A 21st birthday is a milestone event, and many celebrate the big day by having their first legal drink surrounded by friends and family in a crowded bar, or plan a destination celebration to mark the occasion. Today one of our guests, Daniel Vela, a young man 350 miles away from his hometown, turned 21. After an Urgent Care visit in Buffalo on July 9th, his life was turned upside down. He never dreamt that the shot he’d be taking today, October 4th, is one at defeating a rare tumor in his chest while in a hospital bed.
Daniel “Danielito” Vela has been volunteering at a hospital near his hometown of Damascus, MD since he was 15. After moving to Buffalo, he began helping out at the pediatric center, in the parking lots collecting food donations for those in need and serving water to patients at Sisters of Charity Hospital.
Daniel started the Pre-Medicine program at Canisius College three years ago, where he became an RA, tour guide and spent countless hours researching. Now in his junior year, his hard work earned him acceptance into the Early Assurance Program (EAP) at the SUNY University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Over the summer, Daniel unexpectedly lost 15 pounds and food was becoming undesirable. (Not typical for a college student!) After developing a constant high temperature on July 9th, he went for treatment at Urgent Care. His immediate diagnosis was pneumonia, with two liters of fluid in his left lung, limiting his breathing to his right lung. At night, he was referred to the emergency room at Sisters of Charity Hospital, where he was later admitted. Blood tests, x-rays and CT scans of the stomach and brain were taken.
Daniel would spend the next 10 days in a hospital. His parents rushed to Buffalo, a city unfamiliar to them, the night he was taken to the ER, leaving their daughter Emely behind. Daniel told them, “Thanks mom and daddy for leaving everything, coming to be with me, making my treatment possible in Buffalo so that my life continues as normal. Thank you for being the best parents.. you know…I will never forget that evening at the ER, you were arriving at midnight, rushing, and shaking like chihuahuas!”
The Vela’s had limited time, but were searching on the internet for a place to rent. Then they were informed about Kevin Guest House from staff at Sisters and called the house late at night on July 14th. The next morning, Marisol checked into the Kevin Guest House.
Daniel led an extremely healthy lifestyle, so this was unexpected. A scan indicated a 12-centimeter mass on his chest, but more intricate testing was needed to determine the type of cancer, along with three tumors on his liver. Medical Professionals diagnosed Daniel with stage 3 germ cell tumor, which is an aggressive form. These tumors are growths that form from reproductive cells, so the location of his was extremely rare. His reaction was “Mommy, no more tears… I’m fine! This is a school for me… I have to have the experience of being a patient to help my patients when the day comes!”
After being discharged from Sister’s, Daniel went to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center for his first of many sessions of chemotherapy treatment. By mid-August, an Alpha Fetoprotein (AFP) tumor marker test indicated that the treatment was working, as his levels dropped from 13,317 to 229, which was a drastic change.
Daniel has a teratoma, which is a type of germ cell tumor that may contain several different types of tissue, such as hair, muscle and bone. A CT scan on September 15th showed a blood clot in his lung, so he went to the ER and chemotherapy treatment was placed on hold. He was released the next day, but was admitted to Sister’s Hospital for three days due to a high fever and infection. Sadly, all of his tumors progressed in size, but the doctor confirmed that the cancer cells were not found in the liver. On his 21st birthday, Daniel was admitted to RPCCC, where he will undergo chemotherapy and likely have surgery to remove the benign tumors.
Although he attended classes in person most of September, Daniel later took a medical leave of absence from school to focus on his health. His sister, Emely is attending the United Stated Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Their parents, Fausto and Marisol are able to work remotely from Kevin Guest House’s campus, as they adjust to a new life in Buffalo.
Daniel’s parents have stayed busy in the house by reading in their favorite room, the living room. As a family, they can relax, watch TV and feel a sense of “home”. They are constantly learning about his cancer to try and understand the treatment better. Marisol has found comfort in posting on the Caring Bridge website about Daniel’s progress. This frees up time for her by typing the information once, rather than becoming overly emotional repeating the message to countless friends and family. With a push of a button, the extremely detailed updates and progress photos, such as his father shaving Daniel’s hair, can be shared with loved ones. Just browsing the page quickly, you’ll see the army of support behind Daniel. Family and friends have safely visited from across the country to show their love.
Marisol also wanted to make sure the posts were open to the public, as she wants other families experiencing hardships like this to find comfort in sharing the experience. She hopes her story can inspires others, just as Justin Sandler’s story touched their hearts when they came across his journey mid-August. The family found that Justin’s experience and treatment is the same as Daniel’s, and as Marisol said, “They are both amazing people that have accomplished so much.” He was at his best time when this experience hit him. Just as Justin overcame the aggressiveness of the tumor, Daniel will overcome it too. Now he is weak and tired, but he will make it!”
When asked how parents deal with a situation like this, Marisol responded, “This experience is something that no one should go through. It came to us, we don’t ask why; rather, we ask ourselves the purpose behind it. We had to educate ourselves to be able to help. Once we understood and accepted it; then, we focused on how to help Daniel, and at the same time how to make sure that the changes do not affect Emely.
Our mission as parents never ends, we are blessed that we can support our children and be with them. We have our family and friends who have supported us and allowed us to share this experience. We are blessed!”