2018 Honored Patient: Danny
File this profile under “a young adult being strong and wise beyond his years.” In addition to navigating his own diagnosis of High Risk TAL leukemia, 14-year old Danny of Stillwater, Minn., also provides welcome comfort to another strong cancer patient that’s very near and dear to his heart – his own mom.
First, we’ll start with Danny’s Story. A talented athlete, he noticed that he was getting easily winded at basketball and soccer. Some dark spots on his scalp added to Danny’s concern. That concern turned to reality on September 22, 2015, when Danny was diagnosed with pediatric cancer at Children’s Minnesota.
Danny missed his entire sixth grade year due to his treatments and the side effects that compromised his immune system. Students and parents from Danny’s school, St. Croix Catholic, came to his house to tutor Danny, read to him or play games when he was up to it. Danny eventually went back to school, worked hard and was able to stay with his classmates at seventh grade. Not an easy accomplishment.
Danny’s mom, Jackie, filled in some of the background details of Danny’s journey.
“He told me the scariest part of the treatment was being impaired mentally and physically. This kept him from the things he loved to do. For us, it was hard watching him suffer so many side effects in the first year. He lost so much weight and was in and out of the hospital spending more than 40 nights there the first year. Danny had multiple surgeries and his esophagus was burned by the chemo, so he was unable to eat. He also wore a feeding backpack for 18 hours a day for 6 weeks.”
Clearly, Danny rose above it all. This past school year he ran for and was elected student council president. He received straight A’s, was one of the leads in the eighth grade play and received several awards at his graduation. His family credits his ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how murky the path seemed to be.
Danny will be a freshman at Stillwater Area High School in August. He expects to be finished with his treatments in January 2019. He wants to be a zoologist and has always been interested in animals.
Jackie knows it took “a village” to get Danny this far.
“We are very blessed to be so close to such amazing medical care. Danny spent a lot of time in the hospital, but if it weren’t for a focus on home care and quality of life, he would have spent triple the time there. We were able to have him at home thanks to IV fluids and feeding packs with timers delivered to our home. With training, we were able to mix them up and attach them through Danny’s port so he could be at home as much as possible. The nurses that would come to our house to take Danny’s vitals and administer chemo were wonderful. It was a relief not to have to be in the hospital any longer than necessary.”
In addition to his medical team and school chums, “Danny’s village” also includes a tight-knit family led by his parents Jackie and Paul. The four boys in the family are named Andy (20), Ben (17), Charlie (15) and, of course, Danny (14). Around Stillwater, some people refer to them as the “ABCD Boys” because of the first letters in their name.
Now to the other critically important part of this story – Jackie’s Story. In May of 2017, Danny’s mom was diagnosed with Stage Three Breast Cancer. Since then, she has undergone 16 rounds of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation and a double mastectomy.
“As much as I did not want to put my family through another cancer journey, Danny was an amazing mentor to me,” said Jackie. “He held my hand and told me it was okay to cry, even if I had no idea why I was sad.”
Those few words speak volumes. Sometimes comfort comes from unlikely sources. You never know who in your village will step up with just the right comforting words. Or, who will step up with just the right comforting touch at just the right time. Danny's Family has this concept pretty well covered.