Taylor Pageau dreamed of being a firefighter since he was a child.
So, when he finished fire academy training at the end of last year and was hired to work at the Ocoee Fire Department in February, it felt like things were falling into place. He and his wife, Emily, even purchased a home in Clermont and moved from St. Cloud to be closer to Ocoee.
But, just two months into his firefighting career, Emily Pageau received a call that turned their world upside-down: Taylor Pageau had suffered a grand mal seizure at work and was rushed to Health Central Hospital in Ocoee.
CT scans revealed a large frontal-lobe brain tumor.
COURSE OF ACTION
Taylor Pageau, 26, was exercising with his crew on April 19 when the seizure happened. He doesn’t remember any of it and only knows what he’s been told by others, but he does remember being conscious when doctors at Health Central Hospital broke the news of the tumor.
“The seizure lasted for over two minutes, which is another amazing thing, because we have four stations at Ocoee (Fire Department), and two of them have rescues, and I was at one with the rescue,” he said.
Taylor Pageau was transferred to Orlando Regional Medical Center for monitoring and to decide on an action plan. The tumor was so large that it began to compress and displace his brain. Neurologists decided to surgically remove as much of it as possible and test for cancer.
“They said, ‘OK, we can’t tell you if it’s cancerous or not, but we’ll do the surgery next Wednesday,’” Emily Pageau said. “‘After the surgery, we can do the pathology and find out if it’s cancerous or not.’ We had a week of the terrifying possibility of cancer.”
However, Taylor Pageau initially wasn’t worried about the tumor; he was more worried about Emily Pageau and about being out of work.
“I was way more upset about not being able to return to work, and I still am way more upset about not being able to work,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve wanted to do this forever. I worked for two months, and this happens, and now I have to wait six more months to start again. I was so frustrated when they were like, ‘This is going to be a long time in recovery.’”
To further complicate matters, both of Taylor Pageau’s parents were quarantining with COVID-19 when he had his seizure. Then, the week of his surgery, Emily Pageau’s family also had to quarantine with COVID-19. Luckily, the young couple has had plenty of support, especially from the fire department and union, as well as their church, Cypress Grove Fellowship.
The night before his surgery, the Pageaus had some hard conversations to discuss all possible outcomes.
“We had a talk about ‘what ifs’ — ‘What if you don’t come out of the surgery, what do you want us to do?’” Emily Pageau said. “That was probably the hardest conversation I think we’ve ever had.”
Taylor Pageau said he usually goes into “Superman” mode and tries to hide his emotions to protect his wife. But one night, before the surgery, he went out on their porch to make a call.
“I called one of our really close friends and kind of broke down and told him, ‘I need you to promise me to take care of Emily if something horrible happens and I don’t make it out,’” he said. “I lost it, and he lost it. I needed to tell it to somebody, because if you’re going under the knife, you don’t really know. Even though the surgeon is the most confident person in the world, I needed to have that one call to tell somebody that if I’m gone, I need someone to look out for her.”
BEATING THE ODDS
On April 28, Taylor Pageau made it through an eight-hour surgery. They also learned that the tumor was noncancerous but rather a benign epidermoid brain tumor.
“We’ve been beating the odds, for sure,” Taylor Pageau said.
However, that was just the first part of the journey to recovery. Not only were there physical needs to attend to in recovery, but also the couple had to figure out logistics such as finances and insurance coverage. That’s when their church and fire families have stepped in.
Cypress Grove Fellowship started a meal train for the couple and offered assistance taking care of the house and their pets. They even surprised the Pageaus with a small car parade in their cul-de-sac — complete with cards, food, gift cards and balloons. Taylor Pageau said it was one of the only times he’s cried throughout this journey.
Then, the Ocoee Fire Department jumped into action in big ways. Taylor Pageau’s benefits hadn’t yet kicked in because he only had been with the department for a couple of months. But fellow firefighters weren’t going to let him fight alone.
“We beat every single odd. All the ways this could’ve gone wrong, but it’s gone right at every single turn.” — Emily Pageau
For a couple of weeks, they began taking Taylor Pageau’s shifts for him so he could get paid. Then, the union got the city to approve union members donating their paid time off so he would get paid until short-term disability kicked in. That gives the Pageaus 67% of his income until he goes back to work. He gets to keep his job and his health insurance.
“They had your next shift covered and all shifts covered in two weeks within five minutes of finding out what happened,” Emily Pageau told him. “The only people he knew at the department were his crew. He’d never met the union people or all these people from the other crews. They were just like, ‘This is what’s happening? OK, let’s do it,’ and they just jumped in. They took care of that.”
The fire department and union have set up a GoFundMe for the couple. They also hosted a poker tournament and are planning a bass fishing tournament, and they made and are selling “Taylor Tough” T-shirts. All proceeds will go straight to the Pageaus.
Now, more than a month out from surgery, Taylor Pageau has progressed. He’s walking, doing some light chores and getting stronger every day.
“Here, everybody is worried about me pushing myself too far,” he said. “At physical therapy, they’re like, ‘Push yourself, and we’re going to watch you to make sure you’re OK.’ It feels good to finally do something.”
Most side effects he’s dealing with now are mental. Sometimes, he gets depressing thoughts or mood swings, and his memory also has been affected. It’s all a normal part of the recovery process.
Taylor Pageau has a few more months to go before he can drive himself again and return to work. Although he finds it tough to stay still and rest, he knows he’s incredibly fortunate.
“I’ve been like, ‘How can I complain about anything, because it’s all so amazing and (the tumor was) not cancerous?’” he said. “We are so loved and supported, and everyone made it such a positive thing. … (Emily and I ) are so grateful to them for everything. … It’s a ridiculous amount of stuff that only you think your family would do for you.”
“This is just a testament to what God can do,” Emily Pageau said. “None of this stuff has been normal for us. I’ve never felt so helped and supported my entire life. … We felt like everything was taken care of. … We beat every single odd. All the ways this could’ve gone wrong, but it’s gone right at every single turn.”