Childhood Cancer Survivor Lends a Hand – and a Voice – to Others

Written By:Amanda Dobbs
photo of Daniel Patton

In the fall of 1994, 3-year-old Daniel Patton had been in and out of the doctor’s office for 3 straight weeks. He had been having bouts of vomiting, shortness of breath, achy joints, and was prone to bruising, and his mother was worried something was seriously wrong. After a fever of 103 degrees and another wave of vomiting brought them in for care once again, his doctors did a comprehensive blood test. A few hours later, Daniel and his mother got the results: he had acute lymphocytic leukemia, and needed to start treatment immediately.

photo of Daniel Patton as a child going through chemotherapy

For the next few years, Daniel was given an aggressive program of chemotherapy. He lost his hair, had to endure multiple spinal taps and bone marrow biopsies, and had to wear a brace on his leg when the loss of the blood supply to one of the bones in his foot caused the bone to die.

He was hospitalized multiple times, and faced the loss of some close childhood friends when their treatment no longer worked and they lost their lives to the disease.

But even as Daniel and his family faced the hardest aspects of his cancer, they decided that their experience was something that could also make an impact for the better. They began working with various charities to raise money and awareness for the disease. At a very young age, Patton began telling his story – and when he saw what an impact it had, he didn’t want to stop.

Sending a powerful message, despite challenges

“I learned early in my life I wanted to be an advocate for every aspect involved with cancer,” says Daniel, now 24, and as he moved through school and young adulthood, he worked to do just that. He spoke in front of audiences large and small, telling his story to school groups and at fundraising events.

In college, he spoke at his first American Cancer Society Relay For Life event. Relay For Life events are held every year in communities around the world, raising money to invest in cancer research and to provide information and services to cancer patients and caregivers. “It’s very humbling to be at Relay,” he says, “Everyone is so supportive.” He was even invited to speak in front of Congress in hopes of encouraging members to pass a bill that would give $250 million to cancer research. He and other childhood cancer survivors at the event knew that simply by sharing their story, they could have a real impact.

Even as Daniel was trying to make a difference for others, though, he was still feeling the impact of cancer himself. Due to the long-term effects of his childhood treatment, he has both dyslexia and hearing loss, but he worked hard through high school and college and graduated with a degree in Heath Promotion and Wellness from the University of Northern Iowa. Despite his busy schedule with speaking events and school, he had to make time for frequent doctor visits to test both for a return of his cancer and to check his bone mineral density, which was also affected by his treatment. “I am the youngest person at my doctor’s office to be diagnosed with osteoporosis,” he jokes. And, despite having a harder path to some of the same milestones as his peers, he still faced all the same challenges, including stepping out on his own after getting his degree to find a job and a path toward the future.

Finding a full-time chance to help

"I am very grateful that what I and others do makes an impact and makes the journey easier."

Daniel Patton

It’s no coincidence that as he searched for his first job out of college, Daniel looked for something that could continue to help him make a difference. He found just that in a position as a Patient Resource Specialist at the American Cancer Society’s cancer information center in Austin, Texas. Patient Resource Specialists connect callers with information, resources, and services that can help them navigate the health care system, insurance, and their care.

For Daniel, this role has proven to be empowering, but it can also hit close to home. “Being a survivor, I think sometimes I’m especially motivated to go above and beyond. But it also makes the job harder,” he says. “Overall, it’s way more rewarding than a burden.” It’s especially powerful to him when he sees notes and letters that come to the center from people who have received help. “It’s amazing to think that they might have no one, but a stranger on the phone can make so much of a difference, that they go out of their way to send a card or note,” he says. “I am very grateful that what I and others do makes an impact and makes the journey easier.”

Daniel is still working to help shed light on the challenges of facing cancer, both in his personal life and his professional life, and he plans to use his voice to keep doing so well into the future. “No story is the same, and no battle is the same,” he says of the people he’s met, but he does have a piece of advice for anyone touched by the disease, whether in childhood or beyond: “Live life to the fullest. I think most people who have been diagnosed with cancer can really relate to that.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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