Hear Danielle's story,
as featured on KS95 For Kids.
Danielle was 12 days shy of her first birthday when her parents brought her in to the doctor for an ear infection that just wouldn't go away. The doctors suspected some swelling of her liver at the appointment, but upon seeing the scan, diagnosed Danielle with Wilms Tumor, a cancer of the kidney tissue.
Typically, patients diagnosed with Wilms Tumor experience symptoms like abdominal pain, blood in urine or constipation - none of which Danielle had. She and her family would soon find out that her case was anything but normal. Children as young as Danielle are normally diagnosed in the very early stage of the disease, and doctors normally find tumors on one kidney. Danielle was diagnosed with Stage 5 Wilms Tumor with a grapefruit-sized tumor on one kidney, and 7-8 small tumors on her other. Her chances of survival were less than 3 percent.
Instead of spending her first birthday surrounded by friends and family watching her blow out her first birthday candle, Danielle was recovering from surgery to remove one kidney. She immediately started chemotherapy to shrink the remaining tumors at, what was then, the University of Minnesota Medical Center Children's Hospital. She and her family would spend the next three years living in and out of the hospital, enduring chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries to remove tumors.
When she began to lose her appetite and rely solely on a feeding tube for nourishment, doctors discovered that 12-18 inches of her colon had essentially failed, requiring another emergency surgery to remove part of her colon - all under the age of 3. By age 4, she was old enough to begin the kidney transplant process. At the time, no one under age 5 in North America had received the high pre-transplant dose of chemotherapy, needed to prepare the body for the new organ. Doctors proceeded with the final chemotherapy dose making her the youngest patient ever.
As it turns out, this dose of chemotherapy almost took her life yet again. Danielle developed toxicity poisoning, which is the equivalent of 2nd and 3rd degree burns throughout her body and internal organs. Her oncologist estimated that she only had 48 hours to live. Miraculously, she survived the poisoning and regained her health to accept her father's new kidney.
Since then, Danielle has lived a relatively normal life - participating in the same activities as her peers, but she's especially fond of dance. Since her treatment ended, she hasn't been far from a dance studio for very long - dancing and teaching throughout her childhood and teen years.
Her immune system is weakened, which means that she gets sick easily and has spent time in the hospital for things like the flu and chicken pox. She said she's proud of her scars when she goes to the swimming pool with her friends, because it reminds her that her life is a gift and that she beat all the odds that were stacked against her. She takes more than 20 pills every day and visits her doctor each month to have her labs drawn, to ensure that her kidney is still functioning normally. She also suffers from cardiac health issues, common for childhood cancer survivors, in addition to mild scoliosis in her back due to radiation treatments.
Danielle is now a fourth year student at St. Cloud State University, pursuing a degree in elementary education. She recently won the title of Miss Wright County International, and when asked to choose a platform cause for her reign, she said the choice was easy. She chose Children's Cancer Research Fund to help other children and families who face the devastating diagnosis of cancer. She is excited about the opportunity to talk about the importance of research with people in the community. She feels that her life is a gift and it's her turn to help others.