby and career.
By this time Calli was 2 ½ years old and the thought of having another baby was on the back of our minds. We were told because of the intense treatment he had received, we shouldn’t even try to have another child for at least one year. After that year, we could try to become pregnant on our own, but we could very likely need fertility help. Some time had passed and we were both ready to have another baby. We celebrated Calli’s 4th birthday in 2013. I had been so wrapped up with planning her birthday party that I didn’t realize how much time had passed. I called the doctor to make an appointment to confirm what I thought. Sure enough, I was right. I was pregnant! I rushed to the children’s store and bought Calli a “big sister” shirt for her to wear when Cole got home from work. I dressed her in the shirt and we surprised Cole. We were all overjoyed! We had actually been able to get pregnant without help from doctors. I was only about 6 weeks pregnant so we decided we would wait a few more weeks to make the announcement to our family and friends.
Just a few days later I started having some pain. I checked in with the doctor, but the pain wasn’t severe enough at the time that we were worried. Over the weekend the pain became more intense. We were also warned about a blizzard coming in so I was trying to prepare. Late Sunday evening it began to snow. Cole had been called to work and Calli was sound asleep. I still wasn’t feeling good so I decided to go take a bath. When I stood up to get out of the bathtub I was struck with the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced, followed by a gush of blood. Cole was home shortly after that. You’re probably wondering why we didn’t rush to the emergency room. Well, I have no idea. I really don’t remember what was going through my head at the moment.
The next morning I called my doctor. He wanted me to get an ultrasound to check things out. We still hadn’t told anybody about our news. We ended up telling Cole’s mom because we needed her to watch Calli for a few hours while we were at the hospital. The snow continued to fall and pile up. The hospital was short staffed because some areas had already received ten inches of snow. They finally worked us in for our ultrasound, but told us not to leave the hospital. A few minutes later a pre-op nurse came to the door and called us back. This was the moment I knew something was wrong. She told us I was having an ectopic pregnancy and my doctor would be in shortly to take me to surgery. I had heard the term, but wasn’t very familiar with it. The nurse explained to us that we were losing the baby. You know that ugly, hysterical cry that you see people break into? Well I just became that person. In an instant, Cole and I had suddenly switched roles. It was usually him in the hospital bed with me standing by his side trying to be the strong person. This time it was completely different. Our overjoyed hearts were suddenly breaking.
Cole stepped out of the room to call his family and mine. We hadn’t even told them I was pregnant, and he was now telling them we were losing the baby and I was being rushed into emergency surgery. Under normal circumstances, our families and close friends would have been comforting Cole in the waiting room while I was in surgery. But, we were in the midst of that crazy February blizzard that had dumped close to fifteen inches of snow by this time. Our family couldn’t get to us. We were scared, and only had each other.
The doctor explained to us after surgery that I had suffered an ectopic pregnancy with a ruptured tube. He had to remove the tube, and we lost the baby. Surgery turned out being the easy part. The next two weeks were the worst. I was sad, angry, confused, thankful, and so many other emotions. I cried every day, but was also thankful that we discovered I could indeed get pregnant. I healed from that surgery, and I was soon back in the doctor’s office pregnant with a healthy baby boy. We welcomed Maverick Rio in late December of 2013. Cole wanted more kids after this, but I was content with the two healthy kids we had. However, as I have learned, God has a great sense of humor. When Maverick was 15 months old I was pregnant again. I often tell people that God had a plan for us having three kids. After cancer treatment for Cole, and a pregnancy leaving me with just one fallopian tube, we still had two more kids.
Knox River decided to make his appearance a little earlier than we had planned. I woke up on November 22, 2015 having no idea of what was to come that evening. Cole was planning a day of hunting, and Calli had stayed the night with my parents. Maverick and I had plans of meeting the rest of my family at my grandma’s house to celebrate her birthday. I woke up feeling great! Other than having morning sickness, pregnancy was agreeing with me this time around. And let me just tell you, I was having an amazing hair and makeup day. That will make any girl feel good! Maverick and I loaded up and headed out on our hour long drive to the birthday party. I stopped by my parent’s house on the way and my sister jumped in the car with Maverick and I.
I was driving and began having spotty vision when I pulled out of the driveway. We started down the road anyway. It suddenly turned to tunnel vision. I’ll never forget the panic in the car when I said to my sister, “I can’t see!” She jumped back with a “pull over now!” I had experienced some blood pressure issues at the end of my pregnancy with Maverick so I recognized some of the symptoms. She called her friend that had a home blood pressure cuff and asked her if we could borrow it. We picked it up and went on to my grandma’s house. My sister-in-law just happens to be a nurse and EMT, and trying to not alarm anyone, we called her in the bedroom to take my blood pressure. It was outrageously high, somewhere around 150/104. She insisted that I call my doctor, but I fought her and told her we would check it again in twenty minutes, and then we would call. It was still really high the second time. I was reluctant again, and made her give me another twenty minutes. The third time was even higher. I called the doctor’s wife and explained to her what I was feeling. She said to me, “I’m not telling you to speed, but you need to get to the hospital as fast as you can.”
