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Dance Marathon graduate-to-be passionate about learning

BY ARIANA WITT | FEBRUARY 03, 2011 7:10 AM

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Taylor Krueger loves to learn.

Shortly before recess on a recent Tuesday, the 9-year-old browsed the bookshelves in the back of her third-grade classroom at Central Lutheran School in Newhall, Iowa.

The young cancer survivor, dressed in pink and sporting a blond ponytail, looked like any other student.

But as the other boys and girls in her class eagerly lined up for recess, laughing and discussing a game of dodge ball, Taylor hung behind to go over a writing assignment instead.

“Can I ask you a question?” Taylor said in a small, shy voice to her teacher, Kristin Meyers.

She pointed to the work she’d done, ready to skip recess to learn.

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“Taylor is probably one of the hardest-working students that I’ve had,” Meyers said. “She fits in very well with our class, and you wouldn’t have ever guessed she’s been through everything that she has been through.”

Though she’s only in the third grade, Taylor will get the opportunity to graduate this weekend — but not for her academic skills. She is set to graduate from the University of Iowa’s Dance Marathon as a five-year cancer survivor.

Six years ago, in a Daily Iowan article, then 3-year-old Taylor and her family were still spending their days in the hospital, waiting to see if her bone-marrow transplant would work.

Today, the intelligent third-grader is waiting for her chance to take the stage at this weekend’s Big Event.

“I don’t remember much,” Taylor said about her past experiences with Dance Marathon. “I just know there was lots of girls and lots of dancing.”

But when asked about her fight with cancer, Taylor put her head down, folded her hands in her lap, and stayed silent.

“She doesn’t like to talk about it,” mother Shawnee Krueger said. “She never really has.”

She was diagnosed at just 2 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2003; at the time, her parents believed she had only a serious ear infection.

“She was tired all the time,” Krueger said. “She would just cry out in pain. You knew something wasn’t right, but still, I was convinced it was the ear infection.”

Taylor went to an afternoon appointment with the pediatrician on a Monday about the infection. The next day she was diagnosed with cancer.

Krueger wiped away a tear from her purple sweater as she relived the moment.

“It was very overwhelming,” she said. “I mean never once when I had a child did I think she could get cancer. It just was unheard of to me.”

Taylor received a bone-marrow transplant in January 2005 with the help of a local drive in her honor. Just last week, Krueger learned Taylor’s donor is someone in Germany, and she is working to bring that person and her daughter together.

As Taylor began her recovery at the UI Children’s Hospital, she also began her time with Dance Marathon.

“It’s truly inspiring,” Krueger said. “Obviously, the money raised is very important, but it isn’t even about the money. It’s the support and these people getting involved in our children’s lives, because they’re going through something that you can’t imagine.”

One person that still stands out for the Kruegers is Tom Mulrooney, their first family representative and a 2005 University of Iowa graduate.

When Taylor was bedridden in the hospital during Dance Marathon one year, Mulrooney said he and a bunch of friends hopped on a bus and brought her treats and games.

Years later, Mulrooney said he is happy to hear of Taylor’s progress.

“To hear that she’s just a normal kid doing the things she’s supposed to be doing is pretty exciting,” he said.

And normal is exactly the way things should be, Krueger said.

During recess on Jan. 25, Taylor played tag with four friends in the school’s brand-new gym, smiling as her black sneakers squeaked across the wax floor.

Though she didn’t stick out among the other kids lining up for lunch, everything in the Krueger family had once revolved around cancer.

But the hard times brought Taylor and her younger sister, Sydney, together, their mother said. Taylor acted so brave when receiving her shots that Sydney, 6, wanted one too.

“I love her because she loves me,” Sydney said. “I always make sure kids are being nice to her.”

Today, the girls play soccer and attend Girl Scouts meetings, and they are both looking forward to dancing to Hannah Montana songs at Dance Marathon’s 24-hour Big Event, which kicks off Friday night.

Syndey said she thinks she can out-dance her big sister.

Taylor’s response?

“No way.”


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