Daniel dreams of soccer – the speed of striking a goal, the cheer of the crowd, his teammates running alongside him. When he started slowing down on the field, his mom noticed. So did his coach. No one could have imagined that there was a growing mass putting pressure on his lungs. After getting a fresh haircut, Daniel saw his reflection and noticed a lump on his neck. He thought, I must be coming down with a cold. When he showed his mother, she knew in her heart that it was something more serious than the sniffles.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Twelve year old Daniel thought his life was over. He says that the time flew between seeing the lump, getting the necessary tests and starting chemotherapy – five months of chemo were awful not because of the medicine but because of the side effects. “It was the pain – my mouth had sores and I would stop talking for days because it hurt. My hair fell out. The radiation is much easier because I have medication to help with the side effects.” Through it all, he has had the support of his mom, dad, two brothers and his crazy dog named Koda. “It feels good to have them at my side the whole time. They make sure I feel good and that everything goes well,” he says of his parents. His 17-year-old brother shaved his head in solidarity and his favorite middle school teacher had teachers make purple t-shirts with his very own hashtag: #DanielStrong. His Matawan community has been supportive and every grade at St. Benedict’s School has sent him get-well cards. Fundraisers held for his family have helped them pay for the expenses of traveling from home to CHOP.
Now, he is a member of the Ronald McDonald House family, entertaining the younger patients before appointments and catching up with the other families in the house. He says, “It’s nice to come to RMH because all the parents are nice and the kids are fun – you’re not made fun of because everyone is going through pain and suffering. I feel like I am normal here.” While he loves the playroom, he always looks forward to the different activities the house provides for its youngest guests. Daniel even notices the difference meals prepared by volunteers make and says that providing food to families helps them not worry about where and what to eat when they’re far from home.
Ask Daniel how he feels about his life today and he says “I am excited. I can’t wait to get back to what I was doing, to see my friends again, to play soccer, to be home.” He wants to feel the wind in his hair again, the soccer ball at his feet and the peace of being well again. April 16th is his last radiation treatment and he promises to come back to visit, as his busy twelve-year old life permits.