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Little boy fights for breath, life and asks why

(ran T edition of B)

When you are 3 years old, your biggest worry should be where Prissy, your Dalmatian puppy, is hiding or why your cat, Rocky, doesn't like to have its tail pulled by your baby brother.

Instead, Dannie Wayne "D. J." Taylor Jr. of Hernando thinks about trying to breathe when it gets hot and wonders why he has to go to Tampa for another chemotherapy treatment.

At 16 months, D. J. was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma after a lump appeared on his left shoulder. A sarcoma is a malignant tumor that usually strikes the connective tissue and is considered extremely rare in children under 15.

So rare, in fact, that fewer than five cases are diagnosed annually for every 1-million children born in the United States, according to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer and Research Institute in Tampa.

"Honestly, I don't remember what I felt" when learning the diagnosis; "I sort of blocked that day out," says his mother, Angela Taylor.

After having the tumor removed from his shoulder, D. J. underwent 23 days of radiation treatment and a year of chemotherapy at the Moffitt Center, located at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

His mother and father, Dannie Taylor, moved to Citrus County from Fort Pierce to be closer to the center where D. J. undergoes two types of chemotherapy. On June 28, he will begin an additional type of treatment, which means three three types of chemotherapy will be being injected into his young body.

At 2 1/2, he suffered a relapse, and it was discovered that the cancer had spread to his lungs. Again he went under the knife, this time for two operations for both lungs. Twelve more days of radiation followed and another year and a half of chemotherapy was prescribed. He still has a little more than six months to go.

"Every now and then he says he doesn't want to go," says his mother. "But they're really nice to him there and he's not really afraid to go."

However, traveling to Tampa can sometimes be an ordeal for D. J., who must use oxygen periodicallybecause of lung damage caused by the radiation treatments. The air conditioning in his mother's car recently broke down and even with the windows wide open, the heat makes it difficult for him to breathe.

"After 10 minutes in the heat his face gets so red he looks sunburned," says Mrs. Taylor.

Medicaid picks up the cost of most of D. J.'s medications and the oxygen, "but they will only pay for a certain number of tanks of oxygen and when we went over the limit we had to pay for the rest," his mother says.

Mrs. Taylor's mother, Diane Storman of Elberton, Ga., has moved in with the family to offer a helping hand. When D. J. and mom his head for Tampa, Grandma Diane babysits and keeps the household running.

"She said she'd stay as long as we needed her," Mrs. Taylor says in a relieved voice.

Stretching income to cover the needs of their other son, 9-month-old Dakota, D. J. and three adults can sometimes prove overwhelming. D. J. has suffered respiratory failure five times in the last two months, meaning emergency trips to Tampa. When he scraped his elbow, infection set in and he spent seven days in the hospital. Because of the chemotherapy, his blood count gets so low he has virtually no immune system to fight off infections.

Every third week, D. J. undergoes a weeklong chemotherapy treatment that necessitates his staying in the hospital for five days. His mother stays with him, so the expenses continue to mount.

Although the American Cancer Society has issued mileage vouchers to pay for her gasoline and food vouchers for Mrs. Taylor to use while she stays with D. J., that doesn't get the air conditioning fixed in her car or pay the electric bill or buy diapers for Dakota. As the bills add up, frustration sets in, but the family takes things "one day at time."

Members of the Sigma Lambda Sorority, a local chapter of Beta Sigma Phi, are establishing a trust fund for donations to help the family. Beginning Wednesday, donations may be made to the Dannie Taylor Jr. Trust Fund at any Bank of Inverness office in Citrus County. Other organizations wishing to offer their assistance can contact Pat Panaccione of Sigma Lambda at 726-8346.