2013: The Memories

By Laura Edwards

As the sun sets on 2013, our seventh full year fighting the war against Batten disease, I know in my heart that in many ways, the story has just begun.

On Jan. 4, we remembered my Grandma Kathryn, an angel in life who earned her wings on Christmas Day 2012. My grandmother, who loved her grandchildren more than she loved her own life, urged us to fight the demon from the moment we got Taylor’s diagnosis in the summer of 2006. She had no way of knowing that she, too, had a tragic neurodegenerative disease lurking inside of her. There was nothing she wanted more than an answer for the disease that dared to steal her granddaughter’s life. I fight for Taylor, but I fight for Grandma Kathryn, too.

Grandma Kathryn and Taylor

On Feb. 28, World Rare Disease Day, Taylor’s Tale announced that we had joined an international coalition to fund gene therapy research at the University of North Carolina. Dr. Steve Gray and his mentor, Dr. Jude Samulski, are not the only talented scientists working on Batten disease. But I believe in them because of 1) what I’ve learned about the science of Batten disease in seven-plus years, 2) what I’ve been told by their respected peers and 3) something in my heart that I can’t describe. And I believe in my heart that if we can continue to fund this project, we’ll have a clinical trial for kids like Taylor in a few short years.

group at Rare Disease Day event

For the fifth consecutive year, music students and teachers held a playathon for Taylor’s Tale in Raleigh, N.C. Their efforts raised thousands of dollars and a great deal of awareness for our fight against Batten disease. I love these kids and their teachers. This event is special.


In April, Taylor’s former classmates at The Fletcher School held their second cardio craze fundraiser with local celebrity Andre Hairston. They turned a school gym into a sea of love and hope.

Fletcher cardiofunk event

On June 1, I announced my plan to run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to honor Taylor and support the fight against rare diseases.


Eleven days later, Mom spoke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on behalf of Hannah’s Hope Fund. Mom and Lori Sames, founder of Hannah’s Hope, delivered amazing speeches, and Hannah’s Hope gained approval from the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) in its quest to begin a human clinical trial for another childhood neurodegenerative disease called GAN.

NIH speech

This year, Taylor’s Tale also welcomed new board members. Our first- and second-year board members have made an incredible impact on our fight against rare diseases in 2013.

Chapel Hill visit

During the five and a half months that I trained to run 13.1 miles blindfolded, I learned more about my sister’s dark world, and myself, than I could have ever imagined. And race day, Nov. 16, is an experience I’ll never forget. No words of mine can describe what happened at the Thunder Road Half Marathon for the fight against rare diseases.

the finish line

In many ways, 2013 has been the most successful year for Taylor’s Tale since my mom and I founded it with a small but determined group of volunteers in a Charlotte living room seven years ago. We connected with members of Congress and developed contacts with other key individuals. We partnered with a leading patient advocacy organization called the Global Genes Project and were adopted by a wonderful, local philanthropic organization called Playing for Others. We’ve raised more money in other years, but we’ve never extended our reach in such a big way, or had this much excitement surrounding a funded project, or harnessed the power of a great story the way we did with the run…until now.

But while 2013 has been an incredible year for Taylor’s Tale, it has been a difficult year for Taylor in every way. When we founded Taylor’s Tale, my sister was an animated, spunky, running, playing, talking, singing 8-year-old with most of her vision. But Batten disease is a demon. Taylor has a beautiful singing voice, but she can no longer talk. Her two 5K finishes inspired my blindfolded half marathon, but she can no longer walk without assistance, and her wheelchair is on order. My sister taught herself to read before kindergarten and learned Braille after she went blind, but she can’t read or write anymore. My sister can’t use a fork and spoon, because Batten disease stole her fine motor coordination. I can see the sadness in her eyes, even though her eyes can’t see me.

Batten disease has won every battle.

But it will NOT win this war.

Taylor with medal

The Advocate

By Laura Edwards

The American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy’s annual conference kicked off early this morning in Salt Lake City, Utah. Taylor’s Tale is co-funding gene therapy for infantile Batten disease at the University of North Carolina, so the conference made our short list of “meetings to attend.”

The timing posed just one logistical problem: my father’s brother passed away last Tuesday, and the memorial service was scheduled for this afternoon.

After much soul-searching, Mom let Dad and Taylor put her on a plane bound for Salt Lake City yesterday evening. The minister gave a beautiful service, Dad and his surviving brother shared beautiful words, and Mom’s angel friends and the ladies of the church took great care of everyone. And two time zones from home, Mom did what she does best: save the world, or at least make a good bit of progress.

