A Happy and Fulfilling Life ...
and a Chronic Illness
by Tom Rademacher, Veteran Grand Rapids Press columnist and long-time Michigan Blood Donor
The majority of us enjoy many years of life – full decades, in some instances – before we encounter a major roadblock or setback.
For Tanjanika Taylor of Saginaw, though, the world turned potentially ominous when she was just two months old.
That’s when Tanjanika was diagnosed with sickle cell disease, a genetic blood disorder that can cause an array of problems from bacterial bone infections, heart-related ailments, renal failure, visual problems and more.
But as graciously as Tanjanika lists the hurdles she’s overcome – stroke, shortness of breath, dehydration, extreme pain, congenital heart failure and hypertension – she’s just as quick to say this: “Being diagnosed with a disease does not mean that’s the end of your life. You can lead a very happy and fulfilling and whole life, even while having a chronic illness.”
Those are sage words from a young woman of just 27. But then again, you have to realize that she’s packed a lot of life – challenges included – into those 27 years.
That would include 50 blood transfusions, all necessary because from time to time, Tanjanika’s red blood cells are unable to help produce enough oxygen necessary for normal body functions.
“The blood transfusions,” she explains, “help to get oxygen to my vital organs, so I can recover.”
One of the most critical times in Tanjanika’s life occurred a decade ago as a high school student at Arthur Hill High School. During her senior year, she was hospitalized for a massive infection, and while being treated in the intensive care unit, suffered a stroke on top of her existing medical challenges.
But again, in true Tanjanika style, she doesn’t dwell on the negatives associated with that trying episode in her life.
Instead, she accentuates the positives.
And perhaps that’s why Tanjanika Taylor, who for the time being is an online student at Delta College, likely will emerge one day as a dynamic professional speaker.
She’s already registered herself with the State of Michigan as a limited liability company, eager to establish herself as a formidable force on the speaking circuit.
She calls her fledgling business “Make It Make Sense,” so ordained because, in Tanjanika’s words, “we need to make sense out of the health care system, and that means addressing one’s emotional state, which is an important part of healing.”
She goes on to say that “If you are depressed, it is that much harder to get well. But if you bring yourself up and say, ‘I’m dealing with these challenges and they’re not going to stop my life,’ then you are that much closer to being physically well.”
Tanjanika draws her power in part from her parents – Joyce Redfearn and James Taylor – who both have worked as ministers, and teamed together to raise Tanjanika and her eight younger siblings.
“They taught me to have faith,” she says. “So I do have my belief in God to rest on. I don’t know if I could live the life that I live if I did not believe that there was something bigger than myself out there.
“I don’t believe that things happen by luck or chance, and so I take every day one day at a time.”
Tanjanika is an apt person to represent Michigan Blood – not only because of her positive attitude – but because she’s an advocate for a campaign gaining ground that’s called “Diversify the Blood Supply.”
Earlier this year, she served as a keynote speaker at a consortium of more than two dozen community leaders representing Great Lakes Bay regional businesses, the health care industry, community service providers, faith-based organizations, educational institutions and local media, all of whom converged at Saginaw Valley State University.
Tanjanika joined other voices in calling for more African-Americans to donate blood, and to also step up to serve as ambassadors, mentors and event planners.
Tanjanika doesn’t have to dig deep for data that draws attention to those like her, who suffer from sickle cell disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, sickle cell affects 90,000 to 100,000 Americans. The disease occurs in about 1 in every 500 African-American births. And about 1 in 12 (8 percent) of African-Americans carry the sickle cell trait.
While other speakers at the diversity event focused on strategies and processes, Tanjanika brought something unique to the podium: The face of a real person who has struggled, and who is at the mercy of all peoples to help provide a strong supply of blood – for herself, and for others.
“I want people to understand the importance of diversifying the blood supply,” says Tanjanika. “Nobody can sustain themselves. We all need help at one time or another, even if we don’t realize it. We don’t do anything on our own.”
“Someone had to birth you,” she continues. “Someone had to teach you. Someone had to nurture you. And someone had to help you with gaining knowledge, or in a financial way.”
The same is true, says Tanjanika, when it comes to blood. “We can’t manufacture and hoard what we need for ourselves. Instead, we rely on a larger community of people from all walks of life to chip in and donate.”
Tanjanika points out that providing blood “is vital to the community. And it’s vital in more ways than just one. “It’s not just life-sustaining for the recipient, but it also gives the donor a sense of purpose in their lives.
“People always think, ‘That’s for someone I don’t know.’ But you don’t ever know if someone you love – someone from your own family – is going to need that blood. Accidents and emergencies happen all the time.”
Tanjanika looks with fondness upon Michigan Blood and like organizations, noting how “Without that key component, I’d never be able to receive blood transfusions. I wouldn’t be able to live my life. I would be dead.”
Some people have valid excuses for not being able to donate blood. But too many, says Tanjanika, fail to recognize it as a gift, a transformational one that many healthy people just don’t consider often enough, if at all.
“With the economy being what it is,” Tanjanika emphasizes, “people aren’t always able to give financially. But by donating blood, you’re giving something greater than money.
“You are essentially saving a life.”