Photo submitted by Danny Valerius
Danny Valerius: cancer survivor
When Danny Valerius was in sixth grade, he was attending St. Croix Catholic School (SCCS). Like every normal 11 year old boy, he was full of energy. One of Danny’s main passions was basketball and he couldn’t wait for the next season. After sixth grade started, he thought he was coming down with just a normal cold and was frequently taking naps.
Unfortunately, that dream came to an end for Danny. On Sept. 22, 2015, he was diagnosed with high risk T cell acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (T-ALL), a blood cancer, which has a survival rate of 70-75% in children.
“I was devastated… up until then I didn’t think cancer was a thing that could happen to me… I associated it with death and that was the first thing I thought of… I didn’t have a lot of hope and that was heartbreaking to hear the news… having your parents not know what to do was really alarming,” said junior Danny Valerius.
Danny began the treatment process the day that he was diagnosed. This included several rounds of intense chemotherapy. The chemotherapy targeted the fast-growing cells in his body because cancerous cells multiply more quickly than normal cells.
Danny explained that he had “two rounds of chemo” every week. The doctors gave him “the intense stuff, which is what they start you off with,” and he said that he “just wasn’t prepared that much.” This form of chemotherapy “went on until the spring of 2016,” said Valerius.
Danny faced some huge obstacles during his treatment. The biggest that he said he faced was in the beginning of his treatment, he stopped eating. This was caused by side effects from his chemotherapy and resulted in his body becoming weaker and losing weight.
“I just kind of lost my appetite. And back then I had to swallow my meds, like the fluid ones and I had this vial that was probably six inches long, of this just nasty medicine. I had to take it and it burned my throat… eventually my throat closed to the size of a quarter… eating just hurt. I lost 20 pounds, there were lesions like there are bumps inside of my throat. They had to drill a hole in my stomach and drill a hole in my intestine to put a feeding tube in and so I didn’t eat but they just were pumping this formula into me to keep me filled,” explained Valerius.
Danny had recovered from not eating and the Valerius family thought that everything was going well once Danny was going into a less intense form of chemo. However, Danny’s mom, Jackie Valerius, had just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Stage 4 implies that the cancer had spread to distant parts of her body meaning that the survival rate had decreased to around 22 percent as opposed to 90 percent.
Danny saw his mom helpless and it crushed him. When hearing that another person in his family had cancer, he thought why do we have to go through this again. Jackie told Danny and his brother in the car and again he thought that this couldn’t be happening again. His brother started asking questions, but Danny just sat there and processed the news. Once again, Danny had lost hope.
Danny and Jackie had some overlap in their treatments. Danny was nearing the final, yet longest stage of his treatment when Jackie was starting hers. Danny’s chemo was down to once a month as opposed to twice a week and Jackie was starting at the same place Danny had, just a year prior with chemo twice a week.
“It was just once a month chemo… I was finishing that up in the summer 2017… even though I had another year of chemo. Then my mom got diagnosed, so she was put on the intense stuff just like I was. I understood what she had to go through and that was just rough seeing your parents being helpless. In reality, she was not because she had me and I could give some level of guidance, however little,” said Valerius.
After having chemotherapy his whole sixth grade year, Danny was able to return to school for seventh grade. All of his friends and classmates helped him catch up with things that he missed the year prior and his teachers were very flexible with the amount of work that he could do.
Danny was allowed to take “half hour breaks” if he ever experienced being “tired or overwhelmed.”
After having part of his childhood ripped away by spending around a year in and out of doctors’ offices and long hospital stays, Danny was able to spend time with his classmates and it made him feel like a normal kid again.
“Having Danny back felt like a huge relief. A lot of us, myself included, had a lot of worries about Danny during his treatments. When he came back he just brightened the entire class with his attitude. Despite having gone through problems most of us will never fully understand, he’s the brightest and most optimistic person I’ve met,” said junior Cecilia deLeon.
In a span of around 3 years, the Valerius family went through the hardest part of their lives. Fortunately, both Danny and Jackie were blessed that they survived treatment and are thriving more than ever today. Even though Danny no longer plays basketball, he still holds a great love for the sport and all of the countless people that have helped him through his intense battle with Leukemia. He is now a junior at Stillwater Area High School (SAHS) and hopes to go to college to become a zoologist or a type of biologist.