My mom took Calli and Maverick. My sister, my dad, and I got in my car to head to the hospital. I called Cole and told him I was going to get checked out. I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I was 37 weeks pregnant so I thought the doctor would probably give me some medicine, and put me on bed rest for the next three weeks. Luckily my sister was driving, because on the 35 mile drive I blacked out several times. She later told me that we made that trip in record time. By the time we arrived at the hospital my blood pressure was so high that was unable to make out words. The nurses were asking me questions, but what came out of my mouth was complete gibberish. My dad was by my side trying to help me as much as he could. I began to vomit as soon as they got an IV in my arm. My sister began calling Cole, my mom, and my in-laws to tell them that we were pretty sure we would have a baby that day. The same amazing doctor that delivered my other two children, and performed surgery on me when I had the ruptured ectopic pregnancy was there trying to calm my nerves. He told me we would go to surgery in about an hour. Both of my children were delivered via cesarean section so I was prepared for surgery. We were waiting on Cole to arrive at the hospital because he had held my hand, and witnessed the delivery of our other children. The doctor came back in the room, looked straight at me with the most serious face, and said, “I don’t order a stat C-section very often, but when I do, I mean business. Where’s Cole? We’re going now.”
Cole walked down the labor and delivery hall just seconds after that. The doctor met him in the hall and explained that the baby was in distress and he would be taking me into emergency surgery. I would be completely asleep so Cole wouldn’t be able to be in the room with us. I literally met Cole in the hallway as they were wheeling my bed to the operating room. I told him I loved him and that I was scared.
The next thing I remember was waking up in recovery in extreme pain. I told the nurses I was in pain, and one of them said, “Honey, the medicine just won’t touch the level of pain you are experiencing.” What in the world was that supposed to mean? They explained to me that they needed to change my gown because there was a lot of blood on it. I didn’t understand that either. I kept asking them where my baby was at, and if he was okay. They could only tell me that everything was fine, and the baby was upstairs.
I don’t remember much else from that day. I’ve struggled with this feeling for months. I was groggy, but I still remember the days we brought both Calli and Maverick into this world. I remember periodically opening my eyes and seeing people crying around me. I remember realizing I had an IV in each arm. My mother-in-law told me what had happened, but I couldn’t make sense of it. I remember a doctor coming to my side telling me that my baby was in ICU. I can remember seeing Cole sitting on the couch in the hospital room, and a family member taking Maverick out of the room because he was crying. I will never forget looking at his worried, little face with his quivering lip. He wasn’t quite 23 months old at the time, so he couldn’t even begin to grasp what had just happened.
Later in the evening when I was more alert they explained to me the events of the day. They put me to sleep in the operating room, and the doctor began making his incision. As soon as he did, blood began to spurt everywhere indicating something was wrong. He was able to find the baby’s head and get him out. My uterus had ruptured and I was losing a lot of blood, very fast. To this day, I’d love to hear the play by play from one of the nurses in the room. From what I understand, it was a pretty wild surgery. My very skilled doctor was able to stop the bleeding, and stitch my uterus back up. When he came out to talk to my family, he told them not to be surprised if they saw blood in my hair. From what I gathered, the operating room looked like a scene from a horror movie. I had to have two blood transfusions, on top of a lot of other medicine. This explained why I woke up with an IV in each arm. Knox River spent four days in ICU on oxygen because his little lungs just weren’t quite ready for the world. He was born at 4:10 pm, but I didn’t get to see or hold him until almost noon that next day. That is hard on a momma! Cole and I were later told that each one of us, Knox and myself, were only given a 50% chance of living. My doctor had been delivering babies for 33 years, and he had only seen this happen one other time, 18 years ago. In that case, he was able to save the mom, but not the baby. We were told that within 3 minutes, we both would have more than likely died.
I’ve struggled with the fact that I was so close to death, but God spared my life and my baby’s life. My family could have very easily been planning a funeral instead of making Thanksgiving dinner. I barely slept the next few weeks after we were released from the hospital. Not because I had a newborn at home, but because I was scared to go to sleep. I was afraid that if I fell asleep, I wouldn’t wake up. I am not scared of dying because I know I will live an eternal life with my heavenly Father, but I’m scared of leaving my family alone. Maybe that's a maternal instinct kicking in. I'm really not sure. The only thing I do know is that I’m thankful my heavenly Father knew it wasn’t time for me.
I tried to pick just one testimonial, but I felt like they all lead into each other and would give a better insight into my motivation for sharing my Brave story. And to spare you all from reading for hours, I've left out several small details. I had a feeling in my heart that there was somebody out there that needed to hear all three stories. I could probably write a book about how many times we’ve looked death in the eye during our marriage. But the one thing that remains constant is that God has been right in the middle of each event. I once asked Cole, “Why? Why us? Why does everything always happen to us?” I don’t remember his answer, but I know he reassured me that God wouldn’t give us more than we could handle. God must think we can handle a lot! Or maybe he is using us as an example of faith for other couples. I don't have all of the answers. I don't think God intended for us to have all of the answers. I can’t quote Bible scriptures, and I can barely tell you bible stories that most kids know. But I do know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we wouldn't be where we are today if God wasn't right in the middle of our family. I can also tell you that I serve an awesome, almighty God.
My name is Kelly. I am a child of God. I am the wife of a survivor. I am a mother of four. I am a laborer and a provider. But above all, I am brave!