Taylor Shares Her Story on Navigating Cancer and Embracing a New Normal



Shubham Pant, MD: Hello, and welcome to Cure Connections®. I am your host, Dr. Shubham Pant. As a star soccer player who never smoked, Taylor Bell Duck’s lung cancer diagnosis at the age of 21 came as a shock to her and her family. After undergoing surgery, Taylor reports that she has shown no evidence of disease for the past 10 years.

Today, she juggles a lot as a wife and Physician Outreach Manager with Vidant Health. She also recently graduated with a master’s degree in public administration. She continues to tell her story through her advocacy work and as part of Your Cancer Game Plan, where she joins several leading patient organizations in the cancer community to provide support and resources. Taylor joins us alongside her mother, Nancy, and CancerCare social worker, Richard Dickens, to share her incredible journey. Taylor, welcome to the program.

Taylor Bell Duck: Thanks for having me.

Shubham Pant, MD: Nancy, welcome to the program.

Nancy Bell: .....

Shubham Pant, MD: Taylor, I’m going to start with you first. Just tell us a little bit about your cancer journey. How did it start? When was the first time, how did you discover you had cancer?

Taylor Bell Duck: Absolutely. As a child I was a soccer player, as you said, and my dream was to play Division I college soccer. And I got that opportunity and got to play at East Carolina University in North Carolina. And got there for preseason and everything was going great, but I was having trouble passing a fitness test.

Shubham Pant, MD: Were you just getting winded?

Taylor Bell Duck: Yeah, I had numbness and tingling in my toes and then winded. And you have to be able to pass the test in order to play. And so usually on the first try a few people might not pass, but then as you go through the days of preseason, eventually everybody starts to pass, but for whatever reason I wasn’t able to pass a fitness test initially during preseason. And so after multiple weeks of trying and then ultimately an entire year of playing soccer but just not feeling quite right and they couldn’t find anything that was wrong with me, I made the really difficult decision to stop playing soccer. And I also had recurring pneumonia and bronchitis several times.

Shubham Pant, MD: So in and out of the hospital or just the emergency room?

Taylor Bell Duck: Just the student health center where they gave me a Z-pak or a steroid and kind of sent me on my way. And so the thing that set us into the actual initial diagnosis stage was I thought my appendix was rupturing one Saturday evening and ended up in the emergency room.

Shubham Pant, MD: It always happens on a Saturday, huh? Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

Taylor Bell Duck: Right, always on Saturday. And so they did a CT scan of my abdomen to rule out my appendix, and the physician came in and they said, so your appendix looks fine, there’s no issues. But we’re just curious, are you aware that your lung is collapsed and that you have a 4 cm mass?

Shubham Pant, MD: Oh my.

Taylor Bell Duck: And so shocked, as a 21-year-old to hear that kind of news.

Shubham Pant, MD: Did you make the connection saying a mass could be cancer at that time?

Taylor Bell Duck: I think in the back of my mind, yes, but then I also felt like surely, I don’t have lung cancer because I’m 21-years-old, I’m a never-smoking, Division I college athlete, never been around second-hand smoke. So I think that’s initially what I was thinking was, well, maybe it’s just some weird kind of spot.

Shubham Pant, MD: Nancy, when did you first hear about? Like did Taylor call you from the emergency room or when did you first hear about it?

Nancy Bell: So my husband and I were in a Boy Scout camp with our youngest son, and Taylor was looking for an apartment with her sister and so that’s why they ended up at the emergency room together alone. So we got a telephone call from our oldest daughter probably about 11 that night saying that there was a spot on her lung.

Shubham Pant, MD: 11 at night on a Saturday.

Nancy Bell: Um-hmm and in a tent. We started making arrangements to break down our tent and get home. But I think in the back of my mind I was concerned because we have a really strong family history of lung cancer. My mother had recently passed away, and I just was very concerned.

Shubham Pant, MD: So it was on your mind at that time.

Nancy Bell: Um-hmm, it was.

Shubham Pant, MD: Taylor, tell me, what techniques do you think you could use to better advocate for yourself? Do you think that just for any 21-year-old who may go through this, you say listen to your body because at 21 you think you’re invincible but there’s definitely something was going on because you were not that way for that year.

Taylor Bell Duck: Right. I think that it’s important to advocate for yourself, and you know your body better than anyone. And so if you feel like something isn’t right, push until you have answers. There’s no reason somebody shouldn’t feel their toes or train as hard as I did and not be successful. I think what’s also important is to use your support team around you, and when they’re trying to advocate for you, to listen to them as well. There was several times where Mom spoke with my provider and said, please order an additional test. We have a strong family history. And they brushed her off, and I kind of was like, oh, I’ve got the crazy mom trying to tell the doctor how to practice medicine. But I think that when you have a support team that’s able to support you, you should let them.

Shubham Pant, MD: I think of the same thing as I’ve become a dad. Now there’s nothing known as a crazy mom or dad. They’re just very, very concerned.

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