Stories of Inspiration: Determined to Overcome the Obstacles

One of our longtime BTFC kids, Danny Waite, graduated from college last December.  One week before graduation, his parents, Mary and Doug, wrote a letter to Dr. Patrick Schloss, the president of Valdosta State University, telling him about Danny’s journey.  Dr. Schloss was very moved by the story, telling the family that he felt honored to meet them — and he kindly recognized Danny’s accomplishment during VSU’s commencement ceremony.  Here is the letter that tells their story:

December 10, 2010

Dear Dr. Schloss,

Our son, Daniel Waite, will be graduating from VSU with a degree in History at 4pm on Saturday.  I’m pretty sure that you haven’t heard about Danny until now, but I would like to tell you about the remarkable journey that began with a medical diagnosis of an inoperable brain stem tumor when Danny was 12 years old — and is now culminating in his extraordinary accomplishment of earning a college degree from Valdosta State. 

Danny’s determination to overcome the obstacles in his path has brought him academic success that we never would have imagined possible.  Survival of a brain stem glioma is extremely rare — it is one of the deadliest of cancers — and the surgeries/treatments for it are debilitating.  In 1999 Danny had surgery to remove part of the tumor . . . but it quickly grew back, and he had another surgery three months later, followed by intense radiation therapy.  The skilled neurosurgeons at Scottish Rite Children’s hospital saved his life, and the neuro-radiologist at Piedmont Hospital miraculously managed to minimize damage to his brain.  We were warned about mental and physical deficits that could be quite severe, some of them occurring years after the treatments.

But Danny is a fighter.  He managed to finish high school and graduate from Kell High in Marietta with a solid GPA — and to receive the cherished acceptance toValdosta State in the fall of 2005.  With all that he had been through, we often doubted that Danny would have what it takes to handle college level work — but he was determined to prove us wrong.  He refused to accept the special disability assistance for which he qualified, and he worked diligently to pass all of his course work.  We were stunned and thrilled with his academic performance, and with the grit that it took for him to compete with the other able-bodied students.

In the meantime, Danny joined the campus Sigma Nu fraternity.  He felt proud to be elected to several leadership positions, including Vice President one year.  But even more amazing was the success he achieved in their annual Tug of War competition.  Physically weakened by the radiation years before, Danny began to focus on developing his strength to help his team win the annual competition.  Sigma Nu prided themselves on having a winning team, the strongest on campus — and they were at first skeptical that Danny could make the team.  But they let him work out with them, putting him through their grueling practices and teaching him proper diet and strength-training techniques.  Before our very eyes, we watched Danny blossom from a timid and hesitant participant into a strong member of the team who helped them win two consecutive championships.

We have seen Danny’s self-confidence soar in the past year as he neared his goal of graduation.  For the first time he was able to stand up before a crowd at the Children’s Miracle Network-sponsored VSU Dance Marathon a couple of weeks ago.  He told the students about his own battle with cancer, encouraging them to follow his example of meeting challenges and doing your best to reach your goals. 

I know the pride you must take in all of your graduates.  Achieving a college degree, undergraduate or graduate, is a wonderful accomplishment.  I just thought you might like to know about Student No. 870200203 — and to know what it means to this special young man to have earned his degree from Valdosta State.

As his parents, we thank you sincerely for offering our son an excellent education in an environment that fostered success and rewarded accomplishment, even under exceptional circumstances.  We are very much looking forward to seeing you on Saturday!

Sincerely yours,

Mary and Doug Waite

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About The Brain Tumor Foundation for Children

Founded in 1983, BTFC was the first nonprofit in the U.S. to focus on brain cancer in children. Our mission is to support patients and their families.
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