71 - Choose Joy

Taylor Helland joined Chi Omega in fall 2014 with the same hope all new members go through recruitment with: to find a place to belong. She found that place of belonging at a magnitude she and her family could have never expected, and what was even more unexpected was Taylor’s lasting impact on Rho Epsilon that still pulses steadily through the chapter today.

Taylor’s mantra, choose joy, is a call our Sisters at TCU answer daily in honor of Taylor’s unforgettable spirit and her years spent fighting cancer. Taylor’s life and the way she intentionally chose joy every day inspires our women to do the same.

Taylor, pictured second from left, with her Chi Omega Sisters
Katherine Mendieta Photography

By Bob Helland, father of Taylor Helland

Taylor Helland was a TCU Horned Frog, a Make-A-Wish kid, and a Chi Omega member. She was a devout Christian and a chaplain in the amazing TCU Rho Epsilon chapter. She was a wonderful, happy young lady who loved her school and especially loved her Chi O Sisters. She had quite an impact on many people with her mantra: Choose Joy.

Taylor was also battling a rare and dangerous form of colon cancer.

When she was just 14 years old, she was diagnosed with Signet Ring Cell Adenocarcinoma of the colon. The recommended treatment was a three-day chemotherapy course, every other week for twenty-eight weeks. She would then travel down to MD Anderson hospital in Houston, TX for a very invasive surgical procedure called Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy, or HIPEC. In this procedure, they would open her abdomen completely and remove any traces of cancer they could find. Once that was done, they would close her abdomen and flood it with heated chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. After a couple of hours of the heated fluid, they would reopen her abdomen and clean everything out. You can only imagine the big scar that was left.

After the HIPEC procedure, she had a wonderful year where she was cancer free. She had an amazing Make-A-Wish trip to Rome and Florence, Italy that summer, and she was very active in her high school, as a member of the band and orchestra, several Christian organizations and the school photography club.

Unfortunately, right before her junior year, the cancer recurred. Two large masses were found in her abdomen. These turned out to be her ovaries. They were filled with cancer and she was scheduled for more chemo and incredibly, a second HIPEC procedure.

After recovering from the second HIPEC, she had a wonderful senior year. She was voted Homecoming Queen and was accepted to TCU, which completely thrilled her. She spoke at many events to encourage fundraising and research into pediatric cancer, including an American Cancer Society research study fundraiser, and a ‘Coaches Against Cancer’ event at the final four basketball tournament.

Bad news again right before taking off for TCU though, the cancer had returned a third time. She didn’t let that slow her down though, and she moved into her dorm and participated in a fun rush week just a few days after a major surgery to remove most of the tumor.

She told us early in the week that all the chapters were very nice, but there was one that she was already feeling special about: Chi Omega. When she got her bid to join them, she said it was the happiest day of her life! Even with the bad diagnosis, she was choosing joy every day. She loved her new sorority and all her wonderful Sisters, and they certainly loved her! They showed her every day.

Her freshman year at TCU was amazing, even with having to go to chemotherapy every two weeks. She would miss her Friday classes and check into the hospital. They connected her to several pumps and for three days she would get treated. Then incredibly, on Sunday night, she would head back to her dorm room and get ready for her Monday morning classes.

She was loving all the activity at school though. Horned Frog football games, Make-A-Wish fundraising events with her chapter, and TCU even started a 12-hour dance marathon to benefit her hospital! She also flew to the University of Delaware to speak at a huge pediatric cancer fundraiser that generated over a million dollars. All the Chi Omega girls at UD wanted a picture with her and they were simply wonderful! They welcomed her with open arms!

Taylor continued to choose joy, and she taught us an incredible lesson in how to react when bad things happen. She would feel her feelings, but then she seemed to understand that she was in charge of how she responded. She would occasionally get very bad medical news, and she would cry and feel bad, but then she would decide how she was going to respond, and we would find ourselves in a completely different place from where we were when we got the news. Rather than hang her head, feel sorry for herself, and lock herself in her room, she would order some sushi, call up a few of her sorority Sisters to come by the hospital room, and before we knew it, we were all surrounded by smiles and laughter. I often asked myself, how did we get from that news this afternoon to tonight? And I’d see Taylor, smiling in the middle of a group of girlfriends laughing and talking away.

Taylor fought hard for five years, but sadly she passed away in February of 2016.

The last few days before she passed, she was sleeping and unresponsive. I sat with her and told her all of the people that loved her.

“Mom and I love you. Your sister loves you.” Then I told her, “All of your Chi O Sisters love you,” and in a quiet, but confident voice out of nowhere she said, “…I love them too!”

What fitting last words…

“Choose Joy” logo used on Rho Epsilon/TCU social media platforms in honor of Taylor and as a daily reminder to always choose joy

Since Taylor’s passing, the women of Rho Epsilon continue to honor our Chi Omega Sister and her love for life by choosing joy daily. Taylor’s intentionality behind processing the toughest moments of life with loved ones, but following that with choosing to focus on the good has inspired us all to do the same. Sisters like Taylor encourage us to lean on each other, to champion each other, and to always keep pushing forward.

Now we offer you the charge that Taylor has already instilled in so many of us… Choose joy.