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East draws inspiration from mother’s fight against cancer

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The Chandler family: Tayler, left, Chris, Chena, McKenna and Seth, pictured Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, at Columbus East High School.
The Chandler family: Tayler, left, Chris, Chena, McKenna and Seth, pictured Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, at Columbus East High School.

Chena Chandler, left, missed many of daughter Tayler
Chena Chandler, left, missed many of daughter Tayler

Chena Chandler, left, missed many of daughter Tayler
Chena Chandler, left, missed many of daughter Tayler

IN July 2012, doctors gave Chena Chandler six months to live.

On May 5 of this year, they gave her two days.

In the past eight days, the 39-year-old Chandler has attended all four of her daughter Tayler’s postseason volleyball games for Columbus East High School, and she hopes to be at Seymour on Saturday to watch her daughter, a junior middle hitter, perform in the semistate.


“I’m going to rest up until then and go and cheer them on,” Chena said Wednesday.

“My wife is a fighter,” said her husband, Chris Chandler. “Everybody who talks to her doesn’t know how she can do it. I personally don’t think I could do it. All the stuff she’s been through, the fight that’s in her. When people hear the story, it’s like ‘There’s no way.’

“It’s truly the grace of God.”

Chena Chandler found out she had bone cancer the Sunday after Thanksgiving two years ago. Doctors removed her femur in December 2011 and told her there was a 95 percent cure rate, and if the cancer came back, it would be five to 10 years later.

By May 2012, the cancer had resurfaced. She went through heavy chemotherapy and became sick while in Orlando for Tayler’s club team’s nationals in June. Chena was placed on a ventilator and was in an Orlando hospital for 2½ months.

Last August, Chena was transported by medical helicopter to Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. She left for a month last fall to be treated at the government-based Fermilab in Batavia, Ill.

Doctors performed surgery in December  to remove a tumor. But in January, the cancer had spread to her lungs. She started chemo and became extremely sick again and placed on a ventilator.

On May 5, she was told she had two days to live. East’s volleyball team came to the hospital to be with Tayler and her family.

“Miraculously enough, she was off the vent and home a week later,” Chris Chandler said. “The cardiovascular guy said, ‘We have no idea.’”

The Chandlers went back to Orlando for the nationals in June. Three days into the trip, Chena Chandler’s thyroid quit working, and her lungs filled with fluid. She spent a month in the same hospital as the year before.

She flew home Aug. 5 and was fine for a couple weeks. But then after undergoing tests in Seymour, she was transferred to IU Health and diagnosed with spinal meningitis from a pain pump that was placed in her in January.

When she attended the Olympians’ home game against Columbus North on Oct. 3, it was the first high school game she had seen Tayler play since last year’s sectional final, when East players had given her the game ball. Chena Chandler was then able to see all three of last week’s sectional games at Bloomington North and Tuesday’s regional victory at Center Grove.

“She made me stick her in a car in tears and pain medicine,” Chris Chandler said. “The cancer she has is so excruciatingly painful.”

“It honestly was amazing,” Chena Chandler said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I was sick (Tuesday), but I realized if I missed it, I would miss four of my favorite seniors’ last game, or I would miss them winning regional.”

Those four seniors — Alexa Husmann-Miller, Erin Mack, Faith Myers and Carly Robertson — have provided a huge support system for Tayler and her freshman sister, McKenna.

“I’m so lucky that they’re so supportive,” Chena Chandler said. “They’ve done everything from bringing us meals to taking Tayler and McKenna back and forth to practice.”

The Olympian volleyball players are awed by the Chandler family’s perseverance.

“Seeing (Tayler) at school, you would never know what she is going through with her mom,” Mack said. “Chena and Tayler are the strongest people I’ve ever met in my life. If Tayler is ever upset, or if she ever needs us, we’re there to support her and help her out. She knows that we love her, and we’d do anything for her.”

So would her family, which also includes son, Seth, a sixth-grader at Mt. Healthy Elementary. Chris Chandler sold his two companies — Central Communications and CCI Technologies — on April 1 to help pay her medical bills. He now works as vice president of communications for Nomad Technology Group.

“My daughter is such an inspiration,” Chena Chandler said. “She’s so strong. My youngest daughter (McKenna) is riding in her footsteps. They and their dad have had to keep things going while I’ve been in the hospital.”

They’ve played volleyball through it all. Tayler, at 5-foot-11, is the starting middle hitter for the Olympians. The 5-9 McKenna played on the junior varsity and freshman teams this fall.

“Volleyball is one of those things that I’m passionate about, so it feels good to be a good part of the team,” Tayler said. “These girls are all so close.”

“It’s been very difficult for (Tayler) to balance sometimes,” East coach Faith Wilder-Newland said. “She has been so strong, so brave emotionally that sometimes I worry about her. She kind of keeps a happy face on, keeps a positive attitude, but there have been times especially this year, I could tell that the emotional strain was wearing on her, being responsible for her family and everyone around her. You could kind of tell there were times when that facade would kind of come down a little bit.”

Chena Chandler suffered another setback Wednesday and was placed back on oxygen. Doctors are trying to schedule her for emergency surgery, and she hopes to have the tumors removed from one of her lungs before Thanksgiving.

“There still is no cure,” Chris said. “We fight life day by day. She continues to fight.”

Chena Chandler moves forward, hoping to experience more wonderful family moments such as Saturday’s volleyball tournament.

“As far as my health and stuff, God has it,” Chena Chandler said.

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