Survivor Spotlight: Danielle Gillespie

Danielle Gillespie is the type of young woman who catches your eye immediately. Maybe it’s her long, thick dark brown hair. Or her bright eyes and warm smile. Certainly it’s her radiant and friendly disposition. Nothing at all about Danielle, upon first meeting her, reveals another truth: that at just 26-years-old, she is brain cancer survivor.

Five years ago, in May 2009, Danielle, already a college graduate, was just three days into her nursing program. While driving from class — thankfully with other students she had met in her program — this healthy young woman with no prior warning signs, suffered a seizure.

“I started feeling weird,” Danielle explains. “I pulled over to the side of the road, a few houses before my own, took a drink of water, and that’s all I remember. I woke up to EMS taking me out of the car.”

An MRI revealed a golf-ball sized tumor on the right front side of her brain. Further tests identified the mass as a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme, a highly aggressive malignancy more typically found in men over 60. Fortunately for Danielle, close to home was the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where she became patient of their Hermelin Brain Tumor Center under the care of neuro-oncologist Dr. Tom Mikkelsen. “He is absolutely wonderful,” shares Danielle.

Her treatment began immediately, starting with a total resection craniotomy to remove the tumor at the end of May. Danielle spent just three nights in the hospital after her brain surgery, and went home to finish her four week recovery with nothing stronger than Tylenol 3 for her pain — a testament to her strength and grit. Once recovered, she began a six-week treatment of radiation and oral chemotherapy. The timing was just right.

“I finished chemo and radiation on a Monday,” recalls Danielle, “and I got married that Friday. I did this funky comb-over with my hair!” she remembers with a smile. Surgery and radiation were causing  her to lose her hair.

Danielle 1

Courtesy of Danielle Gillespie

Following her wedding and a four-week break from treatment, Danielle’s chemotherapy continued for a year. She took that year off school, and returned to her nursing program in May 2010, just one year after diagnosis, Cancer for College scholarship in hand.  By May of 2011, Danielle was a college graduate, a wife and mom, a registered nurse, and a brain cancer survivor.

Danielle 2

Courtesy of Danielle Gillespie

Danielle is approaching her five-year mark — an important milestone for survivors. We are so proud of her strength of character and her positive and generous spirit, and extremely honored to be a part of her journey.



Celebrating Survivors, Desert Smash Style!

Will Ferrell. Kevin Spacey. Stan Wawrinka. Novak Djokovic. Two beloved actors and the world’s top two tennis players. Not to mention cancer survivors and past scholarship recipients — all coming together to support Cancer for College.

Last week, Palm Desert played host to the largest and longest fundraising effort ever for Cancer for College. I’m certain that I can speak on behalf of everyone at the charity when I say that The Desert Showdown was the most amazing, multi-event fundraiser that we’ve ever been a part of, raising nearly $1 million for our foundation. We are so thankful to everyone involved for making this incredible event a huge success!

The Desert Showdown

Let the showdown begin!
Image credit: Desert Smash Facebook page

Image credit: Desert Smash Facebook page

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Gathering with CFC scholarship recipients at La Quinta’s center court

Here’s a quick recap of events:

  • Day One: Speaker’s Forum and live auction event at Bighorn Golf Club with Will Ferrell and CFC Founder Craig Pollard, hosted by David Belasco, Co-Director, Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC Marshall School of Business. Survivor Christine Pechera shares her story.
  • Day Two: The Will Powered Golf Classic, Bighorn Golf Club.  Live auction hosted by Will Ferrell and featuring Kevin Spacey. Survivor and CFC Scholarship recipient Sarah Beth Comfort shares her story. Read more here about the Will Powered Golf Classic.
  • Day Three: 10th Annual Desert Smash featuring a variety of celebrities and tennis professionals for the morning’s Pro-Am and culminating in a showdown between Kevin Spacey and Stan Wawrinka vs. Will Ferrell and Novak Djokovic. More Desert Smash details here. Capped off by a great concert at Agua Caliente featuring Nelly, Redfoo and Boys II Men. Amazing!

Survivors Celebrate and Support the Cause!

Every single event was enhanced by the presence of Cancer for College scholarship recipients. We’d like to recognize and thank our two keynote speakers, Christine Pechera and Sarah Beth Comfort who shared their stories so eloquently.

And to the following recipients, a big thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to travel to the desert and volunteer for our events: Kelly Purcell, Kelli Vigorito, Spencer Paul, Allison Burgos, Agi Whittaker, Danielle Gillespie. Abby Houck, a recipient who we are fortunate to have on staff at Cancer for College. We are always so proud of you!

 Spotlighting Danielle

We want to give a big shout out to recipient Danielle Gillespie (and her sister Erin!) for coming out from Detroit on their own dime to work REALLY hard for us during this marathon event. Danielle, with her spunk and beauty, makes it hard to believe that just five years ago, she was fighting for her life. Danielle was days into her nursing program when she had a seizure, and an MRI revealed a golf-ball sized brain tumor. She went through brain surgery and chemotherapy, and today she is a happy and healthy nurse, wife and mother of two daughters. Her Cancer for College scholarship helped her finish her nursing program. We’ll be spotlighting her later this month.

Check out the Cancer for College and Desert Smash Facebook pages for more great event photos! Click here to watch a great piece on EXTRA!