Contestants for the annual Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s man and woman of the year are just beginning the two-week home stretch to raise money for the research and treatment of blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and melanoma.
While the contest is always filled with magnanimous fundraisers benevolently running on behalf of a friend or loved one who either lost their life to cancer or suffered through it, this year’s contest in particular is drawing all eyes to San Antonio as one of our own seeks to break the competition’s all time fundraising effort. He's only the second pediatric survivor of cancer in the country to bid for the award. Oh, and he's just 16 years old.
When he was seven, Daniel Edelen had a series of stomach aches. Concerned about his condition, his parents took him to the emergency room where he was released with some medication. Everything seemed to return to normal.
But a few days later, after biking with his family, Daniel woke up with a streak of blood in his eye and bruises all over his body. Seeing that something was obviously wrong, his parents rushed him back to the hospital where Daniel was immediately placed in the ICU – 90% of his blood cells were found to have cancer.
Diagnosed with high-risk T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Daniel endured three years and four months of chemotherapy and treatment which included three surgeries, 21 spinal taps, 22 blood and platelet transfusions, 88 days in the hospital, daily chemo pills and cranial radiation.
Miraculously, with the support of his friends and family, Daniel fought through the cancer and now – six years later – he is officially cured and playing JV football at Winston Churchill High School.
Since beating cancer as a child, Daniel and his family have now turned their attention to helping others do the same and their hope is that the funds they raise will go a long way in making a difference. In the 1960’s only 4% of children who contracted blood cancer survived. Thanks to the years of research and money raised, that survival rate has risen to 85% and according to Daniel and his family, we are closing in on curing it completely.
“We are blessed. If people hadn’t (donated) before Daniel got sick, we wouldn’t be here. It isn’t about Man of the Year. Don’t get me wrong, we are competitive and want to win but it is much more about giving back and helping so many people who have been touched by cancer," said Chris Edelen, Daniel’s father and board member of the local chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. "Even though we’ve come a long way with treatment, every 4 minutes in this country another person is diagnosed with blood cancer and every 10 minutes somebody dies,”
So, how much money are Daniel and his team trying to raise? According to the campaign team they are aiming for $432,000. That's $1,000 more than the all-time national Man/Woman of the Year record.
“Even though we are close to curing blood cancer, we are hoping that part of these funds can also be used to help lessen the invasive nature of the treatment,” said Joan Edelen, Daniel’s mom.
The current process for treatment Mrs. Edelen is speaking about includes more than three years of chemo, constant steroid injections and IV drips, and extended time in quarantined and sterilized rooms due to a suppressed immune system.
While half a million dollars might seem like a hard target to hit, Daniel and his team are pushing hard before the May 16 deadline and have some of the biggest names in the city doing more than just cheering them on.
Everyone ranging from Rick Cavender to Bruce Bowen have stepped up to help.
The show of support has even gotten so big that on April 16, KQ101.9 dedicated the entire day to Daniel’s campaign raising $56,000 by auctioning off prizes ranging from autographed guitars to trips to Hawaii and getting sports celebrities like Jermaine O’Neal and Peyton Manning involved through public service announcements. Mayor Castro even got in the mix and announced the day as national Daniel’s Day.
When I asked the family how much money they had already raised, they said they were not allowed to say because the Leukemia Lymphoma Society likes to keep it all a secret until the big gala on April 16, but they did tell me that they still have a significant amount to go.
At the end of the day, though, according to Daniel, regardless of who gets involved or how much is raised, he is just thankful for the support and the opportunity to help those in our city who are going through the same experiences he did seven years ago.
“Even though it isn’t something I would have ever wanted," Daniel said, "It is a blessing because it gave me a testimonial I can use to help other people and hopefully influence them to understand that this is a cause worth supporting.”
If you are interested in supporting the cause and making a home town hero of the youngest ever Man of the Year, you can get involved by donating here (before the May 15 deadline): The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Man/Woman of the Year website, or by bidding on some tasty wine at Daniel's own fundraising website, www.behopefuldaniel.com.
John Burnam is an independent consultant currently working with San Antonio Christian Dental Clinic, The Louise Batz Foundation for Bedside Advocacy, I Care San Antonio, and Xenex Healthcare. He works in patient safety, community health and well-being, nonprofit development, and strategic planning. He graduated from Trinity University with a Bachelors in Art History and Classics and from Vanderbilt University with a Master's degree in Theological Studies. Prospective employers can check him out on LinkedIn.