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Gibbs Draws Inspiration From Grandson's Fight

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Former Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey previews Washington's upcoming season finale against Dallas. Video by Atkinson & Co.Editor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com

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Now it is less than a month after Sean Taylor died from a gunshot wound in Miami, a death that emotionally rocked Gibbs and the Redskins. It is the day after Christmas. Nothing makes Gibbs feel more blessed -- or put him in touch with his own mortality -- than seeing his grandson alive and healthy.

"You go through life and your grandbabies are healthy and your kids are healthy and you have a tendency of thinking, 'This is the way life is,' " Gibbs said. "And then it gets interrupted. What happened with Sean had such a big impact around here. I mean here's a 24-year-old. The rest of his life was just snuffed out. It causes you stop and think, 'Where am I going to spend eternity?' "

Taylor is the youngest of J.D. and Melissa's four sons. His older brothers, Jackson, 9, Miller, 8, and Jason, 5, were essentially quarantined from seeing their brother during the protocol phase of the treatment. They lived upstairs and Taylor lived in the basement, and when the other boys went down they had to make sure they had on surgical masks to prevent Taylor from any possible germs that might cause infection.

Next to the needles puncturing him with so much medication so often those first eight months, next to the nausea and the hair loss, that was probably the easiest part of fighting cancer of the white blood cells.

Taylor recently moved into the maintenance phase of the disease, a two-year remission stage. He is now in the midst of a 12-week cycle that is much less grueling than the protocol phase. He will still have spinal taps to receive intrathecal chemotherapy and have a number of medications injected into the port in his chest. There will still be a five-day pulse of steroids, which can turn a normally rambunctious child into a little hellion.

But that's better than the last cycle. Taylor jumped from 27 to 37 pounds on the steroids during the first months of protocol treatment. "All they want to do is eat because they're miserable and ornery," J.D. said. "He was insane, up all the time. He was throwing stuff and screaming. It was like he was possessed. You look back now at some of the videos, now you kind of laugh."

One video in particular was shown when Joe Gibbs and his wife, Pat, visited in the fall for Taylor's birthday. It showed Taylor in various forms during his treatment, interspersing verses of biblical scripture and images of he and his brothers, overlaid with inspirational music.

"The video kind of got to me emotionally because it showed all the things he had done and been through, all the things I missed," Gibbs said. "It's one of those things, when you're closing in on the end of your life at some point, it's not going to be, 'I wish I spent more time coaching a football team,' it's going to be all the things you missed."

Gibbs said he had regrets about the time he spent with his own parents at the end of their lives. "I could have done so many more things for them that I didn't do," he said. "My dad, I could've flown him back here. I could have done a lot of things. His life was in California and I was back here. You roar through life with your own family and just get so caught up."

When Joe Gibbs can't see his grandson in person, he communicates with him via a Webcam in his office and corresponds regularly with his son and daughter-in-law. After a rough loss for the Redskins earlier this season, "J.D. wrote me a note, and he said, 'If it makes you feel any better, Taylor called them poopheads,' " Gibbs said, laughing. "So he's on our side."

Said J.D. Gibbs, "I really think for my dad and what the whole team has gone through this year -- Sean, the struggles with the season -- it's given him time to see what's true and important."

On a Web site detailing Taylor's experiences and monitoring his progress, family and friends write encouraging messages, many of which are read aloud to the little boy.


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