You probably wouldn't guess this college freshman has sickle cell disease.

She went through a lot as a kid, but now she's finally coming out strong.

Taylor Delk just started college in Atlanta, and she can't wait to get into dating for the first time.

However, she has one major concern: when and how should she tell the boys she likes that she has a serious disease?

All photos via Taylor Delk.


Taylor has sickle cell disease — a genetic disorder that affects the health of red blood cells and can cause extreme pain, tissue damage, impaired fertility, strokes, and even early death. She has type SS, which occurs when you inherit copies of the hemoglobin S gene from both parents. It's the most common form of the disease and also the hardest on the body. It means she can experience the worst symptoms like regular fatigue, joint pain, anemia and infections at a higher rate.  

But perhaps the hardest aspect of her disease is that you can't tell she has it just by looking at her.

"It’s always hard to open up to people [about the disease] at first," Taylor says. "Sometimes I would feel embarrassed, because it’s not normal, really."  

While she's always had sickle cell disease, that doesn't make talking about it any easier.

As a young kid, she got very sick all the time, which often required regular trips to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. A couple of times she even had acute chest syndrome, which is a severe side effect of sickle cell disease that causes intense chest pain and can be life-threatening.

Needless to say, she missed a lot of school.

She was usually open with her close friends about her condition, but other kids at school would occasionally question her about her illness because they couldn't see any evidence of it.

Taylor (second from the left) with her fellow varsity cheerleaders.

"I remember when I was younger, my peers would be like, 'Well you don’t look sick,'" Taylor recalls.

She'd find herself having to say things like, "I’m not sick right now, but, you know, I am. My body is not the same as yours."

For example, she can experience pain spikes that start at a 4 on the pain scale and suddenly jump to a 9, but they don't always show on her face.

The disease ramped up during her adolescence, likely because her body was growing and changing rapidly. However, once she reached her senior year, her symptoms began to mellow out. But that doesn't mean she can't still have a pain crisis anytime anywhere.

She's learned to cope with the effects because of her amazing support system, starring her mom.

Taylor at prom.

"My mom never leaves the hospital," Taylor says. "She never leaves me by myself." Her extended family also checks in with her on the regular and even stays to help out for days at a time during Taylor's more severe episodes.

Her mom also constantly encourages her to talk candidly about her disease, which should help her as she makes her way through college.

"My mom made me tell people," Taylor recalls. "I think she wanted me to be comfortable with myself."

The encouragement seems to have helped. Taylor now finds it much easier to be open about it, even with people she doesn't know as well. She realizes people need to know in case she finds herself in a crisis without her family nearby.

They also need to know so that future generations of people with sickle cell disease don't feel like they have to hide it.

Even though her symptoms have settled, Taylor's still talking about sickle cell disease, not just for herself, but for everyone.

Taylor at the airport with her friend Alexis.

Especially her little sister, who also has sickle cell disease.

Taylor's sister Trinity is 11 years old and has the same type of sickle cell disease Taylor has, but so far, her case seems to be less severe. However, that hasn't stopped Taylor from being a good big sister — aka pestering Trinity to take care of herself.

She constantly tells Trinity to drink water and gives her tips for coping with pain crises, like take a walk, use heat pads, listen to music, and talk to someone to distract yourself.  

And most importantly, she encourages Trinity to be open about her disease so she grows up without any shame.

Now that Taylor's on the precipice of a new adventure, she plans to live life to the fullest, sickle cell disease be damned.

Taylor at high school graduation.

Yes, that means making new friends and meeting boys, but it also means starting out on a path towards an exciting career. She's taking pre-law classes and plans to become a lawyer, which is not a stress-free field. And even though stress has been known to exacerbate symptoms, Taylor's not shying away from her dream.  

She's also trying not to shy away from talking about her disease with new people. She knows the more who understand it, the less alone people who have it will feel. Caregivers at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center know that too, which is why they offer counseling and support groups for children living with sickle cell disease as well as their parents.

And who knows, that candidness could lead to an amazing new relationship.

To learn more about sickle cell disease or the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, visit choa.org/fightsicklecell.

More
True
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

WE Teachers
True
Walgreens
via KGW-TV / YouTube

One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture