Two days after his second birthday, Daniel Standridge’s parents took him to the doctor’s office for a routine checkup. Moments later, they would be on their way to the Atlanta Children’s Hospital – Egleston.
After performing a series of tests, the doctor and nurse entered and broke the news to Daniel’s parents.
âI just remember (the doctor) coming into the office and he told us his blood count was low,â said Daniel’s mother, Carrie.
âI had no idea what that meant,â said his father, Jesse.
âI looked (the nurse) and I said, ‘Are you talking about cancer? âSaid Carrie. âAnd she said, ‘Yeah. We left that morning just inside – it was a blur.
On September 25, 2009, Daniel was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a rapidly growing cancer that begins in the bone marrow, where new blood cells are formed.
And as if this news hadn’t touched them enough, Daniel’s parents received another bodily blow: they also discovered that their 2-year-old son had Down’s syndrome, although Daniel showed no physical signs.
The hospital quickly became their “home away from home,” where Daniel underwent six rounds of chemotherapy. For the first two rounds, he had to be given eye drops every two to three hours to protect his eyes from the effects of the drugs.
âThey should come in and wake him up,â Carrie said. âAnd we had to hold him back. “
“As a mom,” she paused, her voice shaking and her eyes watering. âAs a mom, having to hold your child down and beg you to stop it is difficult. “
After an initial round of aggressive treatments, doctors performed a bone marrow biopsy and found Daniel to be essentially cancer-free, although his last round of chemotherapy did not come until March 2010.
Carrie remembers that moment clearly.
âI just started to cry and the doctor gave me a hug,â she said. When the doctor came out, she called her husband and told him the good news. “He said to me, ‘Is everything all right? I’m like, ‘Yeah, the cancer is gone. There is no sign of cancer.
After hanging up the phone, Carrie took a moment to herself.
âI just sat down and prayed and thanked the Lord for touching him,â she said.
Some 12 years later, Daniel’s mother grabs her arm on the bleachers and searches for the slight scar that is apparently a sign of his Down syndrome. She can barely find him. This scar is practically the only thing that sets Daniel apart from his peers.
Now 14, Daniel is a freshman at West Hall High School and plays as a linebacker and tight end on the football team. Like many older brothers, his younger sister annoys him endlessly. And like many students, her favorite class, science, is the one where the teacher doesn’t assign any homework. After high school, he hopes to pursue a career in criminal justice.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in the Hall County School District. Daniel has been named the team captain of the Cancer Awareness Match for the West Hall High Spartans.
Such a spectacle was almost unthinkable over a decade ago, her mother said.
âPride is an understatement,â Carrie said. âHonestly, I sat in the crowd and looked at him and screamed like a baby. Because 12 years ago I didn’t know if it would be possible. So just watching him do what he loves and be able to do it made my heart swell with pride.
The Standridge’s each have âmarbles of courageâ from their hospital stays. Each color represents a processing step. Yellow, for example, represents an overnight stay in the hospital. One pearl in particular makes the Standridge necklaces unique: a little red car.
This means that the movie that Daniel would watch day in and day out in the hospital – “Cars”.
“If I don’t watch ‘Cars’ anymore, I’d be happy,” Jesse joked.
âThey made him a special pearl,â Carrie said, adding that each of the five nurses who treated Daniel also received one. One of the nurses also brought Daniel a stuffed animal, named after his favorite character, the rusty tow truck, Mater.
When Daniel started to lose his hair, his father shaved his head in solidarity. The nurse brought them a set of mowers, then left the room. After shaving Daniel’s head, he helped his father shave his.
âIt was a tough time, but I think it brought us together as a family,â Jesse said. âHe does one of two things, and when we saw him in the hospital. Either it brings a family together or it separates them, âCarrie said.
Two weeks before this fateful visit to the doctor’s office, Daniel’s parents attended a song to benefit St. Jude.
âI turned around and looked at him,â Carrie said, âand I said,â I don’t see how these parents do that. I don’t know what I would do if my child was diagnosed with cancer.
Now the Standridge’s hope to use Daniel’s story to raise awareness and inspire others. And while Daniel’s parents have told his story on several occasions, he now tells it himself.
Daniel is one of many students entering the Georgia Laws of Life Essay Contest. His law is that of perseverance, and when asked what his essay was about, he said it simply.
âTwelve years later, I’m here. I live, he said. âI’m on the football team.
âMy story goes that I never gave up,â he said. “I conquered cancer.”