Mom at playathonFighting Batten disease and being an advocate for a rare disease community of 350 million people is a hard job, especially on top of caring for someone with a life-threatening illness. It’s a full-time job. And Mom, as dedicated as she is to Taylor’s Tale and all that we stand for, will always tell anyone who asks that she’s Taylor’s mother first. Taylor and her classmates have a dance at school on Friday. Before she left town, Mom took Taylor shopping for a dress; yesterday, she left the dress along with the perfect necklace and pair of earrings where Dad could find them. I’m certain that she’ll be sad Friday when she opens her eyes in a hotel room in Utah and pictures Taylor getting ready for that dance and knows that she can’t be there to give her a hug. I know she wanted to be there for my dad this afternoon when he read the words he wrote for his little brother.

But sometimes, saving the world means making tough choices. And this week, Mom’s making the kind of progress we dreamed about when we founded Taylor’s Tale in a Charlotte living room. She’s making the kind of difference I told her we could make – she could make – one night in the summer of 2008 when I stopped our walk in her neighborhood to make a short but passionate speech about how our effort needed to become a public charity.

We’re on the verge of something great, but we haven’t won. Which means my mother’s not done fighting yet. And I wouldn’t trade her for anyone else in the world.

Pink…for One Heck of a Price Tag

By Laura Edwards

Each October, the NFL celebrates Breast Cancer Awareness Month by going pink. Pink ribbons adorn the footballs and fields. Players wear pink chin straps, arm bands, towels, helmet stickers, gloves and cleats. Coaches wear pink hats. Referees blow pink whistles. Captains wear pink patches. Kickers boot field goals through goalposts mounted on pink bases.

Breast cancer is a terrible disease. Stage IV breast cancer’s five-year survival rate is just 15 percent. I hate any disease that steals people’s lives before they’re done with this thing we call living. Disclaimer: I’ve never lost anyone I love to breast cancer – though I’ve lost people I love to brain disease, heart disease and other equally horrendous things. But still, I hate breast cancer. One of my best friends lost her mother and older sister to breast cancer. I don’t have my own battle scars from breast cancer, but I’ve met it before. I know its name.

And yet, every year when October rolls around, I reevaluate this whole NFL pink initiative, and every year, I come to the same conclusion: I find it to be an incredible waste of money. Peter O’Reilly, the league’s vice president of fan strategy and marketing, says the NFL spent about $5 million on advertising and gear for the initiative JUST THIS YEAR.

Do you know what the rare disease community could do with $5 million?

If I could write a $5 million check to the world’s best Batten disease experts, I believe in my heart that they’d give us a treatment that works.

It probably wouldn’t be in time for my sister. But we might have a chance to save the children who aren’t as affected…children whose families sit where we sat six years ago. Weighed down by tragedy. Lifted up by hope for the future. For the possibility that Taylor could be different…that she could survive. We could rewrite the futures of the children who have yet to be born. We could change the face of Batten disease – an indiscriminate killer. Its survival rate is zero percent.

I repeat: breast cancer is a terrible disease, and while not nearly as common as some diseases, such as heart disease, it affects far more people than Batten disease. I’m not proposing that we stop supporting breast cancer research in favor of Batten disease research. Not one bit.

But if the NFL has $5 million to support a disease, why spend it on cleats? No matter what disease you’re fighting, awareness is incredibly important; just ask my family and friends or the Taylor’s Tale board of directors how much I push our awareness efforts. But at the end of the day, you don’t save lives with taglines and pink chin straps. You save them with smart research and strong advocacy efforts and strategic awareness tactics that rely on the strength and the magic of a great story.

That’s where I think the NFL misses the point. The league could still have an incredible impact by spray painting pink ribbons on fields, putting pink ribbon patches on jerseys, giving coaches and staff pink ribbons to pin on their shirts, and asking the broadcast team members to don pink threads – all for very little green. They could even air short interviews with NFL players and staff who are directly affected by breast cancer. Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams is a vocal supporter; his mother is a survivor, and he lost four aunts to the disease. A heartfelt message from a football star about the importance of getting a mammogram would mean something to fans.

The rest is just expensive noise. How many of the millions watching NFL football today have forgotten – or never seen – the true faces of breast cancer? The women – and yes – men – who fight courageous battles against the disease each and every day? That’s the stuff of legend – the stuff that will resonate with people – long after the players, coaches and refs resume wearing color-coordinated gear and the pink ribbons disappear. How many people never meet the stars of the story or learn a single thing about breast cancer risk factors but can proudly tell you that breast cancer’s signature color is ‘pink?’

Global Genes Project

By Laura Edwards

The Global Genes Project, led by the Children’s Rare Disease Network, has been established to raise awareness of rare diseases that affect children, such as Batten disease, and promote equal access to lifesaving treatments for those children. Learn more